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You are almost 10 kilometers up, alone and falling without a parachute. Although the chances of losing your life are great, a small number of people have found themselves in similar situations and have lived to tell the tale.
6:59:00 AM: 10,668 meters
It gets dark for you and you have to catch a very early flight. Shortly after takeoff, you fall asleep. Suddenly, you are wide awake. There is cold air everywhere, and a lot of noise. An intense and horrible sound. Where am I? You think. Where is the plane?
You are 10 kilometers up. You are alone. You are falling.
Things are bad. But now is the time to focus on the good news. Yes, it goes beyond surviving the destruction of your plane. Although gravity is against you, there is another force that works in your favour: time. Believe it or not, you are better up here than if you had slipped from the balcony of your hotel room in a skyscraper after drinking too much at night.
Or at least you will be. Oxygen is in short supply at this point. By now, hypoxia is starting to show up. You will soon be unconscious, and you will launch yourself like a cannonball for at least a mile before waking up again. When that happens, remember what you are about to read. The ground, after all, is your next destination.
It’s true that your chances of surviving a 10-kilometer plummet are extraordinarily slim, but at this point you have nothing to lose by understanding your situation. There are two ways to fall from an airplane. The first is free fall, that is, falling from the sky without any protection or means to slow the descent. The second is to become something of a rider on the wreckage, a term coined by Massachusetts amateur historian Jim Hamilton, who developed the Free Fall Research Page, an online database of almost every imaginable human fall.
“Whether you’re trapped in a wrecked fuselage or simply falling, the concept that interests you most is terminal velocity.”
That classification means that you have the advantage of being attached to a piece of the plane. In 1972, Serbian flight attendant Vesna Vulovic was travelling in a DC-9 over Czechoslovakia when it exploded. She fell from a height of just over 10,000 meters, trapped between her seat, a catering cart, a section of the plane and the body of another crew member, landing and sliding down a snowy slope before coming to a stop, badly injured but alive. .
Surviving a plummet surrounded by a semi-protective cocoon of debris is easier than surviving a sheer free fall, including the eternal Ripley’s Believe It or Not superstar Alan Magee, who was thrown from his B-17 on a mission over France in 1943. The New Jersey aviator fell from about 6,000 meters and crashed into a train station; he was subsequently captured by German troops, who were surprised at his survival.
Whether you’re trapped in a wrecked fuselage or simply falling, the concept that interests you most is terminal velocity. As gravity pulls you towards the ground, you go faster. But like any moving object, you create resistance – more as your speed increases. When the downward force equals the upward resistance, the acceleration stops. You are at the peak.
Depending on your size and weight, and factors such as the density of the air, your speed at that moment will be about 193 kilometers per hour, and you will reach that point after a surprisingly short fall: only 460 meters, more or less the same height than the Willis Tower in Chicago. The same speed means you hit the ground with the same force. The difference is the clock. The body meets the sidewalk of the Windy City in 12 seconds.
From the cruising altitude of an airplane, you will have almost enough time to read this entire article.
7:00:20 AM: 6,700 meters
By now, you have descended into breathable air. You regain consciousness. At this altitude, you have approximately 2 minutes until impact. Your plan is simple. You will enter a zen state and decide to live. You will understand, as Hamilton points out, “that what kills you is not the fall, but the landing.”
Keeping your wits, you aim.
But in what? Magee’s landing on the stone floor of that French train station was softened by the skylight he passed through a moment before. The glass hurts, but it gives way. So does the grass. Haystacks and bushes have cushioned the free fall of other surprised survivors. The trees are not bad, although they do tend to skewer. Snow? Definitely. The swamps? With their muddy, plant-covered surface, they can do the trick.
“Hitting the ocean is essentially the same as hitting a sidewalk.”
Hamilton documents a case of a paratrooper who, by totally failing the parachute, saved himself by bouncing off the power lines. Contrary to popular belief, water is a terrible option. Like concrete, the liquid does not compress. Hitting the ocean is essentially the same as hitting a sidewalk, Hamilton explains, except that the pavement (perhaps unfortunately) won’t “split open and swallow your mangled body.”
With a goal in mind, the next consideration is the position of the body. To slow down the descent, try to emulate a skydiver. Open your arms and legs, bring your chest to the ground, and arch your back and head upward. This adds friction and helps you maneuver. But don’t relax. This is not your landing posture.
The question of how to achieve ground contact is unfortunately still a matter of debate given your situation. A 1942 study in the journal War Medicinenoted that “pressure distribution and compensation play an important role in preventing injuries.” Recommendation: wide body impact. But a 1963 report from the Federal Aviation Agency argued that adopting the classic paratrooper landing posture – feet together, heels up, knees and hips flexed – is what most increases survivability. The same study noted that training in wrestling and stunts would help people survive falls. Martial arts were considered especially useful for impacts on hard surfaces: “A martial arts expert can break through solid wood in one hit,” the authors wrote, speculating that those skills might be transferable.
