Free FallThe Free Fall Research Page
The incident log has two goals:|
WWII Airman Slides to Safety on a Frozen Lake
Jacob writes: “I remember reading an account years and years ago, of an incident I believe in WW2 of an airman whose bomber had trouble with a landing gear, (I believe it would not lower?) and while working on it in the wheel well, he fell out of the aircraft, which was flying fairly low and fast over a frozen lake. I remember the account claiming that due to low altitude, the high horizontal speed, the large amount of cold weather gear, and smooth frozen lake surface, the man met the ice below at a faster horizontal speed than his descent speed, and subsequently slid for over a mile across the lake before coming to a stop unharmed. Have you ever ran into this story before, and if so, does it have any veracity?”
Our initial response: Though not identical, there is a vaguely similar story (still unconfirmed) about a B-24 crewman in the Aleutians who fell out of the bomb bay while trying to loosen a stuck bomb. Here is a link to that incident: It's called Falling B-24 Crewman in the Aleutians. If anyone has information on either of these accounts, please write.
Update/Resolution: Thanks to a tip from a reader, we now know the airman’s name. In an e-mail, the reader wrote that he was 100% certain that in the early 1960s he saw the survivor describe this incident on a Canadian television show called “Front Page Challenge.” A little research on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) archive web site revealed a Front Page Challenge episode described as “Canadian Airman Falls from Air Force Bomber and Lives.” That show, which first aired in 1959, named the airman as Harry Griffiths. Further communication with the CBC reveals that unfortunately the episode is not available for viewing anywhere online.
With the name we were able to learn the following about this incident:
On December 22, 1942, 20-year-old Harry Griffiths and 29-year-old pilot Sid Gerow left Mankato airfield in Minnesota bound for Montreal. They were to use this flight to test out the brand new twin-engine Boston bomber to which they had been assigned. The final test was on the bombsight. Griffiths climbed into the aircraft’s nose and lay on his belly. As he moved into position, the forward entry hatch gave way and his lower body tumbled out of the plane. Luckily, he was able to hold on, first to the bombsight and then later as he slipped further out of the plane he was able to grasp the wooden fitting of the bombsight. Gerow, the pilot, heard Griffith’s cries for help and he quickly assessed the situation. He couldn’t leave the controls but he could dive the plane toward a nearby frozen lake. He hoped that Griffiths would get the hint and drop from his precarious perch as the bomber skimmed over the ice. Griffiths could see what Gerow had in mind and let go as they flew low over the ice-covered lake. As he fell, he felt for a moment like he was gliding along, but then he struck the surface at high speed and went skidding for close to a kilometer, according to Gerow, who circled the lake to see if Griffiths was okay. Though stunned and bruised, Griffiths rose and walked toward help. He taken to Ste. Anne De Bellevue military hospital and made a full recovery. He had no memory of getting up and walking away, but did recall everything leading up to his fall.
Baby Survives a Fall from a Miami Beach Hotel Window in the 1940s
See the Questions page for the full story on this incident:
Can you identify the baby my grandfather treated?
August 1988 Accident at Fort Benning
A fellow jumper writes: “As I was collecting my canopy on Fryar DZ [the drop zone for the Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia] I stopped to watch the next pass and was shocked when I witnessed the collision and streamers. They plunged to ground and never deployed a reserve. Two soldiers injured, right in front of me. That was Aug. 1988.”
Does anyone have information on this incident? If so, please write.
RAF Training Incident in Canada in 1942
Sometime in 1942 a British airman survived a long fall while training in Canada. It appears he fell a long distance without a parachute, yet despite his injuries he survived and recovered fully. Sadly, after completing 33 missions he died in a training accident in a Lancaster bomber in 1944. His name was Albert Yoxon and he was a pilot officer from Liverpool. His relatives have a newspaper article that indicates that he was injured sometime before September 7, 1942. The location of the incident is not known, but it may have occurred in or around Winnipeg. Can anyone help?
Looking for SGT Hyatt
John Townsend writes about a U.S. Army Ranger parachute incident that occurred in October of 1983. John describes it as a Reforger Exercise that took place in Germany. He’s not sure of the exact location but says that it was at the drop zone for the German Para Jump School. Here is the story in John’s words: “True story of an event that I witnessed first-hand…as did others from my unit [Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 75th Rangers]. We were jumping German parachutes, out of a German CH-47 aircraft. So this was a ramp jump, Hollywood – no equipment [i.e., no LCE, ruck, or weapon]. SGT Hyatt was in front of me heading for the ramp and he was behind a few other jumpers. As we got closer to the edge of the ramp we could see the other jumpers disappear over the edge of the ramp…and then see them again under the opened parachute dropping slowly to the drop zone below. The jump was at 1200ft AGL [above ground level]. SGT Hyatt then stepped off the edge of the ramp and disappeared and then I stepped off the ramp but did not see SGT Hyatt’s canopy. I looked for him and saw him fall under a cigarette roll all the way to the ground. I thought for sure he was dead. When I made it to the ground I removed my chute and ran to where several others had gathered around SGT Hyatt. I moved through the group hiding him and found him sitting on the ground OK. We had jumped onto a freshly plowed beet field and he came straight down and sunk crotch high in mud. Not a scratch on him. Craziest thing I had seen to that point in my life. Saint Michael, patron saint of the Airborne, was looking after him that day!”
John is trying to track down SGT Hyatt, but if you know him, please send him our way.
Liberation of Luxembourg Reenactment Accident
Arthur Fryer writes that when he was a sergeant in B company of the 1/39 Mechanized Infantry, he witnessed a soldier fall with a defective parachute that did not fully open. Fryer saw the soldier hit the ground from about 150 to 200 yards away. Fryer would like to know if this soldier survived. The incident happened sometime during the summer of 1978, 1979, or 1980. The parachuting display was part of a reenactment of the liberation of Luxembourg during World War II. If anyone can provide additional details, please let us know.
Lt. R.K. Townsend over Italy
Martin Mitchell writes: “As a kid growing up in Port Elizabeth in South Africa, I was friends with a boy by the name of Bruce Townsend. My parents became friends with his parents and our respective fathers were both members of the local branch of the SA Airforce Association having both served during WW2. I remember my father telling the story of Richard Townsend’s amazing escape from (I think) a Ventura over Italy when the tail of the aircraft was lost during an attack. Many years later, I came across the story again in Neil Orpen’s book “Eagles Victorious” of how crews of other aircraft had seen the Ventura doing down and had thought that whoever was still on the aircraft were doomed. It later became evident that in fact Lt RK Townsend had survived and was imprisoned in Italy and then Germany. I don’t recall all the facts of how many of them escaped certain death or how they managed to escape by parachute or from the wreckage on the ground.”
We are working on getting a copy of the Neil Orpen account, but if anyone else has heard of this incident and has details such as the date or his unit, please let us know.
Update: Martin writes: “I found the entry today and it seems that my memory had let me down – it was a Marauder and not a Ventura as stated earlier. Here is the full entry from the book “Eagles Victorious” by Lt-Gen H.J. Martin, SM, CBE, DFC, Croix Militaire (Belgian), and Col Neil D. Orpen, published by Purnell, Cape Town in 1977 (ISBN 0 86843 008 0):
“SQUADRON COMMANDER LOST (pg. 141) - With its bomb-aimers having difficulty in levelling the new Mark XIV bombsights of the Marauders, 24 Sqn [South African Air Force] on 1st February  attacked a ship in Portalago Bay on the west coast of Leros, but results were poor. A repeat attack next day by six Marauders fared no better. On 3rd February the squadron was deeply depressed when anti-aircraft fire over Suda Bay in Crete hit Lt-Col Robb’s aircraft aft of the bomb bay and blew the complete tail section off, sending the aircraft spinning down out of control. The squadron feared the worst, but Lt-Col Robb and his co-pilot, Lt R.K. Townsend, in fact survived and were prisoners of war in hospital in Athens before being moved to Germany. Capt N.M. Watermeyer, Lts N.C. Scott-Winlow and A. Nelson, and P/O J.A. Goyer, RCAF, were killed.”
Thanks to Martin for the additional info. Based on this description it would appear that the odds are pretty good that if he was in the front of the plane then his survival was probably via parachute rather than riding the wreckage to the ground, but the additional details in the ‘Eagles Victorious’ account regarding his unit (24 Squadron) and the date (February 3, 1944) should be enough to confirm this. Another account of this mission mentions a photograph of this incident. Web searches to find it have been unsuccessful. If you know of an image of an airborne B-26 with a severed tail, please contact us.
Lucky Once, but Not Twice
Author Thomas Berry (www.thomas-berry.com) writes about a story that was told to him by his grandfather, Donald Malloy. Malloy befriended a navigator who either fell or jumped out of a B-17 over England in the summer of 1943. His parachute didn't open but he survived a fall of about 5,000 feet anyway. According to Malloy the navigator spent six months in an army hospital in England before returning to duty at Snetterton Heath (the 96th Bomb Group's base) sometime around Jan 2, 1944. Two days later, so the story goes, he was sent up again on his first mission and his plane was shot down and he was killed.
Is anyone familiar with this story? Does anyone have a copy of "Snetterton Falcons - The 96th BG in WWII" by Robert Doherty and Geoffrey Ward? Perhaps this incident is mentioned there.
James Dearing, 82nd Airborne, Canopy Rider
Mark Jurecki, James Dearing’s son-in-law, writes: “When I was a kid in the mid-fifties to early 60s, I read about a paratrooper who during a training jump suffered equipment failure and ended up riding down to earth atop another troopers’ canopy. His name: James Earl Dearing, 82nd Airborne. This incident took place shortly before the end of WW II, and was not ‘in-theater.’ At the time, I said to myself ‘horse feathers.’ Many years later, I married Mr. Dearing’s oldest daughter. Mr. Dearing is 84 now and in poor health. I’d like to recover that book if I can, and send it to him.” Mr. Jurecki thought the book might be “The Long Lonely Leap” by Joe Kittinger or some book by Martin Caidin, but it was so long ago that he read it. We suggested that it might be Caidin’s book “The Silken Angels: A History of Parachuting” or “Into the Silk: True Stories of the Caterpillar Club” by Ian Mackersey or “Escape to Danger” by Paul Brickhill and Conrad Norton, yet none of these has yet turned out to have the story. Maybe we missed it or maybe it’s in some other book. If anyone knows where this story might reside, please let us know. Mr. Jurecki is also reaching out to the 82nd Airborne’s historian but has not heard back yet. The incident probably took place in Frankfurt, Germany sometime in 1946. (Related trivia note: After the war Mr. Dearing was with the guard detail in Berlin and he appears there in the opening credits of the movie “Berlin Express.”)
