It’s a Miracle

“It’s a miracle!”

We hear it all the time, often from newscasters who want to maximize the emotional impact of some story of survival—the cat in the well, the baby in the twister, the passengers who walk away from an air crash. These are all miraculous—except they aren’t really, and using this hyperbolic term may actually put people at risk.

Consider the humble air crash. Big plane hits the ground, thousands of gallons of Jet-A. Go through a crash and you’re screwed right? You definitely need a miracle.

You might be surprised.

Plane crashes are spectacle—fire, wreckage, flashy lights—it’s easy to expect the worst. But according to an NTSB study of 568 crashes between 1983 and 2000, only five percent of passengers were killed. The remaining 95 percent escaped unharmed or without life-threatening injuries. In another study of more serious crashes, the odds were better than 50/50 that passengers got out alive. And crashes that occur on the ground often have very high survival rates.

This is not a string of miracles. It’s the result of science, engineering, and training. Attributing these survivals to divine intervention ignores nearly a century of NTSB investigation, hard fought regulation, and the bravery, skill, and experience of flight and ground crews across the country.

Maybe there are miracles, but fortune favors the prepared.