How Does One Boy Survive a Plane Crash?

Sole survivors of plane crashes are rare but not unheard of.

ByABC News
May 12, 2010, 12:42 PM

May 12, 2010— -- Somehow there was one survivor of the fiery plane crash in Libya this morning. Just one: a 10-year-old Dutch boy. The other 103 people on the Airbus A330-200 died.

Amazing? Yes. Unheard of? Not quite.

This is actually the fifteenth time since 1970 that there has been a single survivor in an airliner crash.

But what's even more amazing is that of those 15 survivors, 12 have either been children or crew members.

"Once again it's a child or a crew member, and I have no idea why," said Todd Curtis, director of the Foundation, which tracks aviation disasters.

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Generally, he said, "there's no rhyme or reason" as to why that one person survives.

"You scratch your head and wonder why is that? Is it because children can best survive crash forces? Is it because you only have small survival spaces in an aircraft and the smaller you are, the more likely you are to survive?" Curtis said. "Those are plausible explanations … but no one has done any sort of analysis that I like to call vaguely scientific or mechanical."

Sometimes, it might just have to do with how close emergency personnel are to the crash site.

In 2006, Delta Connection flight 5191, operated by Comair, crashed about four miles west of Lexington, Kentucky shortly after takeoff. All 47 passengers on board died, as did two of the three crew members. First officer James Polehinke suffered major injuries but was pulled out of the wreckage by a local police officer and two airport safety officers.

Compare that to a Yemenia Airways flight that crashed last year in the Indian Ocean, 10 miles off the coast of Comoros. Out of the 142 passengers and 11 crew onboard, only a 12-year-old girl survived. Curtis said if that crash had occurred closer to rescuers, there likely would have been more survivors.