Survived, but Just for a Short Time
Daniel writes: "A while back I saw a video of a skydiver who was planning on landing in a stadium but neither his parachute nor his backup chute opened. He landed so hard in the center of the stadium tbat he bounced (from what I can recall) about 20 feet. He then stood up and walked a few feet but passed away within moments. It was an amateur video taken from the stands. The only thing you really see is the man hit the ground at extreme velocity and bounce." Can anyone provide additional details on this incident?
Long Fall Survivor at Lake Elsinore
Karen writes that her relative, Sally "Deeny" Smith (nee Lego), survived a long fall sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s when her parachute failed to open. The incident occurred at Lake Elsinore, California. She has no other details but would like to find a newspaper article or other reference. Can anyone help?
Hanger Skylight Saves First-Timer
Tom Croley wrote with the following story: "Back in the mid 1970s maybe around 1976, I recall reading a story in the Salem, Oregon newspaper, The Statesman Journal. It was about a high school senior who had won a free skydive jump in Auburn, Oregon, a town just south of Salem. He had to sit through an hour or so of instruction and then went up for the jump, his very first. Main chute failed, in a panic he pulled the reserve and it tangled in the main. He fell and hit the roof of an airplane hanger passing right through the skylight, but the chutes snagged in the skylight and he twanged to a stop a few feet from the floor escaping with minor cuts and bruises. I cut the article out and kept it in my files for many years, but now I can't find it having discarded many of my old files. OR...maybe my total recollection of this incident is in my imagination. There is a small airport in Auburn next to the freeway and they did have a skydive place there that I drove by many times. Don't know if it is still there." Can anyone provide the answer to this mystery?
Camptown Races and the Transamerica Building
Sometime in the early 1970s when the Transamerica building was being constructed, a man who may have been high on LSD rushed past a security guard and jumped down an airshaft. He fell 29 stories and broke his thighs, knees, and heels. He shouted "whoopee!" as he jumped and was heard humming "Camptown Races" in the ambulance. An article likely appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News. The man was identified as Harold Brown in one account on the internet but without the exact date it will be a little hard to find the source stories in the newspapers. Can anyone provide a date or confirm these details?
Update: James Eddings has found the solution to this mystery! He lived in San Francisco at the time and recalled the story. He was able to find the answer using a Google newspaper search. Here's one of the many articles he turned up. In short, the incident happened on March 29, 1978 and was picked up by many publications. Our thanks to James for his help. Now, let's see if we can help James to find another quirky San Francisco story that happened around the same time (and though there is no Free Fall angle we're posting it here anyway): Beverley Johnson was a local weather woman who died after slamming into a Examiner truck on the Bay Bridge. It was then that they discovered that Beverley was really a man. James says that the story was covered up by the TV station and that there is nothing on the Net about it. If anyone can provide details on the Beverley Johnson story, it would be much appreciated.
Russian Pilot in Finland
Pasi Pirttikoski from Finland writes that a Russian pilot named Mikolai Volkovin (maybe Nicolai Volkoff?) survived a long fall without a parachute when his SB-2 bomber was shot down on February 2, 1940. He was uninjured. Can anyone provide more detail on this incident?
Mitchell Lake Lady - It Wasn't the Fall that Killed Her
Bill Price writes:
"When I was at South San Antonio high school in the early sixties (probably around ’63) there was a story around about a woman whose ‘chute didn’t open and she fell into Mitchell Lake, a sewage lagoon, south of the city. The legend went that she survived the fall, but died from infections from the lake effluent." Can anyone provide additional details about this story?
Note: A post by Richard Economy (Dr. Eco) describes a jump he made in the early sixties, but besides the fact that his parachute worked and his sex is different, the only common thread is that he fell into Mitchell Lake. Perhaps with a little embellishment he could become a she with a failed parachute and a tragic end. Does anyone know whether there was really a woman who died or is this just a legend that grew out of Dr. Eco’s story?
What Happened to Wally Benton?
We've recently heard about an incident that occurred on September 11, 1970 at the new Boise State University Bronco Stadium. Wally Benton, director of the skydiving club, was injured in a skydiving accident that happened at the opening ceremonies for the stadium. The details we have received so far are minimal but imply that he survived a long fall with a failed parachute. Can anyone provide more information? (Note: There are some photos at the Boise State University archive. Search there on 'Wally Benton Mishap' for two other images.)
Update: The kind folks at the Boise State University archive sent us articles from the school newspaper (the Arbiter) that provide details on this incident. An account in the September 17, 1970 issue states that as more than 14,000 football fans watched, Benton appeared to make a perfect descent under parachute from a Cessna 172, but as he floated below the upper deck of the stadium he was tossed back and forth and crashed to the ground. Emergency personnel arrived immediately and he was taken on a stretcher to an ambulance. Three other parachutists landed safely: Larry Homstad, Gary Gray, and Tom Sullivan. The article noted that Benton's legs had compound fractures and that he also suffered head injuries. Later on the newspaper reported that Benton was making a rapid recovery but still faced a long road ahead. A fund was created and fundraising efforts were organized to help pay for his medical bills.
Lucky Belgian Giant
Allen Coulson writes:
"I was with 2 PARA (UK) serving in Germany during 1979 and we arranged for a company to do training with the Fallschirmjaeger – the German Paras at Haltern DZ – jumping from Transalls – which looked like a small 2 engined Hercules. This was basically to get our Bronze wings – ie 6 drops at about 1000ft. At the same time there was a company of (maybe it was all of them) the Belgian Foreign Legion paras. In the UK we do our first jump from the balloon at 1000 feet and I was led to understand that in Belgium they did free fall training from a balloon at 5000 feet! British parachute troops do not pack their own and it is left to the duty company in the German Unit to do the packing which to us was rather alarming. More alarming were the Belgian Paras who looked every in their fierce reputation derived from rescuing nuns at Kolwezi in the Congo. One of them – a giant with scars all over his head wanted to swap helmets and offered his in exchange for mine on the basis that it was his ‘lucky helmet’. His scars did not support this notion of luck and I demurred. Because we were jumping with mixed sticks he was in the plane with me on one of the jumps and his chute malfunctioned and he piled in to what we assumed was a certain death at the edge of the DZ which was on a peat bank. We found him in much the same way as described in the other incident [ed. note: for a couple of similar stories see British paratrooper in a bog and French Paratrooper in a Rice Paddy in Vietnam] – seemingly dead and irrecoverable because of the suction. I noticed that it was ‘lucky helmet’ and gave him a cigarette. When we dug him out we found the remains of a peat railway track – one inch steer bar about a foot from him which if he had straddled on landing would have sliced him in two. He went straight back up and did another jump and I think we abandoned the training until a better QA system for packing chutes was derived.
Can anyone provide additional details on this remarkable incident? Allen provided one additional detail. He doesn't recall the exact date but the incident occurred during the summer.
French Paratrooper in a Rice Paddy in Vietnam
Sometime in the fall of 1950 while on a low-level combat jump using a static line, the parachute of a French paratrooper failed. He fell feet first into a rice paddy from a height of about 500 feet. Buried to a depth of about 12 inches, other paratroopers saw his floating helmet and pulled him out by his waving arms. A reference to this incident was published in an article entitled "Survive!" (Vol. 12, No.6 - 1975) in a skydiving magazine (pages 136-137). The original source is likely a Dr. Richard G. Snyder report from 1976 entitled "Investigating Free Fall Impacts." In another Snyder article ("Man's Survivability of Extreme Forces in Free-Fall Impact"), Dr. Snyder references a personal communication from Jean-Louis Riehl relayed by Captain R.W. Sonntag (1967), which could be related to this incident. Does anyone have additional details on this incident, such as the soldier's name?
Tim Piggot (or Pigott), Free Faller
In a comment on the recent Popular Mechanics article about falling Warren Fahy wrote:
"When I was 16 I backpacked around England and stayed with a family in Chester near Wales. The dad was a great guy named Tim Piggot, who had survived falling from an airplane during WWII. He landed in snow and broke nearly every bone in his body, undergoing two years of physical therapy. At the time, it was thought he was the only one to have survived falling from a plane without a parachute! So let me add his name to the list."
We've been in touch with Warren and he adds the following details:
"In 1979, at the age of 16, I visited Mr. Tim Pigott of Chester, on the border of Wales. He and his son and daughter lived in a rambling house painted all kinds of funky colors that had a circular hole through one wall between the kids’ bedrooms. I was told by a family friend who had put me up in London, whose name was Joan Brown (now deceased), that Tim was one of the only men who had ever survived falling from a plane without a parachute, that it had happened during WWII, that he landed in snow and broke every bone in his body. He had gone through two years of physical therapy. He was a wonderful, pipe-smoking man with a contemplative, softspoken and wry soul, who directed me to a great hike I shall never forget up to Beeston castle. Tim seemed to be in his latter sixties when I met him, and stood just around six-feet. If that helps. I do seem to remember that he fell over England."
It's possible that this fall could be related to one already in the Incident Log, that one is about an RAF tail gunner who fell 4,000 feet in the turret of a Halifax or Lancaster bomber. And of course there's another Welshman, Ogwyn George, whose story is told elsewhere on this page.
If anyone knows any details about Mr. Piggot/Pigott or his fall, please let us know. By the way, Warren is the author of Fragment, which was recently nominated for the Best Science Fiction Novel of 2009 and the International Thriller Writers Best First Novel award. See more at his web site, www.warrenfahy.com.
Update: We have discovered additional information on Tim Pigot's story in a book called "Into the Silk" by Ian Mackersey. In June of 1944, 21-year-old Tim Pigot was an RAF pilot flying out of southern Italy on a mission to provide air support to Albanian partisans in Kelcyre in southern Albania. His Spitfire was struck by enemy fire and he baled out at around 5,000 feet (2,500 feet above the valley). His recollection of what followed is not 100% clear, but he believes that his feet were stuck in the cockpit for a while before he finally broke free. It appears that during this time his parachute was damaged because when he pulled his ripcord what came out was not a nicely inflated canopy, but a damaged one with perhaps a third of the parachute unfurled. He hit the ground at tremendous speed and was badly injured, temporarily paralyzed from the waist down. Albanian partisans found and rescued him. His ordeal continued through a painful odyssey that eventually brought him back to Brindisi, Italy. The good news is that after a year in the hospital he recovered fully.
Nevada Tail Gunner Trainee
We heard the following story through William Wilsterman who was a pilot at an aerial gunnery instruction base in Las Vegas during World War II. During a training exercise at 10,000 feet, an AT-6 single-engine military training aircraft collided with a B-17 bomber. The B-17 exploded, killing both pilots, the crew, and all of the student gunners except for one. The tail gunner rode the tail section down to earth in a flat spiral after it was cut off around the waist gun section. Wilsterman said that the next day the survivor, a private, was given a two week leave, having survived apparently uninjured. Wilsterman said that the incident probably occurred in June or July of 1943. For more on Wilsterman's military career and the Las Vegas Army Air Field (now Nellis Air Force Base), see his web site. Wilsterman later served at an air base at Indian Springs (now Creech Air Force Base).
