10 November 2007
QI on air safety
Rob Fisher

On tonight’s episode of QI, after an entertaining discussion on the unlikelihood of the whistle on the lifejacket being of any use in a plane crash, Stephen Fry revealed the following fascinating information:

Between ‘83 and 2000, in the US, there were 568 plane crashes.  53,487 people aboard, 51,207 survived.  The main problem experienced is, oddly enough, getting seatbelts off.  We all get bored with the hostess reminding us how this incredibly simple buckle works, but apparently under stress people revert to trying to undo them the way that’s familiar to them in the car.  So it is very unlikely [to die in a plane crash].

The reason you’re made to open the window blinds when you’re landing and then they turn off the cabin lights to make it dark, is if there’s an accident, the emergency services can see in the windows if they need to, and also that passengers’ eyes are accustomed to low light in case they need to evacuate in the dark.

The frustrating thing about QI is that they don’t quote their sources.  A quick Google search for “53,487 51,207” revealed that their source is BBC News, who got their information from Professor Ed Galea of the University of Greenwich.  In the same article, Tom Barth of AmSafe Aviation is interviewed about the company’s air airbag.

QI at LocateTV.com


  1. I wonder if a lot of these crashes are in fact planes running into one another on the tarmac or the suchlike.  Presumably the chances of survival if a plane crashes from as low as 100ft are pretty slim.

    Posted by Patrick Crozier on  14 November 2007 at 04:53 pm

  2. I tried to find Ed Galea’s research online but didn’t get anywhere.  Perhaps general aviation crashes are included—it’s easier to imagine surviving a crash in a small plane that goes slow.  Knowing what counts as a crash and what doesn’t seems cruical to making sense of these figures.

    Posted by Rob Fisher on  14 November 2007 at 10:29 pm

  3. I occur. I am an airline pilot,& I too find it frustrating the amount of people that dont pay attention to the safety briefing. I talk about this a lot on my site http://www.flyinganxiety.com .When an aircraft has to abort a takoff or evacurate many of the passengers will be like a deer in headlights.

    Posted by Eric Simmons on  04 April 2008 at 06:07 pm

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