View Full Version : plane crash from passengers' perspective

01-08-2013, 02:46 AM
Please advise me on how to describe a scene of a plane crash from the passengers' perspective. I have mined google and found some scripts I can use of what the captain says over the PA system. To sum up what I have so far:

severe turbulence; the seatbelt light goes on
the flight attendants have a hushed argument; they look tense
the attendants disappear to the front and back of the plane, and there is a PA message telling them to take their seats, followed by one telling the passengers to take their seats and fasten their seatbelts.
Worsened turbulence, passengers reacting. The captain makes an announcement about how the severe weather may cause them to attempt an emergency landing
A video comes on to demonstrate safety procedures, but gets cut off

That's where I've left off. At what point do the oxygen masks come out, if at all? What other things should happen? What noises, sensations?

Any and all responses are very much appreciated.

01-08-2013, 04:30 AM
Smells: jet fuel, burning jet fuel, fire
Sights: the fuselage being torn open, seats going everywhere? Perhaps the inside of the fuselage looks normal but there are clouds/trees going past the window?
Sounds: Roaring noise of the engines and/or air blowing around the outside of the fuselage, or eerie silence because the engines have quit

Not a pilot and I've never been through an airplane crash (thank goodness) but I like to fly as a passenger. Just my imagination.

01-08-2013, 04:40 AM
Check the first page of Michael Crichton's Airframe (http://www.amazon.com/Airframe-ebook/dp/B000FC1GHO/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1357605596&sr=1-1&keywords=airframe) .


01-08-2013, 04:43 AM
Book about the first 747 crash written by a survivor: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3765969-wake-up-it-s-a-crash

Book about the Ethiopian Airways flight that was hijacked and crashed into the sea, by a survivor: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1979056.Hijack

01-08-2013, 11:44 PM
Oxygen masks drop from ceiling only on rapid decompression. So you would need a breach of the fuselage.

Does your aircraft break up in midflight?
Does it make a controlled descent into a 'crash'?
Does it crash on water or land?
If land, is it an open area, mountainous terrain, wooded?

01-09-2013, 12:04 AM
If the plane experiences severe turbulence, that's the point at which they'll tell passengers to sit down and strap in. Turbulence can kill. I remember being on an MD-11 and we had just that sort of feeling you can get in a lift, the stomach fall thing, and they told us to put on seatbelts. Then we had a little rattling. But we were already strapped in, so it was fine. Not much worse than going along a bumpy road. Noisy, too. I never expected turbulence to be noisy.

Passengers would definitely be strapped in before the attendants would be sent to their seats. It's their job to make sure everyone's secure. Passenger safety comes before theirs.

Bear in mind that the priority is going to be to keep the passengers calm at all times. Panicking passengers are a threat to the aircraft. You can listen to some cockpit tapes online and hear how the crew are always calm and methodical in what they say. They wouldn't say emergency landing unless it came to that and they wanted the passengers to brace. They would talk about going around the weather, or diverting to another airfield.

01-09-2013, 08:05 AM
I read this novel, Fearless (http://www.amazon.com/Fearless-Rafael-Yglesias/dp/0446600806/ref=tmm_mmp_title_0/178-3328669-9381742), long ago and never forgot it. I think it's what you want.

01-10-2013, 04:44 PM
I think "OHHOLYFUCKINGFUCKI'MGOINGTODIEEE!!!" is probably about what I reckon I'd be thinking in that situation. ;)

01-10-2013, 06:19 PM
The most heart-rending thing I ever read about the Lockerbie incident--and there were so many--was that many of the body parts found were clasped hands.

01-10-2013, 07:21 PM
Are there going to be survivors?
Jeremy Wade, from the show River Monsters, was in a plane crash while they were filming. Granted, a puddle jumper at 200 ft is nothing like a passenger jet at 20,000, but bits from the audio might be useful.

Thankfully everyone survived and there were no major injuries.

I note that the smell of jet fuel was so strong he thought he was sinking into it, because he didn't realize the plane was in the water.

