These are the dramatic images of a passenger jet being deliberately smashed into the ground as experts try to recreate what happens to an aircraft – and all those on board – in an air disaster.
In one of the most extraordinary aviation experiments ever conducted, the 170-seat Boeing 727 comes down in a controlled crash in a remote part of Mexico’s Sonoran Desert.
After pilot James Slocum, 55, parachuted out of the plane at 2,500ft, the jet was guided into the ground by a pilot in a following Cessna via a remote-control device.
On board the jet were three sophisticated crash-test dummies designed to move like humans. They were arranged in three positions: one in the classic brace and wearing a seat-belt; one belted but not in the brace position; and one neither belted nor in the brace.
After the jet hit the ground nose-first, experts found that the dummy in the brace position would have survived the impact, the one not in the brace would have suffered serious head injuries, and the dummy not wearing a seat-belt would have perished.
The £1?million project – to be screened on Channel 4 next month – aimed to recreate a serious but survivable incident and allow scientists to study the crashworthiness of the aircraft’s frame and cabin, as well as the impact on the human body.
It is also hoped that the findings may help increase the chances of passengers surviving such a crash in the future.
The Boeing was packed with dozens of cameras to record the impact from the inside. Footage was also collected on the ground, in chase planes, and even from the ejecting pilot’s helmet.
Using this, experts predicted that 78 per cent of passengers on board would have survived the impact, but that coming down nose-first, all the first-class travellers would have died because the front of the fuselage sheared off.
Those sitting at the back would have had the best chance of survival.
It is only the second time that a jet has been crash-tested this way – the first ‘controlled impact demonstration’ of a Boeing 720 by Nasa in 1984 ended up as a fireball.
Anne Evans, a former investigator at the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch, inspected the 727’s black-box data recorder after the event.
She said the outcome proved that today’s jets, which are more sophisticated than the 727 used in the experiment, were well equipped to cope with such crashes.
‘It was good to see that the floor-level lighting and overhead lockers worked even though they are not quite a modern design,’ she said.
‘However, there is one lesson to learn for future design: wiring can come down and impede the exit for passengers.’
Ms Evans added: ‘It is safer to sit at the back of the aircraft where the flight recorder is. The front is more vulnerable because that often sees higher impact forces. I would pick somewhere which is comfortable and within a few rows of an emergency exit.’
lPlane Crash will be screened on Channel 4 next month.