HON. NANCY HARVEY STEORTS: Former Chairman, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
First Consumer Advisor to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture 
International Safety Consultant 
Author of 3 Highly Acclaimed Books on Safety
Television Commentator and Speaker
Tel: 703-790-5116
The Nation’s Foremost Authority on SAFETY

My Personal Story of
Surviving an Airplane Crash

Words of Wisdom to Airline Travelers

It was a beautiful Autumn Day in October in 1976, and I was almost home in Washington, after giving a keynote address on Safety issues in Toronto, Canada. Seated on the aisle seat on the left hand side of the airplane. I was looking out the window at the Washington Monument, on that American Airlines 727, jet, when all of a sudden I noticed that our usual approach to Washington National Airport, seemed different. I heard an unusual noise, and realized that this landing was not going to be the same as the hundreds of other landings I had in Washington. As the plane approached the runway, it suddenly aborted and went back up into the sky. Everyone one, including me, was wide-eyed, with our "hearts in our throats." What is this???, I thought.

The pilot soon came on the loud speaker, and stated, "we were having some problems in the cockpit, as a landing gear light had come on, that signaled a possible problem with the landing gears". He said, "we were going to fly over the tower, to be sure, that it wasn't just the indicator light". The tower officials confirmed that there was indeed a problem, and that the landing gears were not coming down.

The pilot then announced that we were diverting to Dulles Airport, which he stated was the safest airport, to handle this problem. Once, we were at Dulles, the airplane crew, rushed to the cockpit, for instructions. They carried a huge manual, which obviously had all of the instructions for "Survival". It seemed to me at the time, that they were with the pilots for a very long time. The crew finally came back to the galley, where, the Head Steward took charge, and called for the Attention of all of the passengers.

He introduced himself to the passengers as a former "TEACHER", and assured us, he was very able to teach us, everything we needed to know, about what was happening, and what we were all going to need to do, to survive this incident. He said, we would all get down to the ground safely; we had an excellent crew in the cockpit; and we, as passengers would participate in the process, by learning survival techniques. He also said, "there will be NO PANIC on this plane, as we have no time for panic, as we were going to have to concentrate on getting to the ground safely. He also, told us very firmly, that we would all get off this plane, but to remember, that we needed to do it in an orderly fashion, and to remember, that the crew, would be the last off, the plane.


1. Take off all jewelry, shoes, jackets, belts and leave on only a shirt,and trousers for men, and blouse and skirt or pants for women.

They then brought around large black garbage-type bags, where we put all of our personal belongings. Everyone's items mixed together. (Bye- Bye, went my jade ring, my keepsake Tiffany watch from my favorite Uncle and the Presidential pin, from my Favorite President. Reason- you need to be unencumbered as possible, when you are going to exit a plane. Jewelry, when you are in a crash position, could sever an artery on impact, thus, the reason for not having it on your person.

2.Specific instructions for survival followed.

3. Each person was given a pillow for their lap. Put Seats in the upright position.. Put heads firmly on pillow on lap. Feet straight on the floor. One hand behind your neck, and one hand around your legs. Stay in that position, while instructions are later given by the Pilot and the CREW. . When plane is coming in, the pilots and crew will yell BRACE, which means to get immediately in survival position. Remain in that position, until, the plane has finally stopped, and they yell EXIT.

4. Instructions followed later, on what to do, when plane has finally landed and stopped.These instructions given by the pilot.

At this point, they asked for volunteers, (mostly men) to help with the exits, as they wanted to be sure that elderly people had someone, that could help them, and that children, were also taken care of.

5. Know which exit, you are going to, when plane lands and is stopped. (Depends on severity of the landing.)

Identify the specific Door or Window exit. Count the number of seats to the exit, so you know exactly, where you are going. If there is fire on one side of plane, have an alternative exit. THEY STRESSED THAT KNOWING WHERE YOU WERE GOING WAS CRUCIAL, as it was Critical that each person, went quickly, and without chaos.

6. Understand how to go down the "Yellow Safety Slides": "Fanny down, legs straight". they said. Remember, how you went down a slide when you were a child, they said.

7. After these survival instructions were given, they said, "Take everything else out of your mind, concentrate only on the exit, the slide, and your exit.....NO PANIC!"

After these instructions, passengers relaxed, and waited quite a while for further instructions. In the meantime,the mechanics, were pulling up the carpet in the first class section, trying to hand crank down the landing gears, but that procedure DID NOT WORK. We continued to fly around, dumping fuel, and all emergency equipment from the Washington area was alerted to come to Dulles Airport.

8. PILOT, then told passengers, that he was going to attempt a procedure, that sometimes unlocks the landing gear, which he carefully explained to us.

They bring the plane in very slowly, and bounce it on the runway, 4 times, with the HOPE, that it will unlock the landing gear. We were instructed to go immediately into the survival position, as this procedure was attempted.

9. You can hear the plane coming down. We felt the horrendous jolts on the runway, the pilot had told us about. First, the JOLT, then lift up, another jolt, lift, up, another jolt, lift up, and the 4th and final jolt and back up into the air we went..

10. The pilot then nervously tells us, "Unfortunately, this procedure DID NOT WORK." He said, "We have one alternative left, and that is to LAND WHEELS UP". He stated, that he would continue to circle Dulles, which would give additional emergency equipment time to get to the Airport. He also stated, that no matter where we landed there would be doctors, nurses, ambulances, and fire equipment at site, to take care of us immediately, if needed. He also needed to dump as much fuel as possible.

