London, June 26 : Studying 105 flight accidents and personal accounts from almost 2,000 survivors, Greenwich University researchers have come to the conclusion that the seats with the best survival rate were in the emergency exit row and the row in front or behind it.
The researchers say that their study suggests that between two and fiver rows from the exit, passengers still have a better than even chance of escaping in a fire but "the difference between surviving and perishing is greatly reduced".
According to them, the most dangerous seats are those six or more rows from an exit.
"Here, the chances of perishing far outweigh those of surviving," Times Online quoted the researchers as saying.
While passengers sitting towards the front of the aircraft had a 65 per cent chance of escaping a fire, those at the rear had the survival rate of 53 per cent.
The study also revealed that the survival rate in aisle seats was 64 per cent, compared with 58 per cent for other passengers.
The researchers also analysed the disaster at Manchester airport in 1985, when 55 people died on a British Airtours Boeing 737 after it caught fire, as part of their study.
They discovered that the majority of people who died were sitting well away from a usable exit.
The study also revealed that the passengers who died were on average sitting more than twice as far away from a usable exit as those who survived, and that most of the people killed by toxi fumes were sitting 15 rows from the nearest usable exit.
It was also found that an evacuation test under international air safety regulations - requiring aircraft examinations to see that each passenger on board can escape within 90 seconds when half the exists were blocked - was flawed because it failed to take sufficient account of people's behaviour in an emergency.
The study report said that the tests assumed that passengers on board did not have any "social bonds", whereas analysis of behaviour in real emergencies showed that many passengers delayed their escape to help friends or relatives.
People travelling with colleagues, however, appeared to focus on their own survival and head straight for the exit.
Another flaw with the tests was that people, though willing to comply with directions from cabin crew under experimental conditions, would not follow them in real danger.
The study report said that crew are trained to prevent congestion at exits by directing people to a less busy exit.
"In real emergency situations, where passengers may have a choice of directions in which to escape, they may ultimately ignore crew commands and attempt to use their nearest exit," said the report.
It also said that passengers would usually act in a selfish manner when faced with a crash, climbing over seats to jump the queue for the exit and thereby delaying evacuation.
Robert Gifford, director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, said that the study "shows your choice of seat on a plane really can be a matter of life or death. Your chance of survival should not be based on your ability to pay for an emergency exit seat or to reserve your seat online."
He suggested that airlines considered putting families and elderly people near the exits.
He, however, pointed out that such people might not be allowed to sit in the exit row because regulations required passengers in those seats to be fit enough to help open the door.