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By most measures, flying has never been safer.
Planes are better designed. Cockpits are equipped with advanced avionics and computers. Air traffic controllers, pilots and flight attendants have never been better trained.
However, Federal Aviation Administration research has shown that panic can often set-in during a crash with passengers literally climbing over the heads of other passengers to get out first.
At the FAA Training and Research Center in Oklahoma, officials recreate plane crashes to study what it takes to survive.
Once the plane comes to a rest, time is of the essence, they advise.
At 30 seconds, smoke can start filling the body of the plane as fire starts eating into the fuselage. At 60 seconds, the burning plastics, the fuel, the fabrics can all turn smoke toxic.
At two minutes, there's a serious risk of a flash over with fire engulfing the entire fuselage.
Getting out is a matter of life or death.
And the goal is to get everyone out safely in just two minutes or less.
As the passengers who escaped an intense fire on a British Airways Boeing 777 on Tuesday as it prepared for takeoff learned, survival for all on board can depend both on a modern aircraft’s safety upgrades and knowing what to do in an emergency.
First order of business: read and remember the safety briefing card.
On the so-called “Miracle on the Hudson” crash of US Airways Flight 1549 in 2009, passengers who read the safety card just minutes earlier admitted they couldn’t remember what to do as the plane headed for a river landing.
When the captain told passengers to brace for impact, they did not know what that meant, FAA officials said.
While most flight attendants’ demonstrations don’t include showing the “brace position”, it is shown on the safety briefing card.
The position involves crossing your arms on the seat in front of you and pushing your head onto your wrists tightly.
For those seated in an exit row hoping for a little extra leg room, remember: hundreds of passengers could depend on you.
When removing the plane’s door, reach up, stay seated, turn it, and throw it out.
If there’s a crash, getting out of the plane could involve moving through a dark, smoke-filled cabin. Experts advise using the seatbacks to find your way and following the floor lighting to the nearest exit.
If you have to make an emergency exit, the key is to move fast
Passengers used inflatable slides to escape the blaze on Tuesday afternoon at McCarran International Airport, just before the plane was to embark on a 10-hour flight to London Gatwick. Black smoke poured from the left engine of the plane as passengers ran across the tarmac.
From the exit doors of a large plane, such slides can look like a big drop.
However, they are wide enough to carry you to safety.
Experts say that if you’re faced with a similar situation you should jump on, slide on your rear and don't lean back.
Then keep moving and get out of the way.
And whatever you do, experts urge, don’t waste precious time grabbing for a carry-on bag or laptop. Doing this delays other passengers from getting out safely.
During the “Miracle on the Hudson”, while some passengers passed babies toward the evacuation door, one passenger insisted on grabbing her personal belongings — items she ended up losing anyway.