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How do you survive a fall of 35,000 feet?

February 2, 2010

If you were to fall from a plane six miles up, your chances of survival are very, very small. But I am saying there is a chance. While some stories are impossible to verify, there are about 44 reported incidents of human beings having survived a fall from a plane at cruising altitude.

Historian Jim Hamilton reports that 31 individuals lived through a fall encased in wreckage, while 13 survived a true free fall. Of the latter, the most famous is Alan Magee, who was blown from a B-17 flying a combat mission over occupied France in 1943.

The most important factor for survival might be where you are able to land:

Magee’s landing on the stone floor of that French train station was softened by the skylight he crashed through a moment earlier. Glass hurts, but it gives. So does grass. Haystacks and bushes have cushioned surprised-to-be-alive free-fallers. Trees aren’t bad, though they tend to skewer. Snow? Absolutely. Swamps? With their mucky, plant-covered surface, even more awesome. Hamilton documents one case of a sky diver who, upon total parachute failure, was saved by bouncing off high-tension wires. Contrary to popular belief, water is an awful choice. Like concrete, liquid doesn’t compress. Hitting the ocean is essentially the same as colliding with a sidewalk, Hamilton explains, except that pavement (perhaps unfortunately) won’t “open up and swallow your shattered body.”

The other crucial piece of advice? Don’t land on your head.

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