After air accidents, survivors grapple with flying again

Associated Press

How do people fly again after air accidents?

It’s a question facing survivors of this week’s Southwest Airlines accident, which killed one woman who was sucked partway out of the plane after the engine exploded and shattered a window.

Authorities said 148 passengers walked away, underscoring an important point: Plane crashes are rare, but when they happen, people often survive them. Between 1983 and 2000, 95.7 percent of people involved in commercial airline accidents survived, according to government data. In 2013, 304 of the 307 passengers survived an Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco. And the horrific 1989 crash of a United Airlines flight in Sioux City, Iowa, had 185 survivors.

For guidance, survivors of Southwest Flight 1380 might look to those others who have survived air disasters. Some of them say it’s critical to get back in the air quickly; they suggest counseling, prayer and even calming apps. But others never get over the fear.

Dave Sanderson was the last passenger to exit US Airways Flight 1549 after its emergency landing in the Hudson River in January 2009. He spent one night recovering from hypothermia at a New York hospital. The next day he had to make a decision: Could he fly back home to North Carolina?

Sanderson steeled himself; flying was the fastest way home. When he arrived at the gate, the captain and first officer got off the plane, listened to his story and reassured him. A flight attendant cleared a row of seats for him.

“If you don’t get back immediately, you may never get back on that plane,” said Sanderson, who now travels around the country giving inspirational speeches.

Some survivors can’t bring themselves to fly again. In 2008, drummer Travis Barker of the band Blink-182 was involved in a small plane crash that killed four of the six people aboard. Eight years later, when his band toured Europe, Barker was still unable to fly. He crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2 cruise ship.

Eric Zilbert, who was aboard Tuesday’s Southwest flight, said the experience has been most difficult for his wife, who had to deal with the thought of almost losing him. On future flights, he says, he’ll look more closely at the plane’s equipment and choose seats in front of the wing.

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