Survival 101: How to Survive a Plane Crash, Train Crash and Other Disasters

Once you've checked in, Galea says to find out where the nearest exit is and actually walk the route between your room and that exit, counting the number of doors along the way. That way, if the corridor is filled with smoke, you can actually feel your way to safety.

When Galea checks into a hotel, he asks for a room on the sixth floor or below. Why? Most fire ladders can't extend above about six floors.

And you may think it's overkill, but the professor actually walks the fire escape route, checking that there aren't any obstacles in the way -- no piles of dirty laundry or trays of half-eaten room service food.

His golden rule: you don't want to find out there's a problem with your escape route when the fire's already started and your life's already in danger.

Surviving a Plane Crash: Wait to Inflate

In 1996, a hijacked Ethiopian airliner carrying 175 passengers ran out of fuel and crashed into the Indian Ocean. Ninety people were killed. Many of them drowned because they inflated their lifejackets too soon and got stuck inside the sinking fuselage.

Lesson learned: wait to inflate until you're on the outside.

Despite public perception, around 95 percent of those involved in plane crashes in the U.S. emerge alive.

Galea has interviewed more than 2,000 survivors. Since each crash is different, there's no magic or safest seat, in which passengers are most likely to survive. But statistics suggest sitting within six rows of an emergency exit -- preferably, in an aisle seat -- help your chances.

"An aisle seat because ... it's easier to get on your feet and start heading towards an exit," he said. "And just as you would in a hotel, on a plane count the seats to the emergency exit."

Train Crash: Avoid Front, Rear Cars

This past summer, nine people were killed and more than 70 injured when one Washington, D.C. Metro train plowed into the back of another at the peak of evening rush hour. It was one of the darkest days in Washington Metro history.

What can you do when riding a train to increase your chances of survival?

"Whenever I get on a train I will avoid the front and rear cars," Galea said, since they are most likely to be hit or to hit something. "I will take a seat where my back is facing the direction of travel."

If the train crashes, you will be pushed backwards into the seat, not thrown across the car.

"I hate having lots of luggage in the luggage racks above my head. Because in the event of an accident, the luggage is going to come down," he said.

Aboard a Sinking Ship? Stay Calm

In 1991, Oceanos, a Greek cruise ship, was hit by a massive storm off the coast of South Africa.

"Everybody was so calm, it was the crew that were not," one survivor said. "The crew were jumping ship first. The crew went first, they were actually fighting the passengers."

The panicked crew abandoned ship and left the passengers to fend for themselves. Amazingly, all 571 passengers were eventually rescued. They survived partially because they kept calm and perhaps because they knew what they were doing.

"Ships are very, very confusing environments," Galea said. "You can't see outside. Often you don't even know is forward and aft, let alone if you're on the port or starboard side of the vessel."

Walking your escape routes, making a note of where you are on the boat, is particularly important if you want to escape before it's too late.

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