Tuesday, July 19, 2011

how to survive a long fall

What can you do if you slip off the scaffolding 10 stories above the ground or, worse yet, if your parachute fails while you are skydiving? The odds are not on your side. Is it possible to survive a free-fall from 50, or 250 feet (15, or 75m) above the ground? The answer is yes. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of people who have fallen from such heights and lived to tell the tale. While most of it comes down to luck, there are ways you can influence your velocity, the duration of your deceleration, and the distribution of the impact forces upon your body, and ultimately increase your chance of survival.

Slow your fall using the arch position. Unless you’re falling from an airplane, you won’t have enough time to try this step. Maximize your surface area by spreading yourself out using this skydiving technique.
    • Position yourself so that the front of your body faces the ground.
    • Arch your back and pelvis and tilt your head back like you’re trying to touch the back of your head to the back of your legs
    • Extend your arms so that your upper arms are out to the sides, and bend your elbows at a 90 degree angle so that your lower arms and hands point forward (parallel to, and on the sides of, your head) with your palms facing down; spread your legs to shoulder width.
    • Bend your knees slightly.
  1. Find the best landing spot. This step can only be performed if falling from an airplane. For very high falls, the surface on which you land is the greatest influence on your chance of survival. Search for steep slopes that gradually grow gentler, since you will not lose all of your momentum at once when you hit the ground. Observe the terrain below you as you fall.

    • Hard, inflexible surfaces such as concrete are the worst on which to fall. Very uneven or jagged surfaces, which present less surface area to distribute the force of impact, are also undesirable.
    • The best possible surfaces on which to fall are snow, deep water (preferably water that is fast moving or frothy), soft ground (such as a newly tilled field or in a marsh), and trees or thick vegetation (although these present a high risk of impalement).
  2. 3
    Steer yourself to the landing spot. If you’re falling from an airplane, you will usually have about 1-3 minutes before impact. You will also have the ability to travel horizontally a good distance (up to a couple of miles or three kilometers).

    • From the arch position described above, you can direct your flight forward by pulling your arms slightly back at the shoulders (so that they are not extended forward as much) and straightening (extending) your legs.
    • You can move backward by extending your arms and bending your knees as though you are trying to touch the back of your head with your heels.
    • Right turns may be accomplished while staying in the arch position by twisting your upper body slightly to the right (dipping your right shoulder), and left turns are performed by dipping the left shoulder.
  3. Bend your knees. Possibly nothing is more important to surviving a fall (or simpler to do) than bending your knees. Research has shown that having one’s knees bent at impact can reduce the magnitude of impact forces 36-fold.
  4. Relax. Relaxing during a long fall—especially as you near the ground—is easier said than done, but try anyway. If your muscles are tense, your body will transfer force more directly to your vital organs. One way to remain (relatively) calm is to focus on performing the steps and being aware of your body. Doing so gives you something else to think about besides impending death.
  5. Land feet-first. No matter what height you fall from, you should always try to land on your feet. While landing feet-first concentrates the impact force on a small area, it also allows your feet and legs to absorb the worst of the impact. If you are in any other position, try to right yourself before you hit the ground (fortunately, attaining the feet-first position seems to be an instinctive reaction). Keep your feet and legs tightly together so that both your feet hit the ground at the same time.
  6. Land on the balls of your feet. Point your toes slightly down before impact so that you will land on the balls of your feet. This will allow your lower body to more effectively absorb the impact.
  7. Try to roll. It's in video games, and it works in real life, too. This can absorb the impact greatly by moving your body's force across the ground instead of straight into it. Tuck your arm under your leg and roll your head towards your chest as soon as you hit the ground. Make sure you do not roll after you've 'bounced' off the ground once you've landed.
  8. Protect your head on the bounce. When you fall from a great height onto land, you will usually bounce. Some people who survive the initial impact (often with a feet-first landing) suffer a fatal injury on their second impact. Cover your head with your arms. One technique for doing so is to put your arms on the sides of your head with your elbows facing forward (and projecting in front of your face) and your fingers laced behind your head or neck. This covers a large portion of your head, but obviously not all of it.

    • If you have time to get an indication of which way you’re bouncing (and hence which part of your head you’re likely to hit), you can quickly adjust your arms to cover that part of your head.
  9. Control the orientation of your body on the bounce. As you would expect, mortality is highest when the initial point of impact is the head. Mortality declines (in this order) when the point of impact is ventral (the front of the body), dorsal (back of the body), lateral (side of the body), and feet-first.
    Get medical help immediately. With all the adrenaline flowing in response to your flight, you may not even feel injured upon landing. Even if you are not visibly injured, you may have sustained fractures or internal injuries that must be treated immediately. No matter how you’re feeling, get to a hospital as quickly as possible.


  • If you are over an urban area, you probably won’t be able to control your flight precisely enough to choose a good landing surface, but glass- or tin-roofed structures, awnings, and cars are preferable to streets and concrete rooftops.
  • Water landings are best done landing feet-first with legs tight together and arms tight against the front of your body with your hands protecting your groin, while leaning back very slightly. Leaning back helps to reduce forced unnatural movement of the neck and the amount of water that will rush up your nose. Also, contract your buttocks so that water does not rush in and cause severe internal damage.
  • When you enter the water you will create a path of bubbles which may be followed as they float up towards the surface. If there is no light, follow the bubbles.
  • If you find yourself flipping uncontrollably, try to regain stability by going into the arch position. If nothing else, the stability will help you remain somewhat calm.
  • If you are in an arch position while falling from an airplane, try to get your body vertical well before you hit the ground so that you don’t get caught in some other position at impact (as a guide, keep in mind that at 1,000 feet (300 m), depending on your velocity, you have about 6-10 seconds before impact).
  • Good physical condition and youth seem to positively influence free-fall survival rates. You can’t change your age, but if you’re looking for yet another reason to get in shape, here it is.
  • Studies of long-fall survivors have shown that those who reported being relaxed suffered, on average, far less severe injuries than those who reported being panicked or tense.


  • If choosing to land in water, it is important to understand that unless the water is quite deep and you land feet-first with your body nearly vertical, water will cushion you about as much as concrete (since water is so dense, it doesn't move out of the way fast enough to create a hole for your body; this is why even small belly flops into swimming pools hurt). In addition, if you survive the impact, you may be severely injured and/or unconscious, and thus the risk of drowning is high.
  • People very seldom survive falls from heights of 100 feet (30 m) or more, and mortality is high even at heights of 20-30 feet (6-9 m). It is always best not to fall at all.
  • Bear in mind that while skydiving is a fairly safe sport, there is always risk of serious injury or death.
  • Expect an injury if you're not familiar with skydiving.