The ultimate experience of learning while doing something could be a lesson from Japanese skydiver Yasuhiro Kubo, who holds the world record in the banzai category of such activity. The paratrooper launches his parachute from the plane and then jumps after it, waiting as long as possible to retrieve it, put it on and pull the safety rope. In 2000, Kubo – from 3,000 meters – fell for 50 seconds before recovering his equipment. A safer way to practice your technique would be in one of the wind tunnel simulators found in theme parks and shopping malls around the world.
But neither will help you through the hardest part: landing. For this, you can consider -although it is not exactly recommended- a jump from the highest bridge in the world, the Millau Viaduct, in France; Its platform rises 271 meters above a fairly spongy farmland.
Water landings, if necessary, require quick decision making. Studies of bridge jump survivors indicate that feet-first entry, such as a knife (also known as “the pencil”), optimizes the chances of surfacing. The famous divers of Acapulco, however, tend to adopt a head-down position, with the fingers of each hand together and the arms extended, protecting the head. Whichever you choose, first assume the free fall position for as long as you can. Then, if entering feet first is unavoidable, the most important piece of advice, for reasons both unspeakable and easy to understand, is to squeeze your ass.
Regardless of the surface, definitely don’t land on your head. In a 1977 “Impact Tolerance Study Using Free Fall Investigations”, researchers from the Highway Safety Research Institute found that the leading cause of death in falls – they examined falls from buildings, bridges, and some rock holes. elevator (oops!) – it was the cranial contact. If you have to get from top to bottom, sacrifice your good looks and land on your face, rather than on the back or top of your head. You can also consider flying with a pair of glasses in your pocket, says Hamilton, as your eyes are likely to water – which would affect accuracy – on the descent.
7:02:19 AM: 300 meters
Given the starting altitude, you’ll be nearly ready to hit the ground running when you get to this section of the class to land with some chance of life (based on an adult’s average reading speed of 250 words per minute). The basics have already been covered, so you can focus on the task at hand. But if you feel like it, here is some additional information, although I warn you that none of this will help you much at this time.
From a statistical point of view, it is best to be a member of the flight crew, a child or to travel in a military plane. In the past four decades, there have been at least a dozen commercial airline accidents with a single survivor. Of those documented, four of the survivors were crew members, such as flight attendant Vulovic, and seven were passengers under 18 years of age. Among them is Mohammed el-Fateh Osman, a 2-year-old boy who survived a Boeing plane crash in Sudan in 2003.
Crew survival may be related to improved restraint systems, but there is no consensus as to why children seem to overcome falls more often. The Federal Aviation Agency study indicates that children, especially those under the age of 4, have a more flexible skeleton, more relaxed muscle tone and a higher proportion of subcutaneous fat, which helps protect internal organs. Smaller people – whose heads are lower than the backs of the seats in front of them – are better protected from the debris that can be dislodged in a plane crash. The lower body weight reduces the terminal velocity, and the reduction of the surface area decreases the possibility of impalement on landing.
7:02:25 AM: 0 meters
Soil. As a Shaolin master, you are at peace and ready. Impact. Are you alive. And now that? If you’re lucky, your injuries might be minor, get up and smoke a cigarette to celebrate, as British tail gunner Nicholas Alkemade did in 1944 after landing in snowy bushes from a plummet of almost 5,500 meters. You most likely have a tough job ahead of you.
Follow the example of Juliane Koepcke. On Christmas Eve 1971, the Lockheed Electra he was travelling in exploded over the Amazon. The next morning, this 17-year-old German woke up on the jungle floor, tied to her seat, surrounded by Christmas gifts that were on the plane. Hurt and alone, she pushed the death of her mother, who was sitting next to her on the plane, from her mind. Instead, he remembered the advice of his father, a biologist by profession: to find civilization when you are lost in the jungle, follow the water. Koepcke waded from small streams to larger ones. She came across crocodiles and poked the mud in front of her with a stick to scare away the stingrays. She had lost a shoe in the fall and was wearing a torn miniskirt. His only food was a bag of candy and he had only dark, dirty water to drink.
On the tenth day, he rested on the bank of the Shebonya River. When he got up again, he saw a canoe tied to the shore. It took her hours to climb the embankment to a cabin, where she was found the next day by a group of loggers. The incident was seen as a miracle in Peru, and free fall statistics seem to support those who advocate divine intervention: According to the Geneva-based Air Accident Registry Office, 118,934 people have died in 15,463 plane crashes between 1940. and 2008.
Even if the failed parachutes are added, Hamilton’s count of confirmed or credible incidents so far is just 157, of which 42 occurred at more than 3,000 meters.
But Koepcke never saw survival as a matter of destiny. He can still remember the first moments of his fall from the plane, as he spun through the air in his seat. That was not within his control, but what happened when he regained consciousness was. “I was able to make the right decision: to leave the scene of the accident,” he says now. And thanks to the experience at his parents’ biological research station, he says, “I was not afraid. I knew how to move in the jungle and in the river, where I had to swim with dangerous animals like alligators and piranhas.”
That, or by now you’re wide awake and the plane’s wheels have safely touched the runway. You understand that the chances of any type of accident on a commercial flight are rather slim and that you will probably never have to use this information.
Source: Esquire By Dan Koeppel