Update (September 2010): The answer to this one comes from Tony Mireles. Tony is the author of Fatal Army Air Forces Aviation Accidents in the United States, a three-volume work that documents fatal accidents costing the lives of over 15,500 fliers. For more information, see his web site, www.warbirdcrash.com. The second volume of Tony's book reveals that the wreckage rider was Corporal Thomas K. Mang, a gunner trainee who fell in the severed tail section of the B-17 and suffered serious injuries. What is not clear at this point is the extent of Mang's injuries and whether he recovered. If you have any further details, please contact us.
The text below comes from Fatal Army Air Forces Aviation Accidents in the United States (Volume 2, page 701, copyright 2006, Anthony J. Mireles). This excerpt has been included here with the permission of the author. Two quick notes will help clarify the account: (1) the letter 'J' next to the date indicates that this incident is the tenth fatal accident that occurred on that date and (2) readers will note the three Pattersons who died in this accident and may assume that they were related but Tony explains that it's just the luck of the alphabet and that they were the next three people in line for gunnery training. Many thanks to Tony for his help solving this mystery!
2-25-44J. Las Vegas, Nevada. At 1455 PWT, a Boeing B-17G (42-31324) and a North American AT-6A (41-15967) collided in mid-air and crashed 15 miles northwest of the Army Air Field at Las Vegas, Nevada, killing 12 fliers and seriously injuring another. 2Lt. Carlton H. Kleiser was killed aboard the AT-6A. Killed in the crash of the B-17G were: 2Lt. Donald C.M. Westhaver, pilot; 2Lt. Court B. Lake, co-pilot; SSgt. Ralph E. Warford, gunnery instructor; SSgt. Robert T. King, engineer; Sgt. Richard H. Miner, student gunner; Sgt. Joseph F. Triscori, student gunner; Pfc. Peter Merich Jr., student gunner; Pfc. Laverne R. Freeland, student gunner; Pvt. Robert E.L. Patterson, student gunner; Pvt. George O. Patterson, student gunner; Pvt. Leonard G. Patterson, student gunner. Student Gunner Cpl. Thomas K. Mang, who fell to earth trapped in the severed B-17 tail section, miraculously survived the crash but sustained serious injuries.
Both airplanes had taken off from Las Vegas Army Air Field on separate camera-gunnery missions. Investigators stated, "The best witness to the accident was another AT-6 pilot who had just completed a turn, putting him in position slightly above and directly behind the B-17G, approximately 500 or more feet away. He saw the AT-6 involved flying to the right of the B-17, slightly ahead and approximately 700 feet above. The AT-6 executed a steep peel-off to the left, going into a curved dive toward the B-17. At this same time, the B-17 executed a shallow turn to the left also. The AT-6 struck the B-17 from about the 2 o'clock positiion just behind the pilots compartment and over the number-three engine. The witnessing pilot stated that the two airplanes seemed to fuse together for a terrific explosion. He could feel the concussion on his own airplane. The airplanes disintegrated with several large sections floating to earth in flames.
The collision occurred at approximately 8,000 feet msl, about 6,000 feet above the ground. Two parachutes were involved. Upon investigation it was determined that one parachute was occupied by the pilot of the AT-6A. Several witnesses saw this parachute floating down with the pilot and canopy burning with smoke streaming behind. The shroud lines apparently had burned off on one side and the canopy collapsed when about 1,000 feet above the ground, allowing the pilot to fall. The [AT-6] pilot was killed instantly at the time of the collision [and not in the fall]. It is believed that the second parachute was a parachute pack only [and] that it was popped open by the collision with no occupant suspended by it. Several eyewitnesses stated that they could not see anyone hanging from it and that the canopy had billowed and collapsed several times and fell freely as though no weight were suspended from it. Also, no other crewmember was found who might have parachuted down.
There were a total of 12 men aboard the B-17G and all were killed except one gunner riding in the waist gun position who was found in the rear section shortly after the accident, still conscious, but with several major injuries. When the airplane was disintegrating in the air, the rear section was separated at the ball turret position and this gunner came tumbling down within this section. He was stunned from the collision and does not recall any particular details except that the B-17 did not execute any noticeable maneuver before the collision.
Marine City Streamer
Dean Unick sent me three long-fall survival stories (including one involving himself) but the best is the following which I will let Dean tell:
"Tom Collins (real name) had his own late 50's survival stories, but his malfunction club story, and because of multiple witness tellers, I have good reason to believe him, concerns a student who did everything wrong. Marine City Airport, S.E. Michigan, mid 1980's, student's name I do not know. High speed malfunction, streamer, but no slowing, may have even just stabilized him to match or exceed terminal velocity. Student maintained frog position, face to earth right to impact, no effort to pull the reserve, no AOD or non functional, no reserve deployment at all. As Tom told me the story of his student, tight barber pole, no attempt to deploy reserve at all, Tom began running down the runway toward the student plummeting, yelling his fool head off, "Pull. Pull." The student smacked (I understand from more than one person that the sound of the smack nearly a half mile away (2,500 foot runway) was amazingly loud and crack of doom startling) hard, body flat, into the mud and cattails near the end of the runway. Tom slowed his run to a very dejected walk. That swamp had claimed another some years before and fishing the 'bits and chunks' out was no fun. Some short time later, seconds or half a minute, the student suddenly sat up, scaring hell out of everyone. Tom began running again and reached the student to find him sitting in a body shaped crater, mud, mud, mud, and he had missed every one of the cut cattails and brush stumps, the area was cleared periodically at the end of the runway. He apologized to Tom about having screwed up the jump. A day or two in the hospital for observation minimal injuries."
This is so nicely written that it needs no further explanation, but for clarity let me add that AOD stands for Automatic Opening Device. I’d also like to note that a “tight barber pole” is a great description of a tangled streaming parachute.
If anyone knows this student skydiver’s name, please contact us.
Biplane Fall Near London
Around 1917, according to an account in a 1963 letter to Flight International magazine, the pilot of an Avro biplane survived a long fall when the top wing came off. The unnamed pilot, who was wearing a leather suit, survived with only bruises when he landed in the Grand Junction Canal near Hanwell, west of London. If you have any information that would identify this pilot or provide further details on this incident, please let us know.
Southern California Stewardess
Jim Robertson writes that he recalls reading a story many years ago about a stewardess who fell out of an airliner when the rear door blew open at about 20,000 ft. He says that she landed on her back in a freshly plowed and tilled field somewhere in southern California. She suffered only minor injuries (maybe a broken arm). He thinks it might have been Reader's Digest twenty or more years ago. We recently discovered a 1983 compilation of Reader's Digest amazing survival stories. This account is not in it, which may point to the possibility that this story occurred after 1983. Has anyone heard a similar story?
Update: I'm beginning to wonder a little about this one. One person has contacted me to suggest that this might be Vesna Vulovic (see Wreckage Riders) but so many of the details are different (location, altitude, means of survival...) from Vesna. Could it be possible that Jim has this incident mixed up with an actual incident that happened in Connecticut in 1962? In that case the door blew out of an aircraft and a stewardess fell to her death. The poet, James Dickey, wrote a poem called "Falling" about this stewardess and I wonder whether this might be the story he recalls, despite the very different outcome. See more on this in the Poetry Corner of the Recommended Reading page.
Update to the update: Still no resolution to this story, but one reader has pointed out the February 1989 incident involving United Airlines Flight 811, which experienced a cargo door failure not long after leaving Honolulu International airport on its way to New Zealand. The aircraft was able to return to Honolulu, but not before nine passengers died. No one survived a long fall.
Mac the Scot
In Escape to Danger author Paul Brickhill tells a story about a mid-upper gunner in a Lancaster bomber who survives a long fall without a parachute. Brickhill provides few details. He says that the airman was a Scot named Mac--- who spent eleven days unconscious and had no memory of the incident. He was found under a tree by the Germans and ended up in a hospital in Brussels where he recovered from a broken left arm and facial injuries that left him scarred. There are few additional details in the Brickhill account other than that the date was early 1944 and that he was a professional boxer in England before the war. This story has much in common with the story of Thomas Patrick "Paddy" McGarry (see Free Fallers), but there are enough differences to consider that it might be different. Foremost among the differences are that McGarry was Irish, was a navigator on a Halifax, and makes no mention of facial injuries or a hospital stay in Brussels. It seems unlikely that Brickhill would miss all of these important details. Does this story sound familiar to anyone?
Charles W. Robins, Freefaller
A dedication by Shirley Robins in Utah Tribute says that her father, Charles W. Robins, survived a long fall without a parachute during World War II. Sgt. Robins, a B-17 ball turret gunner for aircraft 42-102508 of the 398th Bomb Group, fell from the aircraft after it was blown up during a raid on Leipzig in July of 1944. He landed in a tree near Gera, Germany and was taken prisoner. He spent a year imprisoned in three different German hospitals according to Shirley Robins. The loss of the B-17 is confirmed by information on the 398th web site and by the missing aircrew report (MACR #7219). I am trying to find other accounts describing Robins' amazing survival story. If you have any additional information or know how to get in touch with the Robins family (Charles Robins lived in Roy, Utah and died in 1999) please contact us.
Suicide and the Spinnaker
An e-mail came in from "Ersatz Sobriquet" about a woman who jumped from the Golden Gate bridge just as a yacht sailed beneath her. Ersatz goes on, "She hit the balloon spinnaker, which behaved pretty much as a hollywood stunt airbag might, deflating, and tipping her fairly gently into the water. The boat's skipper was livid, but picked her up and delivered her to a waiting ambulance." Ersatz couldn't recall the source for this story, which sounds suspiciously like an urban legend, but in the faint hope that there might be a grain of truth to this we are including it in the Incident Log. Could this be true?
Colton Milburn wrote to us about a story his stepfather told him many years ago. A Pathfinder in the U.S. Army, Donald Southards said that one day when his unit was making practice jumps, one of the men’s parachutes streamed. He was falling rapidly when a senior and more experienced soldier below him saw what was happening. This man, a sergeant, pulled on his risers to move closer to the falling soldier. He managed to swing his feet out and entangle them in the streaming chute. The sergeant’s legs were broken by the maneuver but both soldiers survived under the sergeant’s parachute.
Colton is not exactly sure where the incident happened. It might have been Japan or Korea. He believes it was in the late 1940s or early 1950s. His stepfather is no longer alive so he can’t go to him for more information. One thing his father told him might help someone identify the unit. His father said that his unit had a monkey as a mascot and that the monkey actually made parachute jumps with them.
If you have heard of this incident and can provide additional details, please contact us.
