When an Air France plane recently skidded off a runway in Toronto and burned, everyone on board survived.
"Accidents are survivable," says Cynthia Corbett, a human factors specialist at the Federal Aviation Administration's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute in Oklahoma City.
Corbett gave WebMD advice about surviving a plane crash.
Plan, Read, Listen
"There are things that a passenger can do to survive -- first and foremost, having a plan," Corbett tells WebMD.
"Read the safety briefing card on every single flight," she says. "Not all planes are the same. Not all planes within the same airline are the same."
"Even that flight you took last week that's the same one you're taking this week may have changed a plane. So it's really important to review the safety briefing cards [and] listen to the oral briefing of the flight attendants."
Flight attendants are "very highly trained in survival practices and procedures within aircraft," says Corbett. "They are trained to take care of the safety issues regarding air travel. Their primary jobs are not to serve us crackers and soda."
Dress for Survival
Before departing, give a little thought to your on-board wardrobe.
"Imagine having to run away from a burning plane," says Corbett. "If you have to do that, how well are your flip-flops going to perform? How well are your high-heeled shoes going to perform? When you're sliding down that fabric slide out of the plane, are pantyhose going to withstand?
"Shorts and skirts and high-heeled shoes just are not our preferred attire for flying, because it's hard to run in those kinds of shoes and actually escape when you're not clothed properly," Corbett continues.
"We like to see tie-on shoes that you're not going to run out of and long pants. Jeans are good. I know in the summer that's really tough, but short-shorts are just real dangerous in that event," says Corbett.
Sometimes, passengers and crew get some warning that they're in for an "unscheduled landing." Review safety information about bracing for those landings, says Corbett.
The brace position depends on where you're sitting, she says. For passengers with a seat in front of them, the suggested brace position is to cross your hands on the seat in front of you and rest your forehead on top of your hand, says Corbett.
"That way, you don't have as far forward to flail if you didn't have your head there," she explains. "Also, it's more difficult to get way down and hug your knees when you're in a seat that has another seat in front of it."
If you don't have a seat in front of you, bend over as far as you can, grab your legs behind your knees, and keep your head down until the plane stops, says Corbett.
Sharp objects shouldn't be in your pockets, due to security rules. Airlines may have their own standards about whether eyeglasses should be removed, says Corbett. Take pens and pencils out of your pockets.
Protect Your Legs and Feet
"We've also recommended that you try to get your feet planted as far back as you can .... simply because of the way that the legs and feet tend to fly out," says Corbett, noting reports of broken bones from poor foot positioning.
"We also recommend that carry-on baggage be put under the seat and not in the overhead [bin]. That gives a block there, so the feet and legs can't go up under the seat in front," says Corbett.
Follow Instructions if Available
If a flight attendant is able to give directions after a crash, obey them. But sometimes, flight crews aren't able to do that.
"That's why it is important to know what to do, even without the orders," says Corbett. "Some people sit and wait for orders and if they don't hear any, then they sit right through the disaster."
Reports from the National Transportation Safety Board have noted some crash victims "are found sitting in their seats still buckled in," says Corbett. "So, you don't have to wait for orders to be able to evacuate."
"But generally, when it's time to evacuate, somebody's going to be yelling, 'Remove your seatbelts, get up, evacuate now,'" says Corbett.
"Each situation is going to be unique, but that doesn't mean you have to sit and wait for an order to be able to do something, and it's important to know what to do."
Forget Your Baggage
If you've got to evacuate a plane, don't try to take anything with you, says Corbett.
"If it's something that's really important to you, stick it in your pocket [or a waist pack] so your arms are free."
Items may get in the way of other passengers trying to evacuate or slow you down. "You might get stuck on that plane with your luggage," says Corbett.
Exit Row Responsibility
Passengers sitting in an exit row get extra responsibility and should pay special attention to flight attendants' briefings, says Corbett.
"Rather than taking an exit row because it gives us a little bit more leg room, I would sure like passengers who request those rows to realize that they're also accepting responsibility when they say 'yes, I know I'm sitting here' and 'yes, I agree' to whatever the flight attendant happens to be saying to them."
To Help or Not?
If the oxygen mask drops down, put it on yourself before helping someone else.
"In the worst of conditions, the occupants would only have about 10 seconds before they would actually become unconscious," says Corbett. "Obviously, if you're responsible for someone else, then you need to take care of yourself first and then take care of the other person. Otherwise, neither one of you will be taken care of."
Beyond that, it's up to each passenger to decide for themselves whether to stop and help others.
"That's a personal decision ... a moral issue that the FAA doesn't have rules about," says Corbett.
Crashes Are Rare
"I think the latest metaphor I heard was you're more likely to be struck by a meteor than to be in an aircraft accident. So flying the friendly skies is, I believe, the safest mode of travel," says Corbett.
"That doesn't mean we should take it lightly and that we shouldn't be prepared. Don't let it scare you. Just have a plan," she says.
There are more plane evacuations than people realize. "They don't all end in an aircraft burning up. There are a lot of precautionary evacuations, to the tune of about one every 11 days [in the U.S.], I believe that's what the latest statistic is," says Corbett.
SOURCES: Associated Press. Cynthia Corbett, human factors specialist, Federal Aviation Administration, Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, Oklahoma City.