TODAY

TODAY   |  July 08, 2013

How to survive a plane crash: Time is key

Looking at the burned-out shell of Asiana Flight 214, it seems hard to believe that so many people survived its crash in San Francisco Saturday. But experts say modern aircraft are well-constructed;  passenger preparedness when an emergency occurs is the key to getting out of a crash alive. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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>>> we're back now at 7:41 with potentially life-saving information. in the wake of the jet crash in san francisco , in an emergency, would you know how to get out alive? nbc's tom costello is with us now from san francisco once again. tom, good morning again.

>> reporter: matt, you know, it has been a remarkable 11 years of aviation safety in this country. that's the last time that we had a mainline american u.s. carrier crash in this country. november 2001 . since then, yes, we've had some regional crashes. otherwise this has been a remarkable period of safety. so the question now is, what exactly happened here in san francisco , and what would you do if you were involved in a crash? the images of the broken, burned-out shell of flight 214 are haunting. how is it possible so many people, more than 300, got out alive? is today's worldwide accident rate, only 1 out of 1.2 million flights will crash, and most of the passengers on board will survive. like the american airlines flight that crashed in jamaica in twi2009. everybody got out. everyone survived the continental flight that went off the runway and caught fire in denver in 2008 . and the air france flight in toronto in 2005 .

>> we're going to be in the hudson.

>> reporter: and no fatalities when captain sullenberger pulled off the miracle on the hudson in 2009 . experts say so many people survived these crashes, because of the way modern aircraft are built. seats are now made to absorb much of the sudden impact, so passengers aren't catapulted through the plane. interior carpeting and fabrics, now fire-resistant to give people more time to get out. but getting out alive can be a matter of minutes, even seconds. at the faa research center in oklahoma city , they recreate plane crashes and the science involved in surviving. once the plane comes to a rest, time is of the essence . at 30 seconds, smoke can start filling the body tof the plane as fire starts eating into the fuselage. at 60 seconds , the burning plastics, fuel, fabrics, can all turn this smoke toxic. at two minutes, there is now a serious risk of a flashover with fire engulfing the entire cabin. getting out is a matter of life or death.

>> you want to stay low with your head below the tops of the seat backs, use the armrest for support, and come down the aisle, following the path lighting until you come to the colored lights which means you're at the exit.

>> reporter: the key to survival, knowing where you are in the plane at all times, and being prepared to get out quickly. they call that situational awareness. i talked to veteran fliers who say they always -- and i actually do this too. i always look around to see where is my nearest exit when i sit down on a plane, just so i'm aware so i don't have to think about it in an emergency. some people actually will count the rows with their hands to that emergency exit so they know that i've got ten seats to the emergency exit , keep it in the back of your mind, just in case of an emergency. and lastly, matt, don't go grabbing the carry-on bagses, purses, coats, just get out of the plane in an emergency.

>> good information. tom costello in san francisco . thanks very much.