This Is What Really Happens To Your Body If You Die In A Plane Crash

According to PBS, the chances of an average American dying in a plane crash are 1 in 11 million. In comparison, it's much more common to die in a car crash (1 in 5,000) or even from drowning. The number of fatal plane crashes had dropped significantly in the last few decades, and even more so with the 2020 pandemic, due to a decrease in international travel (via HuffPost). According to the National Safety Council, commercial air travel is one of the safest modes of transportation. Nonetheless, plane crashes do happen.

Per Ranker, 95% of people who crash while on a plane survive. However, if the plane crash proves fatal for those on board, the bodies are grievously injured along the way — so much so, that it makes cataloging the injuries incredibly difficult, according to the Journal of Forensic Science (posted at the National Library of Medicine). Some of these injuries might include disintegration, dismemberment, and detachment of the skin. Moreover, major lacerations and crushing can occur as well (via NATO).

Factors including speed, size, and the site of the crash determine what will remain of the body, although often, a large number of body parts are missing. Sometimes, the remains are found nowhere near the rest of the plane. If decompression occurs when a plane falls apart in the air, it can suck out bodies and seats outside, thus making them difficult to find. As horrifying as this sounds, the suffering for those who die in plane crashes is astonishingly minimal.

Dying in a plane crash is relatively quick and painless

According to Ranker, it's likely that passengers wouldn't know they're crashing. If the crash is sudden, a passenger would only be conscious for a moment or two. Moreover, the human body is not designed to withstand high deceleration forces (via HuffPost), which is why the body suffers such brutal injuries that cause a swift death.

If an explosion occurs, it's more likely that passengers will die before the actual crash. However, an explosion would mean a death that was rapid and pain-free. If the plane doesn't explode and continues to plummet, it's likely the spine will break and separate the nerves from your brain, causing instant death.

A 1950 crash in London (also posted at the National Library of Medicine) found that the injuries the victims sustained, including fractured skulls, spines, ruptured hearts, and more, caused immediate loss of consciousness or death. The same was found for victims of a 2009 Air France Flight (per Journal of Forensic Medicine) as investigators concluded that any pain felt from trauma was brief and death was quick.

Different factors are involved. More likely than not, the victim wouldn't feel a thing or perhaps even realize what is happening. However, if you crash during take-off or landing, the chances of surviving are higher than 50%. It's important to remember that statistically, traveling by plane is safer than other modes of transportation, like driving or cycling. Knowing this and other facts regarding plane crashes might help ease flight anxiety or phobia (per the Anxiety and Depression Association of America).

The injuries of plane crash survivors

Even though the survival rate for plane crashes is quite high (via Ranker), this doesn't mean a person comes out unscathed if an accident does occur. Plenty of people have survived plane crashes and have lived to tell the tale of their life-altering physical and emotional injuries.

Per The Guardian, Michelle Dussan was only 6 years old in 1995 when she survived a plane crash that killed 151 people, including her mother, brother, and cousin. American Airlines flight 965 crashed into a mountain in Colombia and Dussan and her father were two of four survivors. Dussan sustained injuries to her legs and was in a wheelchair for years. She was told she would never walk again but beat the odds. She still has seat belt marks on her legs.

On Christmas Eve 1971, 17-year-old Juliane Koepcke and her mother were flying over the Peruvian rain forest when the plane was hit by lightning (via BBC). She suddenly found herself falling through the air while still strapped in her seat. She broke her collarbone, had deep cuts, and ruptured a ligament in her knee, but survived. She was alone in the rain forest for 11 days before she was found. Koepcke's mother's body was later discovered. She, too, had survived the crash, but was too injured to move and died days later.

According to Insider, there are several ways to increase your chance of surviving if a plane crash does occur. These include choosing a middle seat in the back rows, bracing for impact, and wearing tight-fitting clothing.