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How do I survive jumping out of a tall building?
September 12, 2012 2:23 PM   Subscribe

How do I survive jumping out of a tall building?

Or falling out of a helicopter. Or being inside a plummeting elevator. Or any number of equally implausible situations.

If you're falling towards a solid surface, in what position should you land to minimise any injuries? On your feet? Legs bent? On your back? Something else?
posted by Mwongozi to Grab Bag (26 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
If your parachute doesn't open:

How to survive a 35,000 foot fall
posted by availablelight at 2:27 PM on September 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


There is no way to do this. The elevator-plummet, at least, has been handled on "MythBusters", by The Straight Dope, etc. The only cases I know of in which people survived large falls - Alcides Moreno, "Dead" Mike - had extenuating factors (in the former, the guy kind of "rode' his scaffolding to the ground; in the latter, the guy's body basically exploded as much as it COULD explode without killing him outright).
posted by julthumbscrew at 2:29 PM on September 12, 2012


What about for shorter falls, where you do not reach terminal velocity? Is there an optimal landing position?
posted by Mwongozi at 2:37 PM on September 12, 2012


Is there an optimal landing position?

I suspect that depends on which part of your body you want functional when it's all done. If you want to be able to think, don't land head first, if you want to be able to walk, landing feet first probably isn't a good idea, wanna be recognizable, don't land on your face.

I doubt there's a single correct answer unless you factor in something else (like a fall that includes forward motion as well as downward motion which enables you to roll as you hit).
posted by HuronBob at 2:42 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


See Betty Lou Oliver for one way to survive.
posted by dfriedman at 2:51 PM on September 12, 2012


People really aren't that great at surviving falls. I recently learned from a fire safety trainer that it's really important that if you have to escape from even a second (first in the UK) floor window you hang from your hands first rather than actually jumping. Many people die just falling from 10-15 feet up.
posted by crabintheocean at 2:57 PM on September 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


What about for shorter falls, where you do not reach terminal velocity?

You can quite easily die in a fall at speeds far lower than terminal velocity. You can die from falling off your roof.

I suspect the best generic answer would be to curl up in a fetal ball and hope for the best. Certainly, landing feet first would most likely shatter your legs and/or drive said legs up into your body.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:58 PM on September 12, 2012


The breaking of bones requires energy, which is then removed from application to your head or organs. Perhaps landing so that all of your extremity bones are broken would be best.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:01 PM on September 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


You can flatten your body to get the lowest possible terminal velocity, and with a little tweak it'll give you some forward momentum with will help you stick the following landing. The second thing to do is land every part of your body (head last), and try to "absorb" energy into your body along the way-- don't land on your feet, but let your feet touch and then roll to the ground as you hit with knee, them hip, and then arm and shoulder. You will be a mass of broken bones, probably including your head-bone, so if you do survive the hit, try not to move unless further survival necessitates it.

In addition to the snow's cushioning effect (I assume that Betty Lou Oliver is the airline stewardess who lucked on a snow-covered slope after falling from an aircraft), it will slow down the processes of your damaged body that may be inclined to kill you: e.g. blood loss, or the degradation of severed/isolated limbs

A good friend of mine was in a brutal car accident that chucked him a good distance before he landed in the snow with a broken neck. Today, he's remarkably functional (most people judge him to be the victim of a motor-impairment disease, the way he moves now, but you'd never guess he broke his neck) thanks to the fact that he was in the snow, cooling down, for a while before they found him (and a couple other coincidental facts, like good insurance and a doctor who was looking for experimental subjects for what is now a standard procedure). He got lucky all around, and he still has pain issues, but aim for the snow. Slope or a drift is good.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:05 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


landing so that all of your extremity bones are broken would be best.

