This programme aired in the UK on Thurs 11 October. UK readers can watch it here.
A new channel 4 documentary airing tonight will look at how to improve our chances of survival in a plane crash – by crashing a real plane.
To make the programme, the independent production company Dragonfly, Channel 4 and the Discovery Channel shelled out £300,000 for a decommissioned 727 plane, strapped in some test dummies and crashed the jet into the desert on purpose.
The ‘science experiment’ – which took four years to plan – was executed with precision. Pilots were in control of the plane until the final minutes before the crash, parachuting to safety through a hatch at the back of the plane.
The 727 was then crashed by remote control, which was in the hands of a pilot in a small aircraft behind it.
The crash was filmed from every angle, including inside the aircraft, where three crash dummies were seated: one in the “brace” position, another wearing a seat belt and a third with no seat belt.
It has all the spectacle of a Hollywood film, but do we really need to watch a plane crash experiment to work out which of the three cash test dummies would have a better chance of survival?
It will be interesting, however to see if this expensive experiment will bring to light anything new that could help make passengers even safer in the skies.
Safety experts tell us that we statistically have a better chance of survival sitting at the rear of the plane (it explains the motives behind storing the two black boxes in the plane’s tail), but there is no solid evidence to prove it.
In an ideal world, we’d perhaps all sit in rear-facing seats. Analysis of previous crash landings has found that cabin crew seated in rear-facing seats have suffered less severe injuries than forward-facing passengers.
But it requires redesigning cabin seats. And for airlines, it all comes down to cost.
If you’re planning to watch it all go down tonight, remember to also look on the bright side. Commercial air travel has never been safer than it is today – with 2011’s accident rate the lowest in history.
There are 1.6 accidents in every 10 million flights.
Now there wouldn’t be a Hollywood film in that, would there?
The Plane Crash will air on Channel 4 at 9pm.