Update: David Eric Elkins writes: "The incident took place in late 46 or early 47 in Sendai, Japan. A member of the 11th Airborne division was making a pay jump when he stuck his foot out to catch another soldier who's primary shoot came out as a Mae West and the reserve shoot came out as a cigarette roll. Another soldier who was also making a pay jump seen what was happening and snapped a photo just when the soldier stuck his leg out a caught the shoot. The photo was sold to Time magazine. My grandfather is the soldier who took the photo which he still has the original and the negative. The monkey was a mascot for the headquarters division artillery. The monkey was an actual live monkey." David added that his grandfather is Lee Doser. We're continuing to research this and hope to be able to find the Time magazine article and photo and the name of the soldier who was saved and the soldier who saved him. Many thanks to David for this new information!
George Abshire, Parachute Rider
Art Clack wrote to say that in the 1970s he met a retired veteran named George Abshire who said that he had ridden down on top of someone else's parachute during World War II. He grabbed the vent hole when he hit, and despite orders from the chute's owner, refused to "get down from there." Art says that George is no longer alive, but perhaps someone who knew him could fill in some of the details.
Tokio Mao, Kamikaze Survivor and Martial Arts Teacher
Marcelo Cozzolino wrote to us about a Japanese pilot named Tokio Mao who survived a kamikaze mission when his aircraft was shot down by American anti-aircraft fire. Mao crashed in the water and survived with no wounds. He thought “I’m alive. What a shame!” He lives now in Brazil teaching martial arts at an academy he founded. We have not been able to find a way to contact him. If you can help, please contact us.
Florida Tree Save
Jim PeQueen writes: “In the Spring of 1967 at Zephyr Hills, FL, while awaiting my own turn to go up, I watched (from the ground, through binoculars) a woman jump at 12,000 ft for a 1 minute freefall. She passed the minimum opening altitude still in ‘flat and stable’. No chute in sight. I watched as she somehow got her reserve out, but without sufficient time for it to deploy!! The reserve snagged on one of three trees in a quarter-mile radius. She said that her main ripcord was jammed, but when it was tested, it released easily. Ground fixation almost got another one.” Jim does not know the woman’s name. He says she was not injured. In fact, he recalls that she had not even touched the ground until she was released from her harness. Can anyone provide more details about this incident?
Mr. Hale and the B-50
When the plexiglass observation bubble on the side of a U.S. Air Force B-50 gave way, a crewmember named Hale fell out of the aircraft without a parachute. He lost consciousness and awoke on the ground after hitting some trees. The incident occurred in Florida. There is no date associated with this incident although the reference to the B-50 would put this incident sometime between 1947 and the mid-1960s. Greg Bishop heard this story at the Planes of Fame Airshow in Chino, California in late 2005. It was told to him by a 72-year-old former Marine named Hale who said this had happened to his brother. Does anyone know Mr. Hale?
Who is P. Meos?
Dr. Richard G. Snyder, who did extensive research on the injuries related to falling, makes a reference in one study* to someone named P. Meos who survived a long parachute-less fall. The report provides no further details except a reference that implies the incident happened prior to 1963. Does anyone know who P. Meos is?
*Study of Impact Tolerance through Free-Fall Investigations (1977). See Recommended Reading for more information on Dr. Snyder's work.
Update: We have traced P. Meos (actually E. Meos) to a February 7, 1963 letter that was published in Flight International magazine. Meos did not survive a free fall but wrote the letter (under the title “Ejection Without Parachutes”) to describe several incidents, including the earliest known mention of I.M. Chissov. The Free Fall Research page is now reaching out to the aviation museum in Tartu, Estonia, which may have additional information. We would also like to thank Flight International for its excellent (and free) searchable database of articles, which allowed us to locate the Meos letter. See the Flight International database at http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/index.html.
Swordfish Gunner Falls into Water
In November of 1939 two 810 Squadron Swordfish torpedo biplanes collided while flying a patrol off of the British aircraft carrier Ark Royal. Two of the six crewmen from the two aircraft were killed. A gunner in one of the aircraft fell 3,000 feet without a parachute into the water below. He survived. It appears that the gunner’s name may have been L.M. Lloyd or W. Freik. If anyone can identify this naval airman or knows if there is a more complete account of this incident, please contact us. Thanks to Alan Scheckenbach for sending us this story and also thanks to Alex Smart for providing additional details. Sources for this account are “Aircraft Carriers: A Graphic History of Carrier Aviation and Its Influence on World Events” by Norman Polmar and “FAA Aircraft from 1939 to 1945.”
Update (August 2013): Paul McMillan, who has been doing research on British Irvin Caterpillar Club members, writes that L.M. Lloyd is a member of the Caterpillar Club, and therefore it seems likely that “W. Freik” is the one who fell without a parachute. Yet the name “Freik” may not be correct. There is some indication that he may have been AB (Able Seaman) William Freick. A summary of the events of November 25, 1939 may be helpful here. The specifics on the two Swordfish that collided are:
Update (April 2016): Thanks to further research by Paul McMillan this mystery is solved. The airman who survived the 3,000-foot fall without a parachute was Leading Airman Leslie Melville Lloyd (F.A.A./FX76328). This is substantiated on pages 60-61 of a book by William Jameson entitled “Ark Royal: The Life of an Aircraft Carrier at War, 1939-1941.”
Lloyd was lucky to survive a long fall, but sadly (as described above) he did not survive the war.
*Correction to the August 2013 update: The name of the pilot of P4009/’A2G’ was incorrectly recorded in the military records of this incident. His name was Alexander William Stewart (not W.S. Alexander). Paul McMillan’s research revealed that Able Seaman William Mercer Freik was not a Caterpillar Club member. He did not use his parachute that day. His life was saved by Lt. Stewart who was awarded the Military Division of the O.B.E. for risking his own life by forced landing rather than abandoning the aircraft when Freik's parachute fouled.
Cessna Wreckage Riders
Peter Chapman told us about the following story: In February of 1997, a Cessna 185 with four passengers broke up not long after take off due to a malfunction of its ski landing gear, one side of which flipped forward, destabilizing the aircraft and striking the propeller. The two passengers in the back of the aircraft survived a fall of about 3,500 feet. One of the survivors called for help on his cell phone. They were rescued about three hours later. The incident occurred north of Sept-Iles, Canada in the province of Quebec. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada filed a report that describes the factors involved in the crash, but says little about the survivors and their rescue. If you know more about this incident, please let us know.
Dave Olson sent an e-mail describing an incident that occurred at an ultralight airshow in Antioch, California around 1982. The skydiver’s parachute failed during a static-line jump. She survived the fall but required two years of rehabilitation. Dave wrote that he witnessed the incident and later saw the story in Reader’s Digest. Does anyone recall this incident?
Update: An article in the Summer 2011 edition of the Stanford Medicine Magazine provides the answer to Dave’s question. Written by Ruthann Richter, "The Woman Who Fell to Earth: A Love Story" describes Deborah Shurson’s ordeal after a parachuting accident in April of 1982. Thanks to David Olson for this question and also for pointing out the article. If anyone ever comes across the Reader’s Digest article, please let us know.
A crewmember of a burning B-17 found his parachute ablaze and decided to jump to his death rather than burn in the aircraft. His boots were on fire by the time he jumped. He fell about 13,000 feet and came down among some pine trees, landing in snow on an incline where he slid to a stop. He had a whistle with him and blew it and was captured by Germans not long after. His captors eventually believed his story of a parachute-less fall, in part because they were able to follow his slide in the snow and they found pine needles embedded in his body. A couple of people believe that they saw an account like this in the late sixties in a ‘Weekly Reader’ publication. Have you heard of this one?
In February of 1945, a B-17 over Wetzlar, Germany took a direct hit and exploded. The tailgunner rode the tailsection 17,000 feet to the ground and survived. Witnesses described the path of the tail section as making arcs back and forth. J.J. Serne of the Royal Canadian Air Force, who was a POW at the time, described the incident in his diary; his Halifax bomber had been shot down on February 14th. Can anyone provide additional details?
Special Forces Soldier
The story goes that a U.S. Special Forces soldier fell out of a Blackhawk helicopter and survived. No additional details. Sound familiar?
Update: We received the following message in response to this posting:
"This story could be about my husband but I'm not sure.
"He is now a Retired US Army Special Forces Veteran. He was on a mission jump on a Blackhawk helicopter he was sitting on the side of the helicopter during the flight they hit turbulence and he was knocked out of the side of the helicopter and the force knocked him into the side of the helicopter knocking him unconscious but once he hit the side of the helicopter he cracked his helmet which fell off of him exposing his head and put a half dollar size hole in his head. Since he was knocked out he couldn't pull his chute so he did straight drop free fall of 1000ft. Once he was on the ground his reserve chute opened and the wind picked up his chute and drug him 200 meters down the ground and while he was being dragged he was spinning down the ground he took off the back of his head and broke every bone in his body. When his team got to him they couldn't believe what they witnessed. He was pronounced dead at the scene and put into the back of a vehicle once in there his team stood around then all of a sudden he sat up and starting swearing. His team couldn't believe there eyes that he was alive. He was evacuated and transported to Walter Reed Army hospital. He has had numerous brain surgeries but he is alive and well and trying to live a good life even with the severe head trauma that he received.
"I hope this email helps confirm that there was such a soldier and that yes he did survive. He is one of the unknown / unidentified soldiers that has been hurt because it's still an active war so I am unable to confirm where and when of his accident. Please only know that this is the truth that he did survive and he is an unnamed hero in my eyes and our families as he didn't do it for the glory he did it because of his duty for America was an honor to him, which matters more to him than anything else."
As a follow-up, we asked if there were any factors, such as muddy terrain, trees, or bushes, that helped him survive. This was her response:
"No, there were no factors that helped him survive. He came down straight from the helicopter onto the tarmac which was cement no trees no bushes or soft mud or grass it was hard cement which he still carries a piece of it in his hand. Not only was it his body weight but it was also 250 lbs of equipment that fell with him. The other part was after he hit the cement his reserve opened and drug him 200 meters and he would have continued to have been drug if another soldier didn't jump on his chute to stop it."
She signed both e-mails "Sincerely, A soldier’s wife"
We asked her permission to post her response, and she granted it, saying, "Thank you for allowing me to tell his survival to his fall."
An Air Force pararescueman or combat controller is believed to have survived two separate incidents of parachute failure. In the first he fell into a Florida swamp and survived. In the second he survived a jump over water. These incidents are believed to have occurred in the late 1980s. Anyone know about this?
Update: Tim Ryan writes to say that he believes the "Two-timer" is CMSgt* Bear, who had a streamer on a water jump and within the same year had a malfunction on a land jump. Bear, are you out there?
*Chief Master Sergeant
R.B. Reed, B-24 Tail Gunner
A short account in "Best True Stories from World War II" tells the story of a tail gunner named R.B. Reed whose B-24 was hit by flak and broke into pieces over Bolzano, Italy. Reed fell 22,000 feet in the severed tail section, which hit trees and landed in snow. Reed survived with burns and bruises but no broken bones. He was captured shortly thereafter by a German patrol. The story was first published in a book by Joseph O'Donnell called The Shoe Leather Express. Efforts to find a copy have not yet been successful. We are hoping that it contains more details, specifically the bomb group and date. Has anyone heard of this story? Does anyone have access to The Shoe Leather Express?
