According to Superman, flying in a plane is, statistically speaking, the safest way to travel. But what happens when you open a window on a plane? Or a door? Or if a hole is suddenly ripped open? Would it mean instant death, or would there be a chance to survive? Luckily, science provides us with answers to all these questions. Even better, the guys who build these planes have taken all this into account, which has lead them to build airliners that are designed to make your journey as safe as possible.
But, like all things in life, flying is never completely safe. There are still dangers to flying so high up, and most of them are a big concern when your plane is missing a piece. The scary thing is there’s really nothing you can do other than put on your oxygen mask and hope your seat belt is tight. But if you want to know just how bad it can get… check out the list below.
Let’s say you get into a shoot-out on a plane. Someone misses, and the bullet punctures the cabin and opens up a hole. Assuming the bullet didn’t damage a fuel tank or electrical equipment… it actually wouldn’t be that much of a problem. Sure, the hole would open up a small leak, but not enough to throw off the pressurization system already in place. So, if you think it’d be like the end of Alien Resurrection, you’re sadly mistaken.
A window is big enough for a severe loss of pressure. In fact, if you suddenly lose a window, the cabin would depressurize in just a few seconds. Not only would you lose pressure, but a ton of debris would be sucked toward the window. The suction might even be powerful enough to catch a nearby person and send them flying out the window if they’re small enough… and unlucky enough.
A suspected bomb exploded on a commercial flight over Somalia, ripping a hole in the side of the plane large enough that a man was sucked out and died.
In the worst-case scenario, it is possible for the sudden loss of pressure caused by a hole in an airplane to cause a violent explosion. Explosive decompression events are more common than you might think: 40-50 happen each year.
In 1988, a small section of the roof ruptured on Aloha Airlines Flight 243. The cockpit door was missing, and the captain reported seeing "blue sky where the first-class ceiling had been." The hole in the aircraft led to an explosive decompression of the plane, tearing off a much larger section of the roof. A flight attendant was sucked out of the plane and died.
It may seem less dramatic than a single, violent explosion, but a slow leak in atmosphere can actually be more dangerous. That's because, while a large hole ripping in an airplane can suck a few unbelted passengers out of the craft, a slow leak can go unnoticed until it's too late and the entire plane crashes, killing everyone on board.
In 2005, Helios Airways Flight 522 crashed, killing all 121 passengers and crew onboard, after a gradual, unnoticed loss of cabin pressure. Before the flight, the previous flight crew had noticed a problem with the door. An engineer set the pressurization system from "auto" to "manual" in order to check the door, but forgot to set it back again before flight. No one noticed, and Flight 522 took off. Oxygen levels began to decrease as the plane rose to 34,000 feet. Both the pilot and copilot passed out due to lack of oxygen, and the plane crashed into a mountain.