Discovery Channel Crashes a Jet Plane — on Purpose

To study how to make air travel safer, scientists crashed a Boeing 727 jet in the Mexican desert for a Discovery Channel documentary.

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A Boeing 727 passenger jet has been deliberately crashed in a remote desert area of Mexico for a television documentary — and for our future safety.

The crash was filmed for the premiere episode of Curiosity, being put together by the award-winning British company Dragonfly Film and Television Productions in collaboration with the Discovery Channel, set to air this Sunday, Oct 7.

The documentary, narrated by actor Josh Charles (The Good Wife), will use video footage from inside the plane to show what exactly happens in a serious but survivable airline crash. The crash occurred in a remote part of the Sonoran Desert of Baja California in Mexico. Pilots and crew members all parachuted out of the jet minutes before it crashed. It was flown remotely for the final moments before impact. (The crash site was cleared by Mexican authorities and  guarded by police and military to ensure it didn’t risk the lives of anyone on the ground.) This experiment is the first time that a controlled plane crash has been carried out since 1984, when NASA tried a similar exercise.

(MORE: Are Airplane Seats Safe Enough for Overweight Passengers?)

While they make headlines when they happen, fatal air crashes are extremely rare. The last commercial air disaster in the U.S. was the crash of Colgan Air flight 3407 in 2009, which killed 50 people. The lifetime odds of dying in a car crash are 1 in 98, according to the U.S. National Safety Council; the odds of dying in an “air or space transport accident” are 1 in 7,178. “It’s never been safer to fly, but we want to use this as an opportunity to provide scientific data that might help improve passenger safety in those extremely rare cases when a catastrophic aircraft accident does occur,” Sanjay Singhal, Curiosity‘s executive producer, said in a press release. Using sophisticated cameras and sensors, as well as fifteen crash-test dummies positioned throughout the plane, scientists were able to analyze the forces exerted on passengers during a major plane crash in order to figure out how to make them more survivable in the future.

The cameras inside the 188-seat plane showed that while the pilots could have survived the crash, those seated in first class would likely have been killed. Passengers seated in the middle of the plane would have suffered a few broken bones and concussions, while those at the back could have walked away unharmed. However, in order to survive a plane crash, it is vital that passengers know how to brace themselves for the impact. Footage of the crash was recorded from all angles to give scientists a fully comprehensive understanding of the outcome of such an accident.

The full results of the controlled crash will be released later this year in a feature-length documentary which will air on the Discovery Channel in the U.S., Channel 4 in the U.K. and Pro Sieben in Germany.

10 comments
pbug56
pbug56

Guys - try watching the whole program like I did.  Makes a lot more sense that way.  You see how it was flown into the ground, at what speed and descent rate.  You understand how hard that is to do as well.  You get video from the inside from several cameras showing what happens to the crash dummies, and you see the wheels on the starboard side as they break off, bounce off the fuselage, and then fall behind.  This experiment does not answer all questions, but it does tell us a lot about what happens when you take a well built plane like the 727 and force it to crash.

BTW, one of the strangest things about the crash that nobody anticipated; even the front of the plane broken off, one of the engines kept running - at full speed, until doused with water by the firemen on the scene.  But consider that the 727 uses cables and hydraulics to do most things, and those lines would have been cut in the crash.  Makes me wonder what a fly by wire system would have done.

One more thing; NASA tried to do this once many years ago and didn't do too well.  This was a good effort and much will be learned from it.

Dan Pieniak
Dan Pieniak

Pretty useless video.... Very amaturish. It looked more like a bad landing that a bad crash. I thought they would have just run the plane straight into the ground!

Jonathan Watkins
Jonathan Watkins

They should have ran it into a reinforced concrete wall to see if they could make it disappear like the one that hit the Pentagon.

Ray Perkins
Ray Perkins

If that was the official footage, Discovery Channel might consider hiring a different cameraman.

Dan Pieniak
Dan Pieniak

Ditto...Pretty useless video.... Very amaturish

Bret Van Beek
Bret Van Beek

Was Michael J. Fox holding the camera???  Sheesh!!

RengFin
RengFin

Seems like a big waste of a perfectly good plane to me dude. sad.

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Jeffrey Geez Glavick
Jeffrey Geez Glavick

Each crash is different, hence this test is irrelevant. Wear your seat belt, although sometimes that may trap you, there is no definite crash circumstances.

Jaymz423
Jaymz423

I guess that's why crash testing isn't that widely practiced. Gotcha. 

Adnan7631
Adnan7631

The test is not irrelevant. While each crash is different, a pilot can work to try and crash in a way that mitigates the danger as much as possible. Furthermore, there are engineering designs that can make a vehicle crash in the same way with different acting forces by creating collapsable structures. This is very common in cars. If you watch car crash tests, the metal of the cars are meant to fold a certain way, making a similar result even if the crash is a bit different.