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Safety advances in planes boost odds of survival in crashes

NEW YORK — Passengers in plane crashes today, such as the one in San Francisco involving Asiana Airlines Flight 214, are more likely to survive than in past disasters.

Saturday’s crash was the latest where a big commercial airliner was destroyed but most passengers escaped with their lives. There were plenty of cuts, bruises, and broken bones — and some more severe injuries — but only 2 of the 307 passengers and crew onboard died.

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Planes now are structurally sounder. In the cabin, stronger seats are less likely to move and crush passengers. Seat cushions and carpeting are fire-retardant and doors are easier to open. Those improvements allow people to exit the plane more quickly.

The nature of crashes has also changed. Improvements in technology mean that planes rarely crash into mountains or each other, accidents that are much more deadly.

‘‘Crashes are definitely more survivable today than they were a few decades ago,’’ said Kevin Hiatt, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, an industry-backed nonprofit group aimed at improving air safety. ‘‘We’ve learned from the past incidents about what can be improved.’’

Investigators are trying to find the cause of the Asiana crash. Whatever the reason, it reflects the trend of fewer people dying in plane accidents.

The odds weren’t always in passengers’ favor. From 1962 to 1981, 54 percent of people in plane crashes were killed. From 1982 to 2009, that figure improved to 39 percent, according to National Transportation Safety Board data.

Those figures only include crashes with at least one fatality. There have been other serious crashes where everybody survived.

The most famous was a US Airways flight in January 2009 that lost engine power after striking a flock of geese while taking off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Captain Chesley B. ‘‘Sully’’ Sullenberger ditched the Airbus A320 in the Hudson River and all 155 people onboard survived. The crash was dubbed the ‘‘Miracle on the Hudson.’’

A British Airways flight in January 2008 crashed short of the runway at London’s Heathrow Airport.

All 152 passengers and crew onboard the Boeing 777 — the same jet type as Saturday’s Asiana flight — survived.

This April, a Boeing 737 flown by Indonesian airline Lion Air crashed into water short of a runway in Bali.

The plane’s fuselage split into two sections but all 108 people on board survived.

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