At the end of the clip, when he is back in his room and had time to reflect on what almost happened, he appears far more shaken than when he actually was crawling out of the wreckage.

01-11-2013, 12:54 AM
Thanks all, for the responses. Buffy, I appreciate the note about the crew wanting to keep everyone calm. I'll have to revisit the announcements I wrote.

Oxygen masks drop from ceiling only on rapid decompression. So you would need a breach of the fuselage.

Wow, thank you for pointing that out! I need to revisit what I've written so far.

Does your aircraft break up in midflight?Well, honestly, I don't know what's realistic. My concept is that the plane gets into very nasty weather, and perhaps due to a weak part of some kind, cannot make it through the weather and must crash-land. WHat would make sense?

The story won't ever get into the details of the actual crash, so I haven't given much thought to the landing itself--just that it's fatal to all on board.

Does it make a controlled descent into a 'crash'?It needs to be obvious to the passengers that they are crashing and that it's not going to end well. So probably not a controlled descent.

Does it crash on water or land?
If land, is it an open area, mountainous terrain, wooded?Whichever is more deadly, I suppose. Again, the aftermath of the crash does not appear in the story, so what matters is that from the perspective of the passengers, the crash is obvious and they won't survive.

Sometimes being a writer is an exercise in cruelty. :P

01-11-2013, 01:39 AM
You might want to look into the Air France 447 flight from Brazil to Paris, that crashed into the Pacific. If I remember correctly, the causes of the crash (probably) did not include a mid-air breakup, but there WAS a storm system involved. (I say probably because there were no survivors and a lot of things we don't know about that crash.)

It's somewhat speculative, but landing over water probably finished off anyone who survived the initial crash by drowning.

01-11-2013, 04:12 AM
Check out the Boeing 737 crashes due to rudder failure.

01-11-2013, 04:59 AM
If what you're looking for is the perspective of passengers know they're going to crash and there won't be survivors - you might want to look up 9-11 stuff.

There were a lot of people on those planes talking to people at home. It's a difference cause, same result.

Chasing the Horizon
01-13-2013, 12:57 AM
If you want maximum horror from the passengers' perspective, and don't want to make it too complicated, I'd go with the electrical fire in mid-flight scenario. Smoke begins to seep into the cabin. The passengers get very nervous. The flight attendants will tell them to return to their seats and try to keep them calm. An announcement will come from the cockpit that they're changing destination to whatever the nearest available airstrip is. The smoke will get thicker, they'll probably see fire somewhere in the cabin, and the ride will get rough as the pilots begin to lose essential flight controls due to the fire burning through the wiring. The oxygen masks may or may not deploy at some point (if they did, it would help whatever character you're following stay conscious against the smoke right up until the end). Eventually, once enough essential systems have been lost, the plane goes into an uncontrolled dive. Doesn't matter at that point whether it goes down over water or land because no-one's going to survive the impact. How it happened in real life: Swissair Flight 111
Another dramatic possibility is an in-flight loss of a section of fuselage--where a piece of the plane's skin is actually ripped away by the pressures of flight and you suddenly have a gaping hole in the cabin. This would, of course, cause a rapid depressurization and deployment of oxygen masks. Now, that alone won't crash a jet, but in the scenario I saw the rip in the fuselage also broke the hydraulic lines connecting the pilots to the flight controls, so they had limited ability to control the plane. The real-life accident had a happy ending (they managed a miracle landing) but you could just as easily have the plane start moving erratically and finally crash. There would be an icy hundred-mile wind ripping and howling through the cabin during all this. How it happened in real life: Aloha Airlines Flight 243
If you're stuck on the storm scenario, the plane could suck too much hail into its engines and lose them both/all. This again really happened. From a passenger's perspective, they would be going through scary turbulence, lightning, and hearing hail hit the fuselage. Then the plane would suddenly go silent and the cabin lights would cut off. It wouldn't crash right away, but would be a glider at this point. The engines may restart for a few moments before flaming out from the damage they've sustained from the hail. In the real-life scenario, the plane survived by reaching land and landing on a levee without power (again, miraculous). But if they're forced to ditch over the ocean, it's quite likely everyone would be killed. In this scenario, the passengers would have plenty of time to prepare--put on life-vests, assume crash positions, and such--before the plane ditched. And, without engines, it would go down silently until the impact with the water. You should be able to Google the safety pamphlet for the aircraft you're using and get the exact passenger procedures for ditching over water. How it happened in real life: TACA Flight 110 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TACA_Flight_110)
Ocean ditching: Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethiopian_Airlines_Flight_961)

