In the event of a plane crash like the one in Denver this weekend, passengers might have mere seconds to save their lives. But with the proper know-how, they can increase the chances of surviving and limiting their injuries.
In 90 seconds, a fuel fire can burst into the cabin, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA reports that 56 percent of people survive serious airplane accidents and, by following the key steps below, you, too, might be able to walk away from a plane accident.
Five crew members and 110 passengers survived when Continental Airlines flight 1404 veered off the runway during takeoff and burst into flames Saturday evening. Thirty-eight people sustained injuries in the accident.
"By having a plan already, having something in your mind, that's what you go to, that's your automatic response in a stressful situation," FAA psychologist Cynthia Corbett said.
Before boarding the plane, make sure you're wearing practical shoes and appropriate clothing. Do not wear spiked heels. Try flat-soled footwear for easier escape. Also, go for long-sleeve shirts and pants to protect your skin.
FAA safety researcher David Palmerton said that as you head down the aisle to your seat, pay attention to where the exits are. You need to be aware of all of them in case the one closest to you won't open after a crash.
Be sure to count the number of rows between your seat and each exit because you can't afford to waste crucial time going the wrong way.
Also, putting carry-on bags underneath the seat in front of you actually might help protect your legs from flinging forward during a crash. And keep your eyeglasses on your body instead of putting them in a carry-on.
"Nothing slows down an evacuation more than people trying to retrieve their carry-on luggage," Palmerton said.
If you sit in the exit row, you should take the responsibility seriously. Don't drink too much. Don't sleep during takeoff and landing, and think about whether you're strong enough to lift the 45-pound door and throw it out the plane.
In the event of an evacuation, "what you want to do is put your hands on the seat in front of you and put your head on your hands," Palmerton said. "And the idea behind this is to get as close to the seat in front of you as possible because you are going to strike the seat anyway."
Then, once the plane stops moving, you want to unbuckle your seat belt and leave your carry-on luggage.
Move into the main aisle with your head down low to avoid the rising smoke.
"Breathe slow," Palmerton said. "Follow the armrests and the floor-track lights."
And when exiting the aircraft via the slide, the "most important thing is to keep your feet up," Palmerton said. "You want to just step out and sit down on the slide. And kind of let the seat of your pants do the work."
He added that passengers should remember to keep their arms up, so they won't burn them on the slide and so rescuers can grab ahold and pull you to safety.