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Survival Guide: 7 Ways to Save Your Own Life

Would you know what to do when faced with a crisis? Here are strategies that could help you come out smiling (or, at the very least, breathing)

airplane crash survival position save your life

Passengers sitting behind the wings of an airplane have a better survival rate in case of an emergency landing. — Brent Humphreys

4. The pilot announces that your plane must make an emergency landing

The plan. Plane crashes are any traveler's deepest dread, because the general assumption is "Plane goes down, everyone dies." Unfortunately, this does sometimes happen, but it's not always the case.

Consider Flight 1549, piloted by Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, which landed safely on the Hudson River in 2009, with all passengers and crew escaping alive. "For those who think there's no reason to look at the safety briefing card or listen to the safety demonstration because you think we're all going to perish anyway — it's simply not true," Sullenberger says. "Even major crashes are survivable." Here's what you need to know before you board.

Sit in the back. In 2007, Popular Mechanics published an analysis of 36 years' worth of airline seating charts and 20 accidents, back to 1971. The numbers were decisive. Passengers sitting behind the wings had a 69 percent survival rate in an accident. Folks sitting over or in front of the wings had a 56 percent rate (first class was lowest, at 49 percent).

Identify the nearest emergency exit. "Count the number of rows ahead and behind you to the nearest exit," Sullenberger says. "You may have to find it in a darkened or smoke-filled cabin."

Dress for tough traveling. "Imagine running away from a burning plane in a muddy field in high heels, clogs or flip-flops," says Cynthia Corbett, a Federal Aviation Administration human-factors specialist. Long pants, long sleeves and athletic shoes give you the best mobility.

Stow your carry-on. Just not in the overhead bin, says Corbett. Putting your carry-on under the seat in front of you can protect your legs. Also, rest your forehead against the seat you're facing and let your arms hang loosely. This way your head doesn't have far to travel forward, lessening any impact.

Listen closely. Flight attendants will give you direct, no-b.s. instructions in any emergency. Follow them, Corbett says. Oh, and enjoy your flight!

5. While alone, you're overcome with a wave of nausea and light-headedness

Your mind is no doubt racing — is this a heart attack? Stroke? Vertigo? The fact is, there's no way to know, says Travis Stork, an emergency-room physician and cohost of the TV show The Doctors. "Forget self-diagnosis, and react to the immediate situation," he says. "If you think you might black out, sit or lie down so you don't fall and hurt yourself further if you faint." Next:

Call 911. Then try to unlock your front door so anyone coming for you doesn't have to break it down. If you feel yourself fading, get down on the floor and call out for help if you can.

If this happens while you're driving, calmly pull over to the shoulder of the road, put on your flashers and call 911. Do not get out of the car, as you might fall into the road.

Emergency responders will often place you in what they call the recovery position — designed to protect you from injury during loss of consciousness. Arrange yourself in this position by lying on your side, with your bottom arm extended out from your body. Bend your top arm 90 degrees, and drape your top wrist over your bottom elbow. Drape your top leg over your bottom one. Organizing your limbs like this will prevent your body from rolling into another position.

For extra protection, Stork recommends always keeping a cellphone handy, especially if you have a condition such as heart disease.

Survival Tip: If you feel like you might pass out, lie down on the ground and place yourself in the "recovery position."

Next page: You're driving and realize you're going to hit something. »

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