Video of Flight 961 crashing (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ob8nE4f2ZWc) (youtube link)

01-14-2013, 07:25 AM
A couple of initial comments: flight attendants go through even heavy turbulence on a regular basis, so it doesn't get them tense or cause them to have an argument -- in my experience. Also, bad weather generally does not cause planes to make emergency landings. Things like the Air France crash over the Atlantic a few years ago are just incredible outliers, thankfully. Usually, weather causes outright crashes and they come on takeoff or landing, quickly and with little warning.

I think Chasing the Horizon has some great ideas. You need to have some sort of a mechanical problem that leads to a failed emergency landing.

01-14-2013, 08:24 AM
Thank you all so much! Chasing, I think I may go with door number one.

01-14-2013, 05:30 PM
There's been news lately about the Boeing 787 Dreamliner (their newest airplane) having a fuel leak, so there's another idea for creating an onboard fire.

Also you could always have birds sucked into the engine and causing engine failure (like the Miracle on the Hudson).

Good luck!

02-03-2013, 10:08 AM
I assume someone gets out of this alive? There was a Southern airlines DC-9 that crashed after it flew through a thunderstorm Here's the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Airways_Flight_242

The version here is pretty accurate, but neglects several realities. Flight through lines of thunderstorms is very common. There's almost always a way through and this crew reckoned they had found one. However, the crew were unaware that they were aimed directly at the most intense storm in the line. Because of a simple mis-read of their weather radar, they thought they were headed for a 'thin spot' since there appeared to be little activity there.
The article states that they made one of those discovery channel programs on this one, so you might see if you can find it online.
There have been a number of accidents involving thunderstorms, but most happen when the aircraft is close to the ground, maneuvering for takeoff or landing. There was a spate of them in the late 70s and early 80s and education, equipment and awareness increased significantly.Possible the most famous of these is the Delta L-1011 at Dallas-Fort Worth. With this type of accident impact usually happens pretty quickly after the encounter, say thirty seconds or so, so that might not fit in with your story. Breaking up in a thunderstorm (CB in aviation parlance for Cumulo-Nimbus) is not impossible, but not as common as simple loss of control or flaming the engines out. and of those two, the former is by far the most common.

02-03-2013, 11:49 AM
Another possibility - plane (probably at night when they can't see it) encounters a cloud of volcanic ash. I don't remember the flight number or have a link, but it's happened before, and there's a pretty detailed account somewhere on line.

02-03-2013, 02:32 PM
Details on the flight debirlfan mentions are here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Airways_Flight_9). It was British Airways Flight 9, and it went through the ash cloud of Mt. Galunggung. It's not the only plane it's happened to, but the wikipedia link is a good place to start.

Air France flight 447 wiki page is here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AF447).

Were you intending this to be a modern-day thing or a historical thing, Rosehips, and if so when? That makes a huge amount of difference to everything.

02-04-2013, 04:04 AM
Modern day, and no survivors.

Thank you all so much! You've been extremely helpful. I did end up using Chasing's first suggestion.

02-04-2013, 04:23 AM
The story won't ever get into the details of the actual crash, so I haven't given much thought to the landing itself--just that it's fatal to all on board.

If the story is told in omniscient, then no problem.

But if the story is told in close 3rd person and there are no survivors, then describing what happens is sort of pointless. Why? Because everyone died and there is no point of view...

02-09-2013, 09:00 AM
Thoth, I appreciate the writing advice, but believe me, I have that part covered! :) My mc is a psychic, who sees the whole thing from the perspective of one of the dead passengers.