How To Survive a Plane Crash in the Mountains

Despite commercial air travel being one of the safest modes of transportation, the topic of surviving plane crashes still dominates the thoughts of travelers. Let’s indulge our irrational fear and look into how to survive a plane crash in the mountains.

Here are some essential tips for surviving a plane crash in the mountains:

  1. Prepare for impact
  2. Listen to pre-flight safety instructions
  3. Dress appropriately for any eventuality
  4. Locate the exits upon boarding
  5. Remember the rule of threes
  6. Set priorities for survival
  7. Find shelter
  8. Build a fire
  9. Get hydrated
  10. Hunt for food
  11. Get rescued

No one likes to be morbid, but even though the likelihood of a plane crash is slim, one should be prepared for any eventuality. Now that we know the main items of survival techniques let’s dive deeper. I will explore each of the above survival tips in depth throughout the remainder of this article.

1. Prepare for Impact

Before we can start discussing how to survive in the mountains, you need to survive the impact of your plane crash. Thankfully, your odds of surviving a plane crash are higher than you’d think.

Business Insider found a statistic from the US National Transportation Safety Board, which states about 95% of plane crashes are survivable. However, you must follow the proper safety procedures.

The specific position for an airplane impact will differ depending on the plane. However, every brace position is similar.

  1. Keep your legs tucked in. Place your knees together and your feet firmly on the floor. Putting your legs in this position prevents your knees from breaking on the seat in front of you.
  2. Place your head on the seat in front of you. Your next step is to fold your body forward and get your head to press against the seat ahead of you. Pressing your head on the seat in front of you will prevent your head from making a harsh impact, leading to a serious head injury.
  3. Tuck in your arms. The final piece of your body to worry about is your arms. You should place your hands on the top of your head, one on top of the other. Also, ensure to tuck your elbows into your body.

Brace positions will vary depending on the type of airplane and regional regulations, which brings us to the next point.

2. Listen to Pre-Flight Safety Instructions

Every airline, airplane, and country will have different safety instructions, which are often not given their due attention. Always pay attention to the safety instructions, and follow them above all else in the event of a crash. Your flight attendant will point out the emergency gear and the exit points in the case of an emergency.

3. Dress Appropriately for Any Eventuality

What you wear will have an impact on the survivability of a crash. There are two standard survival dress code tips for a plane crash.

  • Wear long sleeves. Wearing long sleeves and pants that cover your entire legs adds layers of protection.
  • If you survive the impact, it’s essential to distance yourself from the plane quickly. Close-toed shoes allow you to move swiftly through rough terrain.

Remember, what you wear can be the difference between life and death. Sacrifice comfort for survivability and dress appropriately.

Survive a Plane Crash

4. Locate the Exits Upon Boarding

The worst time to find your closest exit is post-impact. The panic alone will make it challenging to find an exit, let alone the potential for poor visibility from smoke and the chaos of a panicked crowd.

Therefore, the safest decision is to locate the closest emergency exit to your seat when you board your plane. Also, remember to count how many rows away you are from the nearest exit so you don’t need to rely on visual cues after the crash.

Finally, if you’re seated at an emergency exit, assess whether you’re up for the responsibility. Let your flight staff know if you don’t feel like shouldering the burden of opening an emergency exit.

5. Remember the Rule of Threes

Now that we’ve gone through tips to survive a plane crash let’s move on to tips to survive in the mountains. The rule of threes is a fantastic rule to keep in mind in any survival situation.

The rule of threes is as follows:

  • A person can last three minutes without air.
  • A person can last three hours without shelter in a harsh environment.
  • A person can last three days without clean drinking water.
  • A person can last three weeks without food.

Knowing these rules can help you isolate which immediate concerns you should address in a survival situation. Commit the rule of threes to memory; it will come in handy in our next survival tip.

6. Set Priorities for Survival

With the rule of threes in mind, we can set priorities. Thankfully, the rule of threes has already set up our priorities for us.

The first priority is air. If you’re having trouble breathing due to the airplane cabin filling with smoke or other reasons, you have three minutes to get fresh air.

In the event of a smoke-filled cabin, exiting the plane is usually the best situation.

Next, we need to worry about three hours in a harsh environment. We’re talking about a plane crash in the mountains, so odds are you’ll be in a harsh environment. Therefore, shelter should be a top priority.

Based on the rule of threes, your next priority will be clean drinking water. I’ll detail finding water in a mountainous environment later in this article.

Your next priority is to find some food. Thankfully, you have about three weeks according to the rule of threes!

Another priority that the rule of threes doesn’t touch on is injuries. If you’re suffering from an injury, the severity of the injury will dictate where it lies amongst your priorities.

For example, if you have a minor injury, like a broken finger, you should worry about other priorities like shelter and water first. However, more serious injuries require more immediate attention.

7. Find Shelter

As I mentioned before, a crash in the mountains is likely to leave you surviving in a harsh environment. Therefore, shelter is currently your top priority.

When it comes to finding shelter, you have two options. You can find shelter, or you can make your shelter.

If your plane cabin is in good shape, you can use it as your shelter. If your plane doesn’t seem safe to live in, you can consider building a shelter around the wings.

