The Odds of Surviving a Plane Crash

The Book of Odds takes a look at a question that flashes through the minds of many people the moment they board an airplane: what are your odds of surviving a plane crash? They found that “[t]he general survival rate for a casualty-inducing airline incident is about 38% or, in our parlance: your odds of survival are about 1 in 2.63.” That might seem pretty good, but Book of Odds points out that the distribution is a bit skewed: “[I]f we break up the data into buckets of survival rates we find that our heaviest bucket (by a long shot) is the one we’ve aptly titled ‘Certain Death,’ or, incidents in which there were no survivors.” Interestingly, the odds of certain death are about 1 in 2.63, the same as the odds of surviving. Over at Salon, Patrick Smith of “Ask the Pilot” has written on the same topic. [%comments]

Iljitsch van Beijnum

So if 38% survives and 38% dies, what happens to the other 24%?

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

It is my impression that there are three kinds of plane crashes:

1. Everyone survives the crash, perhaps except for a freak death like a isolated heart attack.

2. Everyone dies and the plane is consumed in flame, explosion or is in 1000 ft of water.

3. A few survive in a isolated tail or nose section and the majority die.

WHERE IS THE SAFEST PART OF THE PLANE WHEN THERE ARE THE RARE SURVIVORS? IT seems the thickest part of the plane is over the Wingbox. But many examples have Back of the Plane Tail Survivors.

People laugh when I wear my helmet on commercial flights.


Iljitsch - I believe you misunderstood. The article is saying that 38% of people survive a plane crash, but also that if you're in a plane crash, you have a 38% chance of being in one where no one survives. For the former statistic, it means that 62% of people who are in plane crashes die. For the latter statistic, it means that 62% of people who are in a plane crash are in one where at least one person survives. Different statistics.

Eileen Wyatt

Presumably the other 24% receives life-threatening injuries, so they're neither certain survivors in the immediate aftermath of the crash, nor are they dead. Yet. Call them Schrodinger's passengers.

Neil (SM)

I think they mean 38% of passengers in plane crashes are killed in plane crashes with no survivors. So the other 24% die in plane crashes where others survived.


The other 24% are LOST!!!!


The other 24% end up in an episode of Lost.


But they only include "crashes" where there was at least one casualty? Is it not possible to have a plane crash where no one dies?

Jeff #3

Brian - It really depends on the definition of casualty that they're using. It means 'killed or injured' but most people tend to focus on the killed part. A 2-seater aircraft could crash and have 100% casualties, but not deaths because it only resulted in a few broken limbs.


How about the odds of crashing in the first place?


I have a major objection in that they don't count crashes where everyone survives - for example, Air France 358 (runway overrun, Toronto, 2005) or US Airways flight 1549, ditched in the Hudson river, 2009.) These were clearly crashes by any reasonable definition of the word.

I also have a minor objection. The context they describe (the airplane is coming down and you have several minutes to consider your fate) only applies to a subset of crashes (well under half I think). These crashes won't have the same fatality statistics as the full set of crashes. (For that matter, sometimes when the plane is coming down the pilots will regain control and make a non-crash landing.)


The plane crashed on the US/Canada border. The other 24% were buried...But where?


@Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team: according to a BBC documentary about plane crashes (don't remember the title), the safer seats are those next to an emergency exit. Passengers sitting within seven rows of one are more likely to survive a crash than to die.

They also pointed out that many people die because they can't unbuckle their seatbelts under stress: they automatically attempt to do it the way they would in a car and obviously fail.