Update: We were able to track down Joe O'Donnell and acquire Book II of The Shoe Leather Express, which revealed that the original account appeared in a book called Behind Barbed Wire by Lt. Morris J. Roy. Further research confirmed that the incident occurred on March 29, 1944 and that the aircraft was from the 98th Bomb Group, 343rd Bomb Squadron. A monument to the lost crewmembers can be found at the crash site in Steinegg, Italy. Everyone but Robert B. Reed died.
Russian Pilot in Korea
Vlad Rekhson sent in a story his grandfather, a Russian Army soldier, had told him about a Russian pilot in the Korean War who ejected from his aircraft at 8,000 meters. His parachute never opened. He fell 8,000 meters and survived, landing in a pile of snow. Vlad had no more details and suspected that the story might never have been reported. Has anyone heard of this incident?
Paratrooper in Alaska
A paratrooper's parachute did not open during an exercise in 1955. He fell 1,200 feet with an unopened parachute but survived after falling into deep snow. The soldier was described as a young black man. He was taken to a hospital where he had two minor fractures and some bruises. He returned to his unit a few days later. Two web sources mention this incident, which is also described in a book. It would appear that this could have been someone from the 314th Troop Carrier Group, which was involved in an exercise in Alaska at this time, but the group historian has no record of this incident. Can you help?
Update: Tom Gallen reports that the 82nd Airborne Division was on maneuvers in Alaska in the winter of 1953. He said that a trooper's chute did not deploy and he landed in a snow bank uninjured. Tom recalls that when asked what went through his mind when he realized his chute did not open, the lucky trooper said he reached around and tried to remove his canteen as he did not want to land on it. Tom was in Special Forces at the time. He went to Germany in November of 1953. This means either that there were two Alaskan incidents (one in 1953 and one in 1955) or, perhaps more likely, that the original account we received got the date wrong. We continue to search for the name of this trooper. If you have any additional information, please let us know.
American GI in Germany
According to a solitary web posting, an American GI fell out of a helicopter at 3,300 feet somewhere in Germany around 1970. He landed in a freshly plowed field and survived the fall, going into the ground up to his waist. He was badly injured but survived. Have you heard of this incident?
Update: Glenn Meisenheimer wrote about an incident that has some remarkable similarities to this one. Here is his account: "In your database you have this entry about this American GI in Germany. I was there. The above account has some truth to it, but some nonsense as well. I was stationed in Bad Kreuznach Germany in 1968, was Airborne, and joined a parachute club there. It was a good deal. We paid only $25 per month and jumped for free using military aircraft. We had to pack our own 'chutes which were Air Force C9 canopies with a "double L" modification in the back (holes cut in the shape of back to back "L"s). This gave you some air flow out of the back of the parachute and allowed you to actually steer the thing with a pair of toggle lines. This made it much more maneuverable than the standard Army T-10 canopy.
My instructor, Sgt. Carl Miller from St. Albans, West Virginia is the man in your story. In fact, I was in the air and watched him go in with a total streamer... But let me tell you the story. I was new to the club and had screwed up the previous training jump as had a kid from B Company named Divito (perhaps Devito). Normally our instructor, Sgt. Miller, wouldn't have jumped from lower than 10,000 feet or so. But Divito and I were still jumping at beginner's altitude of 3,000 feet. Your story says 3,300 ft. which might be accurate, but I remember it as 3,000 ft. We went up in a small aircraft (it might have been a Beaver, but I don't really recall). Sgt. Miller said to us, "OK you guys, I'm gonna show you how to do it." Then he went out the door to demonstrate how to get a stable freefall position out of that craft. Divito went out immediately after him and I followed up third. Only the three of us jumped. Of course at 3,000 ft. you pop the canopy immediately. Once my silk was deployed I looked around and there was Divito, but I didn't see Sgt. Miller anywhere. Then I looked down.
That C9 canopy I mentioned above used a "sleeve" like a long pillowcase. The sleeve was attached to a small drone chute. The idea is that as the drone chute pulled the sleeve and slid it off, the main canopy deployed gradually instead of popping all at once. This lessened the chance of getting a suspension line over the top of the canopy and having a malfunction like a "Mae West". Sgt. Miller's sleeve didn't deploy at all. It was still totally covering his chute and it looked like a thick rope flapping in the wind. It was what we called a total streamer. We carried a reserve parachute in a pouch on our abdomen, so Sgt. Miller pulled the ripcord on that. Unfortunately, at the time it looked to me like he was on his back. The reserve chute popped out, but before the silk could deploy, that streamer wrapped around it and got all tangled up. He had virtually no silk deployed. There was perhaps enough wind resistance from the tangled wad above him to help keep his head up and his feet down.
He didn't land in a field. He landed on an asphalt runway. It might have been at Weisbaden Airbase, but I seem to recall that it was somewhere near Frankfurt. My military jumps were all out of Weisbaden, so I might be letting that confuse me. So there I am up in the air watching all this. I was so terrified that I didn't even reach up and grab my toggle lines to steer. I just held onto my harness in a semi fetal position and let the wind take me. As I came down I could see this little box with a flashing red cherry on top inching its way over to Sgt. Miller. There was also a lot of people, they looked like ants, all crawling toward him. Because I didn't steer I landed pretty far from him, The ambulance was gone before I could get to him.
I did go visit him in the hospital. He shattered both ankles and his knees, as I recall. I believe he also injured one hip, but I don't know if it was broken. Other than that it was just bruises and abrasions. I remember asking him, "So what was in your mind when you were coming down, Sgt. Miller?" Well, when a paratrooper hits the ground we are trained to do what is called a PLF, or a Parachute Landing Fall. It distributes the force of impact over 5 different points, the balls of the feet, the calf, the thigh, the buttocks and finally the shoulder opposite to the buttocks. Sgt. Miller's response to my question was, "All I could think of was Carl, you better do a damn good PLF!" He said that he didn't stop at the shoulder, but continuted to somersault at least one more time before coming to rest."
Glenn believes that Sgt. Miller was a member of the Golden Knights Parachute Team and that the incident was reported in Stars and Stripes and picked up by other publications. He can't recall the date but believes it must have been the summer of 1968. We will continue to research this event to see what other details emerge. Sgt. Miller, if you are out there, please write!
According to a web entry, a few years back (written in 2005), an Australian woman jumped from 15,000 feet and her parachute failed to open. She landed on some telegraph wires and suffered pelvis injuries and a broken arm. This looks suspiciously similar to Christine McKenzie's fall, but hers was in South Africa. Is this a separate incident or just a mix-up with McKenzie?
Update: A skydiver who was in Cowora, Australia at the time said that he was in the drop zone when this incident happened. He’d heard of it, but didn’t see it. Though he is not sure of the exact year, he thinks it was in 1990 during the Nationals (around Christmas). He believes that it was a highly experienced jumper who was on an Australian team. Do these additional details help anyone identify the skydiver in this incident?
Austrian Special Forces
At an airshow in Graz, Austria, a member of the Austrian Special Forces Parachute Display Team ran into some trouble. Upon exiting the aircraft, the jumper collided with another jumper and their parachutes became entangled. The other jumper was able to get away and deploy his reserve parachute. The first jumper got tangled up in his parachute and was unable to deploy his reserve. He survived with broken bones and a punctured lung. There is a picture of this fall. See the photographer's weblog (look for "The Man who fell to earth...and lived). We are looking for additional details on this incident.
Update: The photographer, Antony Loveless, has been in touch. The jumper's name is Thomas Reisenbichler. Additional details to follow. Here is a cropped version of the picture of Thomas Reisenbichler's fall
German BASE Jumper
This BASE jumper leaped from the 35th floor of a German skyscraper (perhaps in Munich or Berlin). His parachute didn't open properly, but luckily it caught on a crane, leaving him suspended 35 meters above the ground. He was apprehended by police and is under investigation for making an illegal parachute jump. He was released on bail of 450 euros. This information was reported in a news article that did not mention the jumper's name. Does anyone know him?
Note: BASE jumping is parachuting from something other than an aircraft. BASE stands for Building, Antenna, Span, and Earth. In this case antenna would refer to some kind of tower, span could be a bridge, and earth could be a cliff or some other natural formation.
Update: An e-mail from Sebastian indicates that the BASE jumper's name is Miko. See the Toytown Germany and the Blinc Magazine web sites for more information on the incident. Miko, in a comment to Blinc Magazine, mentions the www.basejump.at web site. Here you can see a picture of him.
Miko, if you want your full name mentioned here (which I rather doubt you do), please let us know. I'm assuming you are Austrian, not German, but until I hear from you there is no way for me to know.
British Paratrooper in a Bog
During a large paratroop exercise, one paratrooper's parachute failed and he fell from a height of a couple of thousand feet into a bog. He survived, apparently with minor injuries. These details come to us from Norman McLeod who heard about this incident while on vacation in Scotland and Northern Ireland in July of 1995. Does anyone know who this paratrooper could be?
Update: It appears that falling into a Scottish or Irish bog with a failed parachute may be more common than previously thought. Norman is confident that this incident happened in 1995. We have since heard from Tom Gibson, an ex-platoon sergeant in the 15th Scottish Parachute Battalion who recalls a similar incident that happened in 1966 or 1967 in Northern Ireland. Tom wrote that a Private named Urquhart went head first into a bog when his parachute became tangled. Those who reached him first assumed he was dead and struggled against the suction of the bog to pull him out, but soon found that he had survived. Private Urquhart had crushed vertebrae but was otherwise okay. Oddly enough there is another Free Fall story about an Urquhart: Brian Urquhart, former Undersecretary General of the United Nations survived a fall with a failed parachute during World War II.
Cessna under a Parachute
Richard Cannon, who did some parachute design work with Irvine parachutes a few years ago, saw a photo there of a Cessna 172 descending under a parachute. He recalls that the wheel was caught on the main chute of a trainee jumper who had somehow gotten tangled up with the aircraft. The trainee and the 172 were descending under the trainee's reserve. Does anyone have additional information on this incident? We'd love to see the photograph.
Note: Thanks to Rob Ward for providing the details to this incident, which occurred in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, England on October 18, 1975. He sent an article from a 1975 issue of the magazine 'Sport Parachutist' (published by the British Parachute Association). The aircraft was a Cessna 182 dropping skydivers when a student named Stuart Avent slipped while exiting the plane at 2,500 feet. His main parachute tangled with the aircraft's undercarriage. The instructor, Derek Scofield, tried to cut the chute away with a knife, but was unsuccessful. Avent deployed his reserve chute. The aircraft (with engine stopped) came down under Avent's reserve with the pilot (Ken Miller), the instructor, and another student jumper (Frances Ives). All survived with relatively minor injuries. The plane landed inverted and was badly damaged. A photographer named Eddie McBride took shots of the incident.
