Plane Crashed on Purpose to Help People Survive

                                                                Image credit: Vance Jacobs/Discovery Channel

Discovery TV orchestrated a deliberate test crash of a Boeing 727, giving researchers an inside look at what happens when a plane goes down.

The test was done in a Mexican desert and was recorded by multiple cameras.

But beyond the incredible video, the crash acts as a science experiment to improve survivability on board.

The likelihood of dying in a plane crash is very small - crashes are very rare, and an astounding 76 percent of passengers aboard serious airplane crashes somehow survive.

In a 1989 DC-10 crash in Sioux City, Iowa, the plane tumbled and burned, but half the people on board survived.

And in an Ethiopian airliner that plummeted into the sea off the African coast in 1996, 50 people still lived out of 175 on board.

In other cases - including a fiery Denver takeoff in 2008, an American Airlines crash in Jamaica in 2009 in which a 737 broke  in two, and a 2005 crash landing in Toronto - everyone survived.

Because of the limited data, test crashes like this one are extremely important to the study of improving survivability.

In a similar NASA experiment nearly 30 years ago, there were crash test dummies on board who can be seen on film absorbing the impact.

"What you would do is instrument this airplane and put all sorts of sensors throughout the cabin on the dummies inside, to figure out what goes through a crash in terms of forces on people that are inside the cockpit," ABC News Aviation Consultant Steve Ganyard said.

Among the things learned from these test crashes are ways to improve your personal safety:

  • Sit within five rows of an exit
  • Choose an aisle seat
  • And don't sleep during takeoff and landing

An MIT study found that the chance of dying on a scheduled flight in the United States is one  in 14 million. At that rate, you would have to fly every day for 38 thousand years before getting caught in a fatal accident.

So despite - and in fact because of - some of these scary test crashes, even when all seems hopeless, surviving a plane crash is possible, even likely.