If Saturday's plane crash in San Francisco had happened 25 years ago—or if passengers hadn't been wearing seat belts—the death toll would have been a lot higher than two out of the 307 passengers and crew, experts say. FAA mandates in the late 1980s forced manufacturers to bolster seat strength, and if this had happened before then, "the inside of that plane would have looked like a jigsaw puzzle dropped from a second-floor window," an aviation safety expert tells the San Francisco Chronicle. Among the survivors, there are numerous spinal injuries that are the result of being violently shaken in their seats, says the doctor overseeing the passengers' care.
"They were all in the same type of seats, and they all had their seat belts on," so many of the injured have the same pattern of spinal damage caused by their upper bodies being flung over their lap belts, Dr. Geoffrey Manley, the neurosurgery chief at San Francisco General Hospital, tells NBC News. Other experts say the injuries are like those before shoulder belts in cars, though it's not clear whether shoulder belts in planes could have prevented the injuries, the AP notes. Six patients are still in critical condition and two are unable to move their legs, though Manley says remarkably few of the many children on the flight are among the seriously injured. "They have a lower center of gravity. Little kids are made to rough and tumble," he says. "They do weather injuries well."