Estonian Love Story
Sometime during World War II a man parachuted into Estonia, but his parachute failed. He fell 10,000 feet into a forest, survived, married a local girl, and stayed in Estonia. This story is mentioned briefly in an on-line article from the TT Supporters Club magazine about the motorcyclist Paul Hunt. The man is related to Hunt. Has anyone heard of this story? Does anyone have a way of contacting Hunt?
Exhaust Pipe Hanger
A passenger in a bi-plane going for a joy ride over Massillon, Ohio slipped out of the plane while the pilot was doing acrobatics. He grabbed onto the exhaust pipe and held on until the plane landed. His hands were badly burned. This incident would have happened around 1910 or 1920. Sound familiar?
A P-38 pilot (presumably an American) fell 15,000 with a streaming parachute into the Pacific Ocean. His pelvis and legs were broken but he was able to inflate his raft and survived even though he was not picked up for several days. This incident appears similar to Gilbert Percy, but our correspondent is convinced that this pilot was flying a P-38. (Percy was flying a Corsair...) Could this be a separate incident?
Update: A reference to this incident appears in Dr. Richard Snyder’s 1971 article entitled “Man's Survivability of Extreme Forces in Free-Fall Impact.” This account does not name the P-38 pilot but does put the date as 1943 and the altitude at 20,000 feet.
South African Paratrooper
Michael Walmsley believes that there was an incident involving a South African paratrooper in the late 1990s. His main and reserve parachutes malfunctioned. He was discovered with a broken leg, but conscious. The incident was publicized on the radio and may have been broadcast on South African television. Has anyone heard of this one?
According to an account in Martin Caidin's "The Silken Angels," sometime during World War II the Typhoon fighter of a British pilot was shot to pieces at low altitude by German gunners. The Typhoon disintegrated around him and he, still strapped in his seat, disappeared in a spray of water and mud. He was uninjured. Sound familiar?
UK RAPS Student
A female skydiving student had a problem with her main parachute but failed to cut it away. She deployed her reserve at about 100 feet but it was too late to make any difference. She was injured but survived. The height of the jump was around 3,000 feet. She was a RAPS (Ram Air Progression System) student using wing-style square parachute. It was a static-line jump, which means that main parachute was deployed automatically. This incident was mentioned in a web forum. Does anyone know the student's name?
South African Soldier (1)
At an army base near Palaborwa a black volunteer soldier made a static-line jump from 300 to 600 feet. His parachute malfunctioned and he broke both legs and his pelvis. This incident (and the one below) are from Andy Anderson. It occurred in 1986. Can anyone provide more details?
German Messerschmitt Pilot
A German pilot bailed out of his damaged Messerschmitt, which was diving at an estimated 500 miles per hour. He pulled his ripcord and his parachute opened, but the strain was so great that two of the harness belts snapped. The parachute briefly inflated and then collapsed. The pilot fell with a half open, fluttering parachute above him. He fell into the sea along the shoreline and was pulled from the water. He had broken ribs but appeared otherwise okay. Can anyone provide his name?
Russian Corpse Rider
This lieutenant was flying in an IL-2 ground attack aircraft near Stalingrad when the aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire. The lieutenant's parachute was hit by enemy fire and rendered useless. He searched the aircraft and found another crewmember, a gunner, dead from his wounds. He rode this airman's body to the ground using the dead man's parachute. Amazing if true. Can anyone provide a reference for this story?
South African Soldier (2)
Sometime between 1988 and 1992 a white soldier made a static-line jump from 300 to 600 feet. His parachute malfunctioned and he broke both legs. This is the other account from Andy Anderson. Can anyone provide additional details?
Rip Cord POW
A POW in Stalag Luft III carried his rip-cord around the camp with him. A bomber pilot flying a night mission, he was looking at his port-side wing when the wheel burst upward through the top of the wing. The next thing he knew he was waking up on a snowy mountain road, lying on top of his unopened parachute. He was badly hurt but luckily a German army medical truck happened along the road and picked him up. Later, after he had recovered, he spoke with a Luftwaffe officer who had investigated the incident. The officer had followed the path of the pilot's slide from the mountain top to a glacier to the country road where he was found. The officer congratulated him on his luck and gave him his rip-cord. This story comes from a fellow POW at Stalag Luft III who does not recall the lucky man's name. Can anyone provide it?
Pegasus Club Streamer
Newspaper reporter Jerry Ernst wrote to us about the following incident: "In the early 1970s I could often be found at a small, private airfield in Portage, Mich., less than five miles from the Kalamazoo municipal airport. An experienced member of the club -- I think he was a jumpmaster -- had a streamer or total parachute failure (I think the latter). He steered toward one of the large evergreen trees that dotted and surrounded the airport. He plummeted through the branches and settled in mud or soft earth below it as his horrified colleagues watched. He was rushed to the hospital. Lacking today's diagnostic equipment, they cut him open to identify internal injuries. He had none, nor did he have broken bones. The damage was limited to the slicing by the surgeons.” Ernst goes on that “This is all hearsay -- it's what I heard first-hand from club members at the time. I did not know the jumper personally, though I had seen him several times and clearly knew whom they were speaking of." Jerry provided one other detail. He noted that the name or symbol of the club was 'Pegasus'. Is anyone familiar with this incident?
Falling B-24 Crewman in the Aleutians
Has anyone heard a story of an American B-24 bomber crewmember who survived a fall without a parachute out of the bomb bay of his aircraft during the Aleutians campaign? The story goes as follows: A B-24 crew member was trying to kick a stuck bomb out of the bomb bay when he fell out of the aircraft. The B-24, which was at an altitude of around 8,000 feet, was flying above a mountain so the airman only fell about 50 feet. He landed in some snow on the mountainside and walked to safety. I saw this incident described in a web posting, and even after contacting the person who made the post, I have been unable to confirm any details, such as the date, but it probably would have happened in late 1942 or early 1943. The person thought that it was described in the book “Thousand Mile War,” but I was unable to find it there, though there is a discussion about the frequency with which bombs got stuck in B-24 bomb bays due to the frigid temperatures. I asked an Aleutians campaign expert, John H. Cloe (Historian for the 3rd Wing of the Eleventh Air Force), but he had never heard of it.
Update: Several experts on Attu and this campaign have not heard anything about this incident. On top of that, the highest mountain on Attu is only 3,000 feet. This may just be a tall tale or perhaps it happened somewhere else.
George ‘Bud’ Day Ejection Seat Incident in 1957
Patrick Moylan wrote to ask if we had heard of a no-chute ejection incident from 1957. He said that he had heard that George ‘Bud’ Day (a Viet Nam veteran, POW, and author of the book “Return With Honor”) had survived a fall in his ejection seat after he ejected inverted from his F-84 in England. I’m trying to contact Col. Day, but have not been able to find any description of this incident.
Update: I received a letter from Col. Day with the following information: "I bailed out of a burning F-84 in 1957 in England. My parachute did not open but lucky for me I landed in the Queen's forest and the riser cords of the chute wove in and out of the pine tree I fell in. I bailed out between 300 and 500 feet and lived. I wrote my story for the Saturday Evening Post and it was published in their magazine..." Col. Day also notes that a description of the account is in his new book "Duty Country Honor." See his web site at www.colbudday.com.
Geronimo! Or “HALO Deadly”
Jonathan Kollmar sent the following story: “While working for a major rental car company I had the fortunate experience of picking up an interesting couple…I met them in Hershey, PA at a local campground. They were renting a car locally and traveling around the country in a very nice motor coach. The gentleman walked with an obvious limp and a cane. I asked how he hurt himself and got the following story. He said that he was with the military (unfortunately the branch eludes me although I am sure it was either the marines or some sort of special forces) and after promotions, etc became a parachute instructor. His specialty was HALO [high altitude, low opening] jumps and he trained soldiers on these jumps full time. On one of the training HALO jumps he had an equipment malfunction and his canopy never opened. He hit the ground without canopy and survived, breaking most of the bones on his one side…When I asked him what he thought when his canopy did not open he turned to his wife and said ‘Honey what was that Indians name?’ She said ‘Geronimo?’ He turned to me with a big grin on his face and said ‘That’s it, Geronimo!’ He said he really had no time to think much of anything.” Jonathan apologized for the lack of details, but thought that we might be interested in this, and of course, we are. He also said that at the time he met this gentleman (around 2001), he estimates that he was 60 to 65 years old, which would put the incident (assuming it happened when he was 25 or 30) in the late 1960s or early 1970s.
Robbie Williams’ Bodyguard
According to an e-mail we got from ‘Stefan,’ Robbie Williams’ biography “Feel” mentions that one of his bodyguards (a gentleman named Pompey) jumped from a plane at 10.000 feet and his parachute didn’t open, but he survived, landing in snow. He was a British Marine at the time. The incident occurred in Oslo, probably 10 to 20 years ago. He was in the hospital for 14 months, and came out okay after a number of operations, but ended up a fair amount shorter than before the accident. The account even mentions a club for people who survive such incidents (maybe Deadly Velocity or Breakneck Speed). I’m trying to contact Pompey, whose real name I believe is Duncan Wilkinson. It would be nice to confirm this incident and locate the club.
Update: We found a copy of "Feel" and have the account from that book but would still like to hear more from Mr. Wilkinson.
Get Out of POW Camp Free Card
Deborah Green wrote: “I was researching a story that my fiancé relayed to me recently, about a WWII soldier who survived an unplanned ‘freefall’…It may well fall under the heading of urban legend, but it is a wonderful story, and if it were true, I'd love to be able to share it with others. The story states that the man is shot down during WWII. I'm not sure over which country, but the story does tend to indicate that he is over occupied territory. His chute does not open properly, but merely ‘streams’ over him. The chute catches on a tree. In fact, it is the only tree in the general area, so the catch of the chute on the tree is quite miraculous by itself. The soldier is a bit shaken, but is able to free himself, and simply walks away, only to walk into a German patrol. The patrol witnessed the entire incident, and saw the save, to which the German soldier relays to the American (or allied?) soldier that they are not going to capture someone who is obviously blessed by God, and proceed, leaving the soldier behind. My fiancé, who tends to be pretty savvy about tall tales, insists that it is a true and documented incident.”
And so, it’s a very nice story, but could it be true?
Sometime in the early 1970s Danny Wright read an account of a male college student who went skydiving with his fraternity. The details are a little fuzzy, but Danny remembers that he fell 1,800 feet, landed on an airport runway, bounced up into the air, and walked away with a badly broken nose. (The magazine article had three black & white pictures.) Danny thinks it happened in Arizona or Southern California. Can anyone help?
Update: Martin Foxwell wrote to say that he believes this incident occurred in 1974 in Arizona, just south of Phoenix. He thinks it might have been either at the Maricopa Drop Zone or the Eloy Drop Zone. He said that the incident was covered in the Arizona Republic newspaper. If anyone has access to microfilm of the Republic and can look for this incident, it would be greatly appreciated.
