How to Survive a Plane Crash

Aug. 3, 2005 — -- After all 309 passengers and crew aboard an Air France jet survived a fiery runway crash at Toronto's Pearson International Airport on Tuesday, headlines around the world called it a miracle.

But according to government statistics, 19 out of 20 people make it out of airliner crashes safely.

In June 1999, American Airlines Flight 1420 crashed while trying to land in a thunderstorm in Little Rock, Ark. Flames shot from the plane as it sat in pieces along the Arkansas River and 134 of the 145 people on board survived. Randy Hill was one of them.

"I was drenched in jet fuel," Hill said. "And realized I had a few seconds to do something. We were able to get out through a small opening in the plane, and fell 14 feet to the ground."

"People see something like that, they think 'I'm going to die,' " said John Nance, ABC News' aviation analyst. "But, in fact, if you know what to do, you have a very high probability in a takeoff or landing accident of surviving."

From 1983 to 2000, according to government reports, nearly 96 percent of passengers involved in U.S. plane crashes survived. When studying the 26 most extreme crashes, the government found more than half of passengers and crew survived.

The FAA requires flight crews be able to evacuate an entire jet in just 90 seconds.

Jet Blue is now using a crash simulator to train its cabin crews so, in the event of an emergency, they will know what it will "look, feel, and smell like," said Matthew Kliff of the JetBlue Inflight Education program.

Aviation experts say it's most important for passengers to know the location of the nearest emergency exit -- even the number of rows it takes to get there.

"Make sure that if everything else goes to heck in a hand basket," said Nance, "you could crawl out of there with your eyes closed."

Nance says many passengers survive the initial impact in a crash but don't get off the plane quickly enough.

The first minute-and-a-half after a crash is considered "golden time" by many in the industry.

Plane Crash Survival Tips

The following are tips to help you survive a plane crash, according to Mac McLean, the FAA's investigator for cabin safety:

When you board the plane, count the rows between your seat and the exit. If the cabin fills up with smoke, it will enable you to feel your way along the seatbacks and find the exit.

Read the safety card located in the seatback in front of you. Even if you are familiar with the procedures, it can't hurt to be reminded.

Properly brace for landing. "Don't sit back," McLean said. "The proper position is to cross your hands on the seat in front of you. Put your head against your hands and stay in that position as long as it takes to get to the ground."

"Stop, go and stay low." Once the plane comes to a rest, move toward the exit as quickly and as safely as possible. Fire and poisonous fumes can quickly fill the cabin, trapping you inside.

Get away from the crash site as soon as possible. "It's going to become a very lethal environment, so get away as fast and as far as you can," McLean said.

Dress appropriately for air travel. Avoid T-shirts or shorts in favor of long-sleeved shirts and heavy pants, which will provide better insulation in the event of a fire. Choose heavy shoes instead of sandals to provide better protection against glass, metal and debris.

ABC News' David Muir filed this report for "World News Tonight," with additional reporting by ABC News' Denver affiliate KMGH. Click here for more information.