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Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Yesterday's airplane crash in Toronto reminded me of something I read on a web a few months back: according to some expert or other, five-point harnesses in airplanes wouldn't do much good very often, since many plane crashes occur at such speed that even if the harness decelerates you safely, the inertia acting upon your internal organs could rip your heart, lungs, etc. out of place, ripping your insides loose from their moorings.

What a ghastly thought. I'd never considered it before, but of course it makes sense. Human beings are not solid masses of undifferentiated tissue, but interlocking systems of bone, muscle and other gooey bits.

When I was a teenager, I came up with an idea I thought was really cool: a big rubber ball, solid except for a crawlspace and just enough room for a person to stand up inside, completely engulfed by rubber. (I hadn't considered the problem of how to breathe.) I reasoned that a person inside a solid rubber ball could be rolled off a cliff of any height and be just fine, bouncing off the bottom gleefully, completely safe from harm. But I guess if the impact speed was high enough, you could wind up smashing your heart against your ribcage.

Cheery thoughts.


Leslie said...

Eeeks! Ouch!

Seriously, you're right. And don't you find the reporting about the crash rather odd? Sometimes I'd swear reporters are disappointed there weren't any fatalities...

Ah yes, cheery thoughts indeed.


Anonymous said...

The part about your organs ripping free is unlikely to be true. A famous US tester withstood 46.2gs with only bloodshot eyes and a few bleeds, but no serious injury:

632mph to 0 in 1.1 sec. " a jolt in excess of that experienced by a driver who crashes into a red brick wall at over 120 miles per hour"

Race cars crash all the time at over 100mph, and internal organs aren't torn free.

Earl J. Woods said...

Leslie: the reporting did, in fact, strike me as strange - like the journalists were panting for news of tragedy. I guess it really does lead if it bleeds, or in this case, if there's potential for bleeding.

Mike, this is one instance where I'm glad to be wrong. Still, planes can crash at speeds much higher than race cars, so I wonder if there wasn't some germ of truth to the half-remembered research I stumbled upon back then. Wish I could remember the source. In any event, very interesting data.

Anonymous said...

As a journalist, I can tell you that we are indeed disappointed that there were no fatalities. The crash is already off the radar (so to speak).
However, with a high casualty rate you would all still be buying the paper to read about it. Our (and other papers') daily circulation shoots up a considerable amount when incidents of great tragedy occur.
As such, even on an unconscious level, many reporters show up to these events almost disappointed that no casualties occurred.

Pulitzers are also won covering "bad" news, not good.

So blame us if you must but I blame the people who only buy the paper for bad news.

I wish it wasn't so, but...