Gene Meinel on Willow Lake in Alaska
Rick L. writes that he heard of an incident in Alaska in the late 1970s in which a man named Gene Meinel survived a long fall with an unopened parachute. The incident happened on Willow Lake. Rick says that Gene was an active ballooner and a pilot with the Alaska Air National Guard. Does this sound familiar to anyone?
Update: Numerous people, including his brother, have written to say that they are familiar with this incident and have confirmed that it occurred. In addition, we found an article entitled "Skydiver Lives After Chute Fails” from the Monday February 5, 1979 edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel (Sitka, Alaska). Here is the full text of that Associated Press report: “A skydiver survived a 1,500-foot fall after his parachutes failed to open during an exhibition jump at the Willow Winter Carnival. Gene Meinel of Anchorage was in the intensive care unit of Providence Hospital Monday where doctors said his condition was serious, but stable.” Meinel recovered from his injuries and continued flying for many years as an Air National Guard pilot. We also found his obituary, which revealed that in November of 1996 while on Air National Guard Duty in Panama he had a pancreatic attack, slipped into a coma, and died.
His Parachute Saved a Plane?
Robert Leeds described an incident in which a man named Norman Berg made a jump and as he was descending, a Piper Cub flew into his canopy. Mr. Berg was swung around under the wing and ended up standing on top of the airplane. He opened his chest pack and it let both him and the plane down. Mr. Berg ended up with a broken leg and the pilot was okay, but the plane was pretty badly damaged. This occurred in 1947 and was covered in the Detroit newspapers. Anyone recall this incident? If you know the exact date or have newspaper clippings or additional information, please let us know.
Lottery Winner Survived a Free Fall?
An article came to our attention a while back (thanks to Alan Scheckenbach) about a Croatian man named Frane Selak who recently won the lottery. He claimed to have survived several accidents, including one in which he fell out of a DC-8 when a door flew open. He said that he landed in a haystack and escaped with cuts and bruises. This incident would have occurred around 1963 on a flight between Zagreb and Rijeka. Can anyone confirm this?
Update: Lots of Internet sources (including some cute videos) tell about Frane Selak’s amazing story, describing him as the luckiest man alive. Yet there are serious doubts about many of his claims. In regard to his fall into a haystack, nowhere has anyone provided specifics on the flight, which if it had crashed would be easy to find. Even his relatives question his claims. (If you go to this link, search on the names 'Jayko' and 'Stanhope' to find these comments.)
Robert Merill Fell on Top of Someone Else’s Parachute?
Vegard Olsen from Norway wrote with information that he found in an old Norwegian magazine from 1959. This was the first I’d heard of the story. Here are the details: A man named Robert Merill claims to have fallen 22,000 feet without a parachute and survived. He says that on the night of September 26, 1943 he was on a Lancaster bomber that was shot down after a raid over France. Merill reported that he bailed out and fell for a while before trying to open his parachute. When he tried to open it, it wouldn’t deploy. He kept trying, to no avail. After blacking out for a few seconds he woke up on top of someone else`s parachute. He managed to hang on until they reached the ground. He then fell off and broke his leg. The parachutist beneath him was Corporal Sydney Campbell. Lord Charles Portal, Chief of the British Air Staff, is supposed to have confirmed this story. Has anyone heard of this incident?
Update: Doubt has been cast on the veracity of this story by information found in the World War II Lost Bombers Database. There does not appear to be a corresponding loss of a Lancaster bomber on this date. The Lost Bombers Database is an excellent resource that provides information on lost RAF bombers and has been invaluable in confirming the exact dates and squadrons of known long-fall incidents.
Ejection Seat Incident on the U.S.S. F.D.R.
A book called “Snakes in the Cockpit: Images of Military Aviation Disasters” by L. Douglas Keeney references an ejection seat incident that occurred in 1961 aboard the U.S.S. Franklin D. Roosevelt (for those of you who own this book, see page 108). A pilot in an F8U-1 Crusader was coming in for a landing but its tail hook ripped off. The jet continued down the deck, too fast to stop in time but too slow to take off again. The pilot ejected as the aircraft began to dive into the ocean. He was rescued, apparently unharmed, but no name or exact date is mentioned. Can anyone provide additional details on this story?
Update: Many thanks to Gary Schreffler who sent the photo sequence describing this incident involving Lt. John T. Kryway. See the full story here.
RAF World War II Incident over England
Ed Wanner reports that in July or August of 1944, he met an RAF tail gunner who was traveling on a train headed for London. The tail gunner claimed to have survived a fall of 4,000 feet in the turret of a Halifax or Lancaster bomber. He showed Ed a newspaper clipping to support his story. The gunner said that the incident happened over England. Ed wonders now whether there is any truth to the story or whether the man was only kidding him. Since it is similar to several other incidents described on this site, it could certainly be true, but we have no other documenting evidence. Has anyone heard of this incident?
Peggy, from the Cartoon "King of the Hill"
Peggy Hill, a character in the Fox cartoon "King of the Hill," survived a long fall without a parachute. We only have the most basic details and have not yet seen the episode. Can anyone provide more detail than what we have added at the bottom of the Fictional Falls section?
Update (June 2013): We’ve received the following details: “I noticed that you were looking for additional info about the King of the Hill episodes 'As Old as the Hills' and 'The Decline and Fall of Peggy Hill.' The fall itself is in the former and her recovery is in the latter. Peggy Hill and her husband decided to go skydiving together for their 20th anniversary. Her husband jumped and radioed her from the ground. She had been excited to jump, but once she saw the distance from the plane, backed down. Her husband convinced her to jump. Neither of her parachutes opened, so she fell in freefall to the ground below, landing in a muddy field. Peggy was about 2 or 3 feet deep into the mud when her husband and instructor found her. She fell from 8,000 feet and had a compression fracture on her spine. She had a full body cast.”
Jack Whitesell sent a note saying that he had heard of an incident involving a World War II gunner named Paul Sink who fell in the tail section of a plane much as Joe Jones and some of the other Wreckage Riders did. He has no additional details except that Mr. Sink was later killed when his portable radio fell into his bathtub. Can anyone help on this one?
Cary Hopwood in the Garden of the Gods
Scott Campbell wrote us a while back to say that Cary Hopwood had survived a fall with a failed parachute in lower Illinois in a place called the Garden of the Gods. He said that Cary's story was covered by WPSD in Paducah, KY. Can anyone provide additional details on this story?
Update: The attention given to the Stephen Hilder case has brought renewed attention to Cary Hopwood's fall, because as it turns out his parachute was also sabotaged. No one was ever charged in Hopwood's case. In October, two men were arrested in relation to the death of Hilder. Cary Hopwood's fall was documented in "an American magazine" according to an article in the online version of the Sunday Express and authorities wonder whether Hilder's killer (or killers) had read the article. Hopwood's fall occurred in 1996 as he was filming with a helmet camera for MTV. With these added details, can anyone provide more information on this incident?
Donald Burgett describes three incidents in his book, "Currahee! A Screaming Eagle at Normandy" including one in which his parachute failed and he survived when he fell on top of the parachute of a colleague. He also mentions a chaplain and a man named Jackson who survived falls with streaming parachutes. If anyone has additional details on any of these stories, please let us know. (Thanks to Don Barker for pointing out Burgett's book to us!)
In his biography, Gregory "Pappy" Boyington (leader of the WWII "Black Sheep" squadron) reports that another Pacific ace, Gilbert Percy, survived a fall with a streaming parachute, probably around or slightly before June of 1943. We found another recent mention of Percy (with a quote) in a World War II history magazine. Does anyone know if he is still alive? We would be very interested in contacting him.
Update: We heard from his grandson in September of 2006 and are sorry to report that Percy, though alive was not doing well.
Brian Urquhart, who is a former Undersecretary General of the United Nations, survived a failed parachute jump during World War II according to a recent New Yorker article (March 3, 2003). We believe that he describes the incident in greater detail in his autobiography, "A Life in Peace and War" but we have been unable to track down a copy. If you have this book and can provide us with this reference, we would greatly appreciate it.
Update: We found and read Mr. Urquhart's excellent book. While in training as a member of a British Airborne unit, he jumped from a Whitley transport plane and his parachute failed to open. He noted that his parachute resembled a budding tulip instead of a mushroom. He spent months in military hospitals recovering from a range of injuries including a broken thigh, damaged ankles, cracked vertebrae, internal injuries, and shock. At first he was not expected to survive, but he recovered and was able to resume military activities, although he never parachuted again.
"You Gotta See This" on Fox
We believe that the Fox show "You Gotta See This" included a segment on an Unlucky Skydiver named Norm. Did anyone see it? It probably aired in February of 2003.
Tony Easley wrote to say that he read an account of a U.S. Air Force Major who was supposed to have survived three long falls. He said that he read about this back in 1978 or 79, perhaps in one of USPA's Parachutist Magazines. Does anyone else recall this story?
Does anyone recall seeing a story about a Pararescue guy who had someone fall through his chute? He fell to the ground with virtually no canopy, but survived. This story may have appeared in Airman Magazine around February of 1995. If anyone has access to back issues of this magazine, we'd greatly appreciate it if you'd check it out.
Update: Several folks have written to say that this is Scott Gearen, and one of them even put us in touch with Scott, who provided additional details. We also have received a copy of the article in Airman Magazine from Richard "SPIKE" Klein. Thanks!
Indiantown Gap Incident
This account was provided by Bill Tuttle, but he doesn't know the name of the jumper, do you?:
"In 1967, I was at Indiantown Gap for ROTC summer training. At around 10:00 am on the 4th of July, about 500 of us were all standing in formation on the southwest side of Muir Army Airfield for a paradrop demo by part of a company of the 82nd Airborne (that was their reward for acting as instructors and aggressors during our six-week training period). The Golden Knights may have been part of the stick, but if they were, they were using T-10s--nothing fancy. The main drop zone was the runway, which was sod until they got the cash to pave it sometime in the early '70s.
"They all bailed from the C-130 at about 1,500 feet or so. About halfway through the drop, one guy came zipping down past the other jumpers--he had a streamer, and we started wondering when he'd pop his reserve; he got it out at about 500 feet. Problem was, he didn't get rid of his main in time, so it wrapped around the reserve and he got a 'Mae West' when the reserve opened. By now, he was about 200 feet above ground level, but all that nylon slowed him down to just below terminal velocity. He was still thrashing around trying to untangle the mess when he hit the middle of the slope area with a THUD and a big, thick cloud of dust about fifty yards in front of us.
"I remember thinking, 'Well, I just saw somebody die right in front of me...do I puke now or wait a couple of minutes?' and about three seconds later, there was this loud scream of 'AIR-BORNE!' from the dust cloud--up he popped and limped/hopped up-slope toward the main drop zone.
"He got a standing ovation."