In the "Dead" Mike link above, it seems like that's how he survived. All that bone-breaking absorbs a lot of energy.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:07 PM on September 12, 2012


I assume that Betty Lou Oliver is the airline stewardess who lucked on a snow-covered slope after falling from an aircraft

Uh, no. She survived a fall in the Empire State Building's elevator shaft.
posted by dfriedman at 3:10 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unplanned Freefall? Some Survival Tips

If your search discloses no trees or snow, the parachutist's "five-point landing" is useful to remember even in the absence of a parachute. Meet the ground with your feet together, and fall sideways in such a way that five parts of your body successively absorb the shock, equally and in this order: feet, calf, thigh, buttock, and shoulder. 120 divided by 5 = 24. Not bad! 24 mph is only a bit faster than the speed at which experienced parachutists land. There will be some bruising and breakage but no loss of consciousness to delay your press conference. Just be sure to apportion the 120-mph blow in equal fifths. Concentrate!

posted by martinrebas at 3:18 PM on September 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'd look for something to land on with some give to it, like an awning for a building or an open dumpster, where another material might absorb some of the impact. Of course you can't do much about that mid-fall, so it presupposes anticipation of the fall or luck.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:20 PM on September 12, 2012


I've read that jumping into water you should land feet-first and slightly diagonally such that your feet are further forward than your head. So if a slash is a person, / facing toward the left would be preferable to \ facing toward the left. Apparently that's how many Golden Gate suicide survivors land.
posted by vegartanipla at 3:32 PM on September 12, 2012


Many years ago, I read a single page article in some checkout magazine that stood out because it was written by Jackie Chan, the famous stuntman/actor. The premise was: So you've been doing something stupid; you're jumping from point A to point B forty stories up from one building to another, some stunt for a movie, and you missed. Totally. There's no net, no safety line, and you're going to come down hard. On concrete. What Do You Do?

This was something that Jackie had to think about, with the crazy stunts that he does, and he stressed the importance of Working This Out Beforehand. In the heat of the moment, with the adrenaline of the stunt and the shock of missing, you're going to have two, maybe three seconds to react, and that is not enough time to think about your options. You have to know what to do already. Not only that, but you have to have already practiced it, rehearsed it, drilled it, and conditioned yourself into a state where it's a reflex action to assume The Position the second that anything goes wrong.

So, what's The Position? Quick -- hands behind your neck, then make double fists over the base of your spinal cord. Head slightly forward, forearms on either side of your head, try to like press the inside of your elbows against either temple. Got it?

Next, if you still have time, now you can maybe lift and bend your knees, maybe try some judo or taekwondo fall/roll as you hit, but the chance that any of that can help you is usually a luxury, one that only applies if you're working on gym mats. It's best to just go completely limp and let the impact roll through your entire body.

Jackie has broken many, many bones and suffered all kinds of injuries in his career, and the one thing he's taken away is: everything can heal, everything can be fixed if you have paramedics on site and they can get to you and get you to a hospital emergency room quickly. So, The Position is designed to protect the two things most likely to result in instant death from a fall: broken neck, and fractured skull, and it's better to break every bone in your fingers and arms than to snap your neck. It might take months of recovery in an intensive care ward, but you will at least theoretically survive.

I've actually tried to google the article on a few occasions, and never found it. It was a really entertaining read. Was it in GQ? Men's Health? I can't remember!
posted by ceribus peribus at 3:34 PM on September 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


if you're falling from more than a couple feet up, you will be going way too fast to have any conscious control over how you land. people are not like cats in that respect. you'll fall how you fall.
posted by facetious at 3:34 PM on September 12, 2012


I mean, you're pretty much just a fragile bag of meat, so slamming into a solid surface with any sort of velocity will probably not end well.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 5:19 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your legs are the closest thing your body has to a crumple zone.
posted by flabdablet at 7:00 PM on September 12, 2012


Yes, if you are falling from a great height into water, you'll want to fall feet first. It's a bit more complicated than that (angle at which you hit the water, your age and general fitness level, whether you hold your breath or not, etc.) but they've done some work analyzing the Golden Gate Bridge survivors and those are the commonalities I remember.

