I borrowed The Survivor’s Club by Ben Sherwood from the library because I have always suspected I wouldn’t be that fearless hero who, when a fire ravages the children’s hospital, comes running out of the blaze with my hair still in place and a few kids under each arm. I was interested to see what survival skills I did have, though, and I thought I might learn some more.
So here are some of the things I learned. Scared of flying? Your chances of being in a plane crash are 1 in 60 million. More surprising than that is that if your plane does crash, there’s a 95.7% chance that you will survive. According to Sherwood, you have ninety seconds, when a plane runs into trouble, to save yourself. As the first three and the last eight minutes of a journey are when the vast majority of plane crashes occur, these are the times you should be alert for your quick getaway. Sherman warns us that, ideally, we should not sit more than five rows from an exit – when people start panicking and blocking the aisles, he says somewhat darkly, those further away are the people who don’t get out.
Sherwood claims that people’s unfounded but unshakeable belief that they will die if their plane crashes leads to a lot of unnecessary deaths. People take their shoes off and get drunk. They don’t note the exits or listen to the safety announcements. But can they be blamed for this misguided fatalism? According to the book, front page reporting on air crashes is 6,000 times greater than on cancer per thousand deaths and 1,500 times greater than auto crashes. I suppose that plane crashes are more exciting news than cancer deaths precisely because they are so much rarer but it does call into question how we feed our fears through warped news coverage. I suspect that more people are scared of dying in a plane crash than they are of contracting cancer – even if that’s not logical when you look at the facts.
Among other myths that Sherwood dispels are: that most heat loss comes from your head (in fact, it’s only about 8-10% – mum, you lied!), that keeping positive helps you live longer (in fact, it’s the grumpy cynics who endure, statistically) and that there’s no such thing as ‘luck’(he talks about ‘the science of luck’, which explores why good things often happen to the same people).
Honestly, there’s so much interesting stuff in this book. You’ll hear the stories of various unusual survivors (such as Vesna Vulovic who fell six miles through the air and lived), you’ll get a chance to work out your own survivor profile (apparently I’m a fighter!) and you’ll get answers to the questions: can you kill the will to live? and can you postpone your own death?
You’ll also learn that, if you’re going to have a major injury, a stab is better than a bullet, which is better than crashing into a brick wall, and that if you’re going to have a heart attack, the best place to survive it is in a Las Vegas casino!
Maybe some of this seems a little morbid, but The Survivor’s Club is actually packed with inspiring stories and it’s a very interesting analysis of the human spirit. It allows you to consider how you’d react if you found yourself in a really sticky situation without actually having to get in one – and I like to think that if one of these dreadful things did happen to me, one of Sherwood’s facts would pop into my head and I might raise my chances of survival by a few percent. You never know!