11. The pilot, after another few minutes, then told us, exactly what would happen next. The plane would come down very slowly. He would try to keep it from tipping, so the runway was not going to be foamed. As it touched the runway, we would hear the sound of the belly of the plane being ripped away. The plane would sway from side to side, and part of it could catch on fire,( which he hoped would not happen). He assured us,that no matter where the plane finally stopped, there would be immediate medical assistance for each of us, Which to "ME" was very reassuring. He then told us, to once again review in our minds the survival techniques we had been taught, but that we had to ADD, an ALTERNATIVE EXIT, in case one of the sides of the plane was on fire.

12. We then proceeded to FINAL LANDING!.........

******** HERE WAS Nancy Steort's FINAL REACTION: "I was in my SEAT, and Nancy Steorts and the seat, were going to get to the ground safely". If Ray, Wilson, a colleague who had also survived a crash, so could I" I was calm, relaxed, meditated, and prayer! It was now in God's hands.

13. BRACE,BRACE,BRACE, BRACE was yelled throughout the cabin. Down came the plane, very slowly. My head was in the pillow, so hard, I thought, my face would break. As the plane, touched the runway, I heard, the horrible sound of the belly being torn apart, plane rocking side to side, finally it stopped. FAST EXIT FAST EXIT, FAST EXIT, was yelled by the crew. As I lifted my head off that pillow, I did NOT know, what I would witness. Fire , oh my Lord, I hope not.! Fortunately, there was NO FIRE. Thank heavens!

14. We each proceeded QUICKLY to our EXITS. Down the Slides, we went. Caught by 2 people at the bottom of the slide, and Thrown out into the fields, to get away from possible fire. I never looked back to see the plane, for about 20 minutes. I just sat on the ground. No one talked, we were all in our own moments of solitude and gratefulness for still being alive. When I finally looked back, I saw the horrible situation, I had just left, the mangled plane, lying on it's belly. Fortunately, everyone got off, some were injured going down the slides, but we were ALL GRATEFUL for the incredible work of outstanding pilots and an incredible CREW, who brought us back to SAFETY.

15. We finally proceeded by the portable lounge to the Dulles terminal, where we were questioned, and then we were taken to a room, where all of our belongings that we had put in those big black bags were assembled in a very orderly fashion. I picked up my shoes, my jacket, and there was my beautiful jade ring, my gold watch and the presidential pin, that I had always worn. Unbelievable, how you received exactly, what they took, and everyone got everything that went in the big black garbage bags.

16. I finally went home, told my daughter, Debbie what had happened, and she was then in shock herself, knowing what her MOM had just been through. Because I was still in shock, I went out to a social function. Needless to say, I did not stay long. I came home shortly and went to bed.


The real trauma for me, did not show up, for about 3 months. I was returning to Ottawa, Canada to give a speech. As I tried to board an airplane back to Canada, I got to the door of the plane at Baltimore Airport, and I had a panic attack, and absolutely could not board that plane. I turned around and went home. The next day, I went back to BWI to board the same plane, as I had a speech in Ottawa. I sat in the airplane seat, buckled and ready to go. I had another panic attack, jumped out of my seat, banged on the door of the pilots who were on the runway, about to go airborne, and said, "I have to get off this airplane". Fortunately, they conceded, when they found out what had happened, to me, turned the plane around, asked if I needed medical assistance, and I said no," I just need to get on the ground". 3rd time, a few weeks later, I got back on a flight, and told the stewardess, "Do not let me get off this flight. I have been in a recent airline crash, but I Must Get to my Destination".. She was wonderful, talked me through the flight. I embarked at my destination, and I have continued flying all over the world since then.


1. Know what you would do in an emergency situation on an airplane, before it happens.. Talk to someone who has been in an airline incident. Think of that person, when it happens to you. "If they could survive, so can you"

2. Always listen carefully to the instructions of the crew on each flight.

3. If possible, book a seat on the aisle next to an exit. If Not possible, book as close to an exit as possible, always on an aisle, for a fast, direct exit.

4. Wear natural fibers, when travelling. Synthetics will melt, if you should contact fire.

5. Always wear your seat belt.

6. Be very attentive at take off and landing.

7.Do not drink alcohol.

8. STAY CALM, Meditate, Pray, and RELAX if an emergency occurs

9. Keep your seatmate calm

10. If in an incident, immediately seek MEDICAL ATTENTION. both Physical and Mental examination, as often medical issues do appear immediately.

11. Do not sign anything or give any statements until you have legal counsel

12. Share your incident with others, as your knowledge will help others in a similar situation.


I am most concerned about the passengers and victims on Flight 214, Asian Airlines. that crashed upon landing at San Francisco International Airport on July 6 2013. Each of the passengers was a hero, the way they helped each other to exit that plane as quickly as they did, under devastating circumstances. For those that were injured, I pray that each of them will recover and heal from their injuries. For those, that were not injured, I trust that they will get excellent care from their own Doctors, as many times, trauma affects do not show up until later. Post traumatic stress is extremely difficult to go through, but if you are under the care of good Doctors, you will recover. My prayers to each of you and your families, as you recover from such a tragic situation.

Article written by Nancy Harvey Steorts, former Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission., author, of Your Home Safe Home, Safe Living in a Dangerous World, Safety and You, founder and President of Nancy Harvey Steorts International, an international product safety expert, and Associate Broker at Long and Foster, McLean. For more information contact Nancy Steorts at nancysteorts@cox.net.