Attention Slog readers: What I am about to tell could save your life! Yes, yours! (But it probably won’t.)
While watching Lost recently (well, Newsweek’s recap of Lost) I began wondering about the probability of actually surviving an airplane crash. Luckily they have a website for that. Well, kind of. Really they have a website about what you should do if you find yourself falling from an airplane with no parachute.
Now you would probably think the odds of you surviving are pretty slim. And you’d be right. But why not die trying?
Your best bet is to get a hunk of wreckage to “cushion” your fall. In 1972, Serbian flight attendant Vesna Vulovic fell 33,000 feet from her exploding airplane. Luckily, she had the presence of mind to accidentally wedge herself between her seat, a nearby catering trolley, a hunk of burning airplane, and a conveniently placed corpse into the snow. She lived, as have 32 other “wreckage riders” (since the 1940s).
If you can’t find a bunch of random shit to shield you from your imminent doom, don’t panic. (Ha.) Of the tens of thousands of others who’ve found themselves in similar predicaments over the last seven decades, thirteen others have lived. Here is how, courtesy of Popular Mechanics magazine.
Glass hurts, but it gives. So does grass. Haystacks and bushes have cushioned surprised-to-be-alive free-fallers. Trees aren’t bad, though they tend to skewer. Snow? Absolutely. Swamps? With their mucky, plant-covered surface, even more awesome. Hamilton documents one case of a sky diver who, upon total parachute failure, was saved by bouncing off high-tension wires. Contrary to popular belief, water is an awful choice. Like concrete, liquid doesn’t compress. Hitting the ocean is essentially the same as colliding with a sidewalk…
With a target in mind, the next consideration is body position. To slow your descent, emulate a sky diver. Spread your arms and legs, present 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 pose.
Water landings—if you must—require quick decision-making. Studies of bridge-jump survivors indicate that a feet-first, knife-like entry (aka “the pencil”) best optimizes your odds of resurfacing.
The famed cliff divers of Acapulco, however, tend to assume a head-down position, with the fingers of each hand locked together, arms outstretched, protecting the head. Whichever you choose, first assume the free-fall position for as long as you can. Then, if a feet-first entry is inevitable, the most important piece of advice, for reasons both unmentionable and easily understood, is to clench your butt.
So the next time you find yourself hurtling towards the ground, and your near-inevitable demise, breath deep, think back and remember all of the above. You can thank me later.