Air Safety

Why was a Boeing 727 deliberately crashed in desert?

Experiment for Discovery Channel aims to understand what it takes to survive an air crash.

DELIBERATELY SMASHING A multi-million euro plane into the desert packs high entertainment value, but the elaborate experiment, which kicked off the second season of Discovery Channel’s “Curiosity” series, wasn’t just for gasps.

It was also part of an effort to make the 2.8 billion flights that take to the skies each year safer.

“This groundbreaking experiment looks at what actually happens during a plane crash and the science behind passengers’ best chance for survival,” the Discovery Channel writes in a statement.

A similar demonstration was carried out by NASA in 1984, resulting in a fiery explosion.

Will this time be different? (Images: Discovery Channel)

Why was a Boeing 727 deliberately crashed in desert?
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  • Big Flo

    This is Big Flo, the 170-passenger Boeing 727, ahead of the experiment.
  • Taking off

    Big Flo takes off from an airport in Baja California, Mexico, carrying a pilot, co-pilot and a flight engineer.
  • Crash site

    A three-mile crash site in the remote region of Mexico's Sonoran Desert is cleared ahead of time.
  • Parachute

    Thirty minutes into the flight, the co-pilot and passenger parachute out of the plane.
  • Pilot

    The pilot jumps out of the plane just three minutes before it crashes.
  • Crash test dummies

    Fifteen crash test dummies, some with sensors, remain onboard.
  • Remote control

    The jet is now remotely controlled by a pilot in a helicopter that flies beside it.
  • The question

    The researchers want to know: Will Big Flo explode in flames or break into pieces on impact?
  • The impact

    The jet slams into the Mexican desert going 140mph.
  • The impact

    The descent is more than three times faster than a typical commercial airliner.
  • The impact

    On impact, the plane breaks into three pieces and the nose crumples under the fuselage.
  • Debris

    The cockpit completely separates from the rest of the aircraft, which is fairly disconcerting for pilots.
  • Investigations begin

    Now it's time for the scientists to investigate. First they review the footage from the 19 cameras inside the plane.
  • Survivors

    The team found that first-class passengers would have died whereas those in the middle of the cabin would probably have just broken bones and concussions. The folks in the back of the plane were safest.
  • Survivors

    Despite extensive damage to the cockpit, the pilots would most likely have survived.
  • Bracing

    The flight experts found that bracing for impact by putting your head down and placing your hands over your head can be a lifesaver.
  • Exit

    Sitting within five rows of an exit gives passengers the best chance of escaping.
  • Survivors

    Most importantly, the experiment showed that most plane crashes are survivable, according to Professor John Hansman of MIT.

- Dina Spector

Published with permission from
Business Insider
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