Regardless of whether you use your plane as shelter, you should keep your shelter close to the plane. Airplanes have a device called an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT). An ELT is a device that broadcasts your location to rescue teams.

Staying close to your ELT is the essential survival tip you should follow. Therefore, if you can’t use your plane for shelter, stay close to the crash site.

If you’re in the position of needing to build your shelter, there are tons of different basic shelters you can build. You can check out Outdoor Life’s article on 15 different survival structures.

When choosing which of the 15 structures is best for you, I advise keeping it simple. Remember, you can only withstand three hours in a harsh environment, so choose a shelter you can build quickly.

8. Build a Fire

Fire is another survival priority, which ties into all the other survival priorities. The shelter is warmer with fire, you can use fire to sanitize water, and fire allows you to cook your food. You can see why fire is so important!

Unfortunately, starting a fire can be tough. Starting a fire can be especially tough if you’re in a snowy mountainous environment. Thankfully, I was a boy scout in my younger years, so I can help you learn to start a fire!

How To Construct a Fire in the Mountains

Here is how to start a fire in the wilderness:

  1. Start with tinder. Tinder is an easily flammable material, which you use to catch your larger pieces of wood. A handful of examples of good tinder are dry birch bark, light fabric, paper, dry grass, and leaves.
  2. Layer kindling on top. Kindling is the layer of smaller twigs, bark, and branches on top of the tinder. When searching for kindling, try finding small pieces of dry wood that seem easy to catch on fire and burn long enough to catch larger pieces of wood on the fire.
  3. Top it off with wood. The final layer of your fire is large pieces of wood. It may be tough to find dry wood in a survival situation, but the dryer wood, the better.
  4. Ignite the fire. Igniting a fire will be the toughest part of this process if you don’t have a lighter or a matchbook. Thankfully, Green Belly has a great article on starting a fire without matches.

If you’ve never started a fire before, I recommend you practice building fires before you get into a survival situation. The worst time to learn a new skill is when your life depends on it.

9. Get Hydrated

You remember the rule of threes, right? You have three days to find clean drinking water. Thankfully, finding clean water shouldn’t be too difficult if you have a fire for sanitization.

Three Sources of Water in the Mountains

If you crash in the mountains, you’ve won the lottery for water-rich survival environments! Mountains are rich with water sources; here are a few examples:

  • Snow and ice. You can melt snow or ice and boil the water for 10 minutes to get fresh water.
  • Creeks and rivers. Most mountain ranges have plenty of creeks and rivers where you can find fresh water. It is important to boil water from creeks and rivers.
  • Lakes. Plenty of mountain ranges will have small lakes. Examples of lake-rich mountain ranges are the Rocky Mountains, Appalachian Mountains, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

How To Find Water in the Mountains

High ground is your friend when looking for water in a mountain range. Climb up a mountain with a snowy peak, and look downwards. Dips in the land will typically be filled with water from melted snow and ice. Alternatively, climb a tree if the terrain is dry and look for areas where the vegetation is accumulated.

10. Hunt for Food

I’m crossing my fingers for you to be rescued before the three weeks when food becomes a necessity. However, it’s better safe than sorry, so let’s talk about finding food in the mountains.

After a plane crash, the first location to find food is in and around the plane. Commercial airlines will stock their planes with perfect survival snacks.

Airplane snacks are great for survival because they’re usually light and non-perishable. Light and non-perishable are great for survival because you can easily carry them with you if you need to change locations, and you can rest assured they won’t expire any time soon.

If other passengers didn’t survive the plane crash, you could also scavenge through belongings, looking for food.

I know what you’re thinking; what if food from the plane isn’t an option. Finding food gets a little trickier beyond the plane.

I recommend checking out this article by Popular Mechanics on finding food in the wilderness. The Popular Mechanics article goes in-depth on the different sources of safe food, food sources to stay away from, and how to get essential vitamins in the wild.

11. Get Rescued

If you never find your way back to civilization, you didn’t survive a plane crash successfully. Therefore, getting rescued needs to be a top priority.

Getting Rescued With the ELT

You might remember the ELT from the finding shelter section of this article. The ELT is your first hope for getting rescued.

An ELT will be triggered automatically from impact, or it will be activated manually from the cockpit. When triggered, the ELT will send a distress signal with your location.

It is crucial to stay near the ELT in the early phases of survival. The ELT’s distress signal location dictates the rescue team’s search priority.

Start a Signal Fire

The second tip to get yourself rescued is to start a signal fire. Building a signal fire near the ELT adds a strong visual cue for your location.

It’s not uncommon for rescue teams to fly over a crash site and not find any visual cues of the crash. For example, after Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed in the Andes, rescue teams flew over the crash site but never found the exact location.

After eight unsuccessful days, the rescue effort was canceled. A signal fire increases the odds of a rescue team finding your exact crash location before the emergency services call off the search.


Wow, that was a lot of information to remember. Plus, you’d probably have to commit this to memory to use it in a survival situation because of the lack of internet.

Thankfully, finding yourself in a survival situation like this is slim to none! Regardless, I think you should give this article a quick read before your next flight over the mountains.