Face Your Fear of Flying

Are Children More Likely to Survive an Air Disaster?

The events of Black Thursday should have been unthinkable. Terrorism aside, the odds of four commercial airlines crashing on the same day are infinitesimal. And until the causes of the four air disasters are finalised, airlines across the board are expecting a radical drop in profits as people choose to cancel their holiday plans rather than risk possible death. We’ve already looked at ways you can reduce the risk of dying in a plane crash, but as the only three passengers to survive the Black Thursday crashes are children under the age of ten, we’re asking: Was their survival just an accident of fate? Or are children more likely to survive potentially catastrophic air disasters?

Regular readers of our Crash Blog will know that the survivors of Black Thursday aren’t the only kids who have dodged the hand of fate. In 2007 a five-year-old boy was the only survivor of a plane crash in Guatemala which killed 118, and in 2004 an eight-year-old girl lived through an explosive decompression which ripped apart the plane in which she was travelling over Southern Spain. Then there was eleven-year-old Zainab Farra, who was the only passenger to escape the wreckage of Royale Air Flight 715, which crashed in Ethiopia in 2002.

According to Peter Llewellyn, author of The Air Up There: How to Survive the Unthinkable, there are three main reasons why children may fare better than adults in air disasters:

1) Their bones and rib cages are more flexible and less liable to snap on impact or when hit with flying debris.

2) They tend to be lighter, so there could be less body mass to be injured during impact.

3) Being smaller than adults, they have better protection from the seat infrastructure.

But does this explain the miraculous survival of the three children who lived through Black Thursday? When asked about these cases specifically, Mr Llewellyn admitted he was stumped. ‘I’ve seen the footage, and to be honest, no one should have survived – especially in the Florida crash. It’s a real miracle. Perhaps it has something to do with where they were seated on the plane.’

There are rumours that airlines will now be charging a premium for seating at the back of the plane, where it is believed that all three survivors, as well as US citizen Pamela May Donald, who survived the Japanese Sun Air crash for long enough to leave a message on her phone, were seated.