15 Feb 2010
It’s not the fall …

… it’s the sudden stop at the end.

When your plane breaks apart at 35000 feet, you have about three minutes before you hit the ground at around 120 miles per hour. You might even survive. Dan Koeppel provides a morbidly humorous survival guide in Popular Mechanics’ “How to Fall 35,000 Feet—And Survive“.

According to the Geneva-based Aircraft Crashes Record Office, 118,934 people have died in 15,463 plane crashes between 1940 and 2008. Even when you add failed-chute sky divers, Hamilton’s tally of confirmed or plausible lived-to-tell-about-it incidents is only 157, with 42 occurring at heights over 10,000 feet.

Interspersed with accounts of actual survival, Koeppel offers some quirky suggestions for pre-fall training, including “banzai parachuting”:

The ultimate learn-by-doing experience might be a lesson from Japanese parachutist Yasuhiro Kubo, who holds the world record in the activity’s banzai category. The sky diver tosses his chute from the plane and then jumps out after it, waiting as long as possible to retrieve it, put it on and pull the ripcord. In 2000, Kubo—starting from 9842 feet—fell for 50 seconds before recovering his gear.

Something I didn’t expect was the huge number of comments arguing about the effect of body weight on terminal velocity. Clearly, a lot of people don’t understand the difference between free-fall in vacuum and in atmosphere.

Category: Sci-Tech
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