Safer planes mean fewer fatalities, more injuries

July 11, 2013 8:40:02 PM PDT
According to the NTSB, passengers in plane crashes like that of Asiana Flight 214 are more likely to survive today than in air disasters years ago because of improvements in safety technology. But that also means more injuries to treat, like the cuts, bruises, burns and severe spinal injuries that tested Bay Area emergency rooms on Saturday.

Doctors say that once the major injuries have been treated, their focus usually shifts to keeping an eye out for breathing and blood clotting issues that can sometimes follow spinal injuries and broken bones. Emergency workers who saw video of Saturday's crash of Asiana Flight 214 expected mass casualties.

"The red flag goes up and you start going through your doctor mode," explained Dr. Victor Prieto at St. Francis Memorial Hospital. "You see the burned out part of the plane and you kind of go, 'Burn unit. There are going to be burns. There are going to be crushes. Plane crashes, hits the ground, there are bound to be broken extremities, compression fractures, spinal injuries that you worry about," he continued.

According to Prieto, lap restraints can be credited with keeping passengers seated. Most were only secured with a lap belt and were thrashed about, causing their injuries. Ben Levy, 39, survived the crash with a severe injury to his ribs. "We just survived that plane crash. We're sitting in that fuselage and yes, we were hurt and injured but by God, we are still alive," he said.

Prieto described the crash victim he's currently treating as the classic poly-trauma patient -- a woman in her 30s with bones broken in the crash that have produced compression fractures in other places. But her prognosis is good. "She's getting ready to head home to Korea in the next day or so," Prieto said.

When people fracture bones, a host of other problems can occur like breathing issues, bleeding, and secondary blood clots. "All of these people develop blood clots of some type, somewhere," Prieto said.

As investigators comb through what's left of the Boeing 777 for clues, medical teams treating survivors say getting answers to the possible long-term effects of their injuries may not come as quickly.


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