Fancy standing on top of the world? It comes with its risks… Just how high a height can you fall from, and still walk away? If it happened by accident – and you didn’t fancy free-falling for 24 miles – what chances would you have? For most people, a plummet from 50ft would prove fatal – but there are exceptions...
1. Felix Baumgartner
Felix Baumgartner broke the sound barrier when he free-fell from an eye-watering 24 miles in 2012 – reaching an astonishing 833.9MPH. A cruising jet reaches just 6-7 miles!
Smashing the record for the highest ever freefall, the 43 year old landed safely after just under 10 minutes – before a scare when his visor fogged up, and the mission was almost aborted.
Felix risked his blood bubbling and boiling due to the high altitude and immense pressure, as well as exposure to extreme cold (up to -70 degrees Celsius) on top of an unruly fall, in which Felix could have lost control and headed into a flat spin that would have potentially caused unconsciousness – and his eyeballs to burst. But not all falls are so meticulously planned!
2. 500ft down
Window cleaner Alcides Moreno incredibly survived a fall from the 47th floor of a skyscraper in Manhattan, New York. Doctors were gobsmacked that his head injuries were so slight. One said, of survival falling from higher than 10 storeys, “We’re talking tiny, tiny percentages. Forty-seven floors is virtually beyond belief.”
3. 2 miles
This woman survived, aged 17, a two-mile plummet from a plane disaster above the Peruvian jungle. Luckily, Juliane Koepcke‘s parents were involved with ecological research, and she was used to jungle conditions and so knew how to survive – despite coming into contact with deceased members of the flight along the way…
Juliane fell strapped to her chair, spiralling through a thundercloud into the canopy below, becoming unconscious and only waking up the next day. Sat next to her mother on the plane, the last words Juliane heard her mum say were, “That is the end, it’s all over.”
With deep cuts on her legs and a broken collarbone, Juliane managed to follow the river and eventually reach a base that fishermen used. She treated her maggot-infested wounds with petrol stored beside a cabin. At first, the fishermen believed she was a water goddess due to her blond hair and bloodshot, red eyes – but soon took her to safety. She later found out that her mother had initially survived the crash, too, but died days dater, alone and undiscovered.
4. Parachute malfunction
One very happy – and lucky – tale is that of Shayna Richardson in 2005. She was a solo skydiver who fell face first into a parking lot following a parachute malfunction, after her main chute failed to deploy and the same happened with her reserve chute.
Not only did she survive, but her unborn child – and she said she didn’t even know she was pregnant – did, too. Not a bad result from falling 10,000ft and smashing into concrete. “At the end, I said, ‘I’m going to die. I’m going to hit the ground. I’m going to die,'” Shayna said. “I don’t remember it. I don’t remember hitting the ground. I don’t remember the impact or anything that came with it.” Although she broke her pelvis and lost six teeth and had extensive facial surgery, Shayna and her baby both recovered.
The fall was videotaped. Of the footage, Shayna said, “The whole reason I’m comfortable with watching it is because I know how it ends.”
5. James Boole
This guy takes the biscuit when it comes to surviving extreme falls – his plummet to earth resulted in a 1m crater! Six thousand feet is definitely a long way – and we can be sure it felt even longer to James.
“This is going to hurt a lot, I thought, as I approached the ground. Or not at all.”
Skydiving over Kamchatka in Russia – which has about 30 active volcanoes – James wanted to get a good photographic shot, and with 2,500 jumps beneath his belt, it all sounded like money in the bag. But, as he jumped, things did not go to plan. His parachute didn’t open – and all he could see is snow.
In his own words, “The parachute barely unfurled, but swung my feet up above me, like a child on a swing. Then the ground hit me full in the back with the force of a truck. The impact left me unconscious for a few seconds, and as I opened my eyes two overwhelming emotions raced through me. The first was elation at having survived, the second, black, jagged fear. I was certain, straight away, that I’d broken my back – the pain in my spine was so immense that I had no doubt about this at all.”
“I’d become very cold, and one of my lungs had filled with blood, which gurgled in my airways. I thought it likely that I had serious internal bleeding and was about to die. I tried to decide what my last words to my family should be – “I’m sorry this has happened, I love you.””
It took an hour to reach a local hospital, where he was fitted with a back brace, and was up and walking in one week.