If you would like to know more, you can watch the highly controversial The Bridge or read the vastly less controversial The Final Leap: Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge. The Final Leap, amongst its fierce and determined calls for reform, also details how the survivors survived.
posted by librarylis at 7:02 PM on September 12, 2012


If your search discloses no trees or snow, the parachutist's "five-point landing" is useful to remember even in the absence of a parachute. Meet the ground with your feet together, and fall sideways in such a way that five parts of your body successively absorb the shock, equally and in this order: feet, calf, thigh, buttock, and shoulder...

If you're like me and had trouble picturing this maneuver, here's an experienced soldier doing just that while falling much faster to the ground than he'd like after a parachute jump.
posted by revmitcz at 7:57 PM on September 12, 2012


I once read about a stuntperson who made it a point to land on her back when freefalling. However, she was also landing on a mat and also it was fiction so...

I imagine being fetal position with your face/head covered is your best bet. Please do not test this.
posted by windykites at 8:41 PM on September 12, 2012


I would guess that a parkour-like roll would be the optimum landing position. There are various parkour videos on Youtube where people roll and use other techniques to break their falls. Not sure if that would work so well with huge drops, but could be useful if jumping off a two or three story building.
posted by 99percentfake at 10:10 PM on September 12, 2012


martinrebas' description of the parachute landing fall is pretty accurate. Thing is, it takes a lot of practice. It works best with a little drift in any direction. The average military jumper, on a calm day, hits the ground at about 18-25 f/s. This is sort of like jumping off the hood of your Hummer, maybe a tiny bit higher. Much depends on what you land on.

The worst case scenario is dropping straight down out of the window of a building, landing on concrete--I take that back, hitting a rail would be worse.

If you seriously want to prepare for stuff like this, why not take up gymnasitics? It's an engrossing sport. A person with average physical ability can learn lots of neat moves.

I see gymnasts dropping from 15-foot heights without any ill effects. A 15-foot drop would injure anyone who's not prepared. Gymnasts learn to transfer the shock from their feet into a roll, the energy from the impact propels the roll. This is easier said than done, but the physics of the transfer is solid and calculable. You won't figure it out on the way out the window.
posted by mule98J at 11:02 PM on September 12, 2012


I once read about a stuntperson who made it a point to land on her back when freefalling. However, she was also landing on a mat

Well, yes, if you're jumping onto a mat that was designed specifically for the purpose, then you do want to land on your back because that will spread the force of the impact out into as large an area as possible so that the mat* can absorb it. Landing on your feet or an arm or your head would concentrate the force at that point and break it, mat or no.

On a solid surface that isn't going to work, you'll just break your spine. Arms and legs are more disposable than your spine, so your best bet would be to use them as a crumple zone. And pray.

Landing on water is a special case, because if you spread out the impact that large area will cause you to stop very suddenly as though you're hitting a solid surface; instead you want to try for as small an impact area as possible so that you'll slide into the water and slow down as gradually as possible once underwater. Bellyflop vs dive, basically.


* They actually act more like gigantic airbags; they're designed to let out air on impact to spread out the force over time as well
posted by ook at 6:25 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Relax, and do a rolling fall.
posted by JJ86 at 7:20 AM on September 13, 2012


Quoth Wikipedia: Vesna Vulović is a Serbian former flight attendant. She holds the world record, according to the Guinness Book of Records, for surviving the highest fall without a parachute: 10,160 metres (33,330 ft).

Now that I read this article, I see that there was a report 3 years ago that called into question the claimed altitude of the plane. However, the article also reveals 3 more people who have survived falling from aircraft.

Also, Ms. Vulović was apparently partly encapsulated by the aircraft (pinned in place at the time she was rescued), which I didn't recall from when I read about her, but I do recall that she landed on a relatively gentle snowy slope.

Mythbusters referenced her in the "escape slide parachute," in which the crew replicated (with modern equipment), the escape from a plane using a inflated liferaft, as performed by Indiana Jones in "Temple of Doom."
posted by Sunburnt at 12:14 PM on September 13, 2012


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