Italian Incident in the Alps
We have received an e-mail from a correspondent who recalls an Italian whose parachute failed over the Alps. The correspondent reports that the man survived after hitting a steep snowy slope. Without additional details, this one will be hard to track down. Does anyone recall this? The correspondent believes that it was a military parachutist, but that the event did not occur during war time, and would have occurred prior to 1988.
U.S. Army Golden Knight
This incident is believed to have occurred in the early 1970s, but we don't have the name or supporting evidence. A U.S. Army Golden Knight survived the complete failure of both chutes. Does anyone have additional details or a published account?
Update: Three incidents involving Golden Knights have turned up: Dana Bowman, Larry Ham, and Roger Reynolds. More details about this are in the Long-Fall Survival report. All of the information that has been gathered has come from sources other than the Golden Knights themselves, who have not responded to a letter and two e-mails that were sent to the public relations person listed on their web site.
World War I Pilot Instructor
Leslie Aitkin Wingham Knight was a pilot instructor in the RFC in World War I. His family reports that he fell 1,500 ft without a parachute, but survived. Apparently Knight was teaching his student to "loop the loop" when his harness broke and he fell. When he hit the ground he slid down the side of one of the hills, which helped him survive. The student, flying unaccompanied thereafter, unfortunately crashed on landing and was killed. We believe this occurred in South Downs, Sussex, England. Can anyone help with this one? We are hoping to find confirmation for this story, specifically a date and the identity of the casualty. It is possible that the starting point for this flight was Shoreham airport, which was used in World War I by the Royal Flying Corps.
New information (May 2015): With the help of the Royal Air Force Museum in London we were able to locate Lt. Knight's records, but they do not reveal an incident quite like what is described above. The closest is an incident that occurred in August of 1918 in which Knight and another Lieutenant were injured when their aircraft went into a spin and crashed. This occurred somewhere in the vicinity of the training station at RAF Wyton in Cambridgeshire. It is possible that this is the same incident but the military records make no mention of long-fall survival. The museum researcher noted that Knight's medical records showed that he suffered psychologically as a result of this incident. Could a long fall and his unlikely survival have had that kind of effect? Perhaps. Remaining unclear is why Knight's relatives thought that his incident occurred in Sussex. Knight never flew again after the August 1918 crash, instead transferring to the Army and serving in India, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Cape Cod Lady
We have heard a story of a parachutist who survived a long fall into Mystic Lake (near Marstons Mills, Massachusetts on Cape Cod) when her parachute failed to open. We believe that this happened in the 1960s. Has anyone heard of this one?
Update: We found her! She is Lois Frotten (now Rooney) and the incident happened in July of 1962. See Unlucky Skydivers for more details.
Lt. I.M. Chisov (Chissov)
Lt. Chisov's story (see Free Fallers) is generally credited to the Guinness Book of World Records. Does anyone know of another source for this incident?
Update: See the P. Meos entry for additional information.
We have no date or location for Eddie Szula's amazing story. Our only source is the Ripley's Believe It or Not Cartoon. We would like to find another supporting account.
Update: Szula's relatives have been in touch. The incident happened at the Cleveland Air Races in 1938 and has been confirmed by newspaper articles.
Sunderland Flying Boat Rear Gunner
In his book, "Into the Silk", Ian Mackersey says that Free Faller Nicholas Alkemade shared a hut in Stalag Luft III with the rear gunner of a Sunderland flying boat who had his own amazing survival story. His gun turret was separated from the rest of the plane following an explosion over Norway, and he fell inside the turret into a deep snow drift where he was found alive several hours later. Mackersey does not provide a name or a date. Has anyone else heard of this one?
Update: Some additional information about this incident has surfaced. He is believed to be a Welshman with the last name George. The incident probably occurred in April 1940. We still need more details. Can you help?
Update on the update: Success! He's Sgt. Ogwyn Francis George, the only survivor of a Sunderland crew whose aircraft was shot down on April 9, 1940. Many thanks to Thomas Sordalen for his help on this incident!
Update on the updated update: Documentary film maker Bill Young provides additional details: "Ogwyn was the Radio Operator of Sunderland L2167 of RAF 210 Squadron. They were shot down at 5.50pm on the 9th April 1940 near Sylling, the day Germany invaded Norway and the Phoney War came to an end. They were on a reconnaissance mission to Oslo and were pursued by two Messerschmitt Bf 110’s piloted by Oblt Helmut Lent (later to become a nightfighter ace with 110 kills) and Oblt Werner Hansen. Ogwyn was found by Norwegian woodcutter Johan Brathen and retrieved in the early morning by Johan and two companions. After 5 months in hospital recovering from severe burns to his face, Ogwyn spent the rest of the war as a POW." (Note: Young recently completed a documentary called "A Very Short War" which included interviews with Ogwyn George's daughter and grand daughter.)
A German Airman in a World War I Zeppelin
Does anyone have any details on Alfred Muhler, crewmember of a German Zeppelin that was shot down over Ghent, Belgium on June 6, 1915? He is supposed to have survived a fall of 8,000 feet in the gondola of the Zeppelin. There may even be a plaque commemorating this event at the Convent of St. Elizabeth in Ghent.
Update: Here are some additional details on the story: Otto van der Haegen was the commander of a German zeppelin that was shot down by a Royal Navy pilot named Reginald Alexander John Warneford. The zeppelin, LZ 37, was destroyed during the night of June 6-7 1915 and came down in Sint-Amandsberg, a suburb of Ghent. A part of the zeppelin fell onto the monastery Onze Lieve Vrouw Visitatie, on the left side of the main road to Antwerp. Another part fell on the Beguinage Saint-Elisabeth, on the right side of the main road to Antwerp. In both places people were killed. In the monastery a nun and a gardener died. In the Beguinage a 9-year old boy was killed and several people were injured. The pilot of the zeppelin, Alfred Muhler, was the only survivor from the crew. It appears that he crashed through the roof of a bar and fell onto a kitchen table. There is a plaque on the wall of the monastery in honor of Warneford who died about two weeks later in a plane crash.
We include a story under Other Amazing Stories about a nine-year-old Colombian girl who was the only survivor of a crash of a DC-9 jet near Cartagena, Colombia in January of 1995. We suspect that there was plenty of Spanish language coverage on this incident, but we have been unable to find it. Can you help?
Update: As always, you folks come through. Thanks to William "Angus" Wallace, we received additional Spanish language information on this incident.
Luke Aikins, July 30, 2016
In a sponsored stunt that was televised on Fox, Luke Aikens jumped from an airplane at 25,000 feet without a parachute and landed unhurt in a large net erected for that purpose in the desert north of Los Angeles.
Sebastian Reyes, June 20, 2015
Following a long night of celebration (Chile beat Bolivia in the Copa America), Sebastian Reyes fell off of a balcony and tumbled 17-stories before crashing into a metal roof, hitting a car, and rolling onto the ground. He broke his thigh and pelvis but survived. The incident occurred in Rancagua, Chile.
Pedro Perez, November 21, 2014
A window washer named Pedro Perez survived an 11-story fall onto the roof of a passing car. He survived with multiple serious injuries that will require a long convalescence. The incident occurred in San Francisco.
Makenzie Wethington, January 25, 2014
Going on a solo skydive for her sixteenth birthday, Makenzie Wethington’s parachute malfunctioned and she spun 3,500 feet to the ground below, suffering extensive injuries including a broken vertebrae, shattered pelvis, a lacerated liver and kidney, and a broken tooth. The incident occurred in Chickasha, Oklahoma.
Tom Stilwell, June 16, 2013
20-year-old Tim Stilwell survived a 13-story fall after trying to climb into his 14th-floor apartment from the balcony of the apartment above. He landed on the roof of an adjacent building and survived with fractures to his neck and back, a broken wrist, and suspected internal injuries. The incident occurred in Auckland, New Zealand. Not long after the fall he sold the rights of his story to a tabloid newspaper.
Liam Dunne, August 17, 2012
An experienced skydiver named Liam Dunne survived a long fall under a failed parachute and a reserve chute that wasn't deployed until the very last minute (too late to do much good). Luckily he hit soft ground and bounced, though he broke his back. Doctors inserted pins in his spine and after a few months of rehabilitation they expect he will be able to walk again. The incident occurred in Moteuko, New Zealand.
Baby Hashimoto, December 15, 2011
A one-year-old boy survived a long fall after being thrown out of a 10th floor apartment window by his father. The 37-year-old father, named in Japanese reports as “Mr. Hashimoto," first tried to strangle the boy and then threw him from the balcony. The boy landed in a shrub below where he was found crying. His mother, who had been away from the apartment taking her four-year-old daughter to school, returned home and saw the ambulance with her son. She rode in the ambulance to the hospital. Her son was crying but had only a slight injury on his face. At the hospital after a CT scan and an X-ray, no major injuries were found. The father will undergo a psychiatric evaluation. The incident took place on the east side of Tokyo not far from the Monzennakacho station.
Zhang Fangyu, June 25, 2011
A two-year-old Chinese girl from the suburbs of Hangzhou survived a 10-story fall after she was caught by an attentive woman who had seen the child dangling from an apartment window. The child, Zhang Fangyu (nicknamed Niu Niu), survived, though in critical condition with internal bleeding and other injuries. Her rescuer, Wu Juping, was knocked down by the collision and broke her arm. The child was in the apartment alone. Her grandmother had left to run an errand.
Unidentified Argentinean Woman, January 24, 2011
An Argentinean woman fell 23 stories from a Buenos Aires hotel in an apparent suicide attempt in January of 2011. The unidentified thirty-year-old survived when she landed in a seated position on the roof of a taxi. She was operated on at a nearby hospital for internal bleeding and broken ribs and hips. The incident occurred at the Hotel Crown Plaza Panamerica. Witnesses said she climbed over a barrier at the hotel's rooftop restaurant.
Thomas Magill, August 31, 2010
Thomas Magill, described as a happy and fun-loving 22-year-old actor, survived an apparent suicide attempt after a 39-story fall from a building he once lived in. He crashed through the back window of a parked 2008 Dodge Charger and landed in the back seat where he was quickly reached by emergency workers. The incident occurred at around 10:45 in the morning on the west side of Manhattan at West End Towers (75 West End Avenue). Magill was conscious and speaking after the fall. He had surgery on his broken legs and though initially declared in critical condition by his doctors, was in stable condition two days later.
Unnamed 15-Year-Old, July 22, 2010
A 15-year-old boy survived a long fall from a Manukau City, New Zealand apartment building. After a 14-story fall the boy crashed throuh the roof of an adjacent parking garage before plunging two more stories to a concrete floor below. He narrowly missed support beams in the parking garage roof. The boy, who was not named in newspaper accounts, suffered relatively minor injuries: a broken wrist, a broken rib, a gouged leg, and internal injuries. He was released from the hospital a little more than a week later. The circumstances surrounding his fall were not made public. Police examined the balcony from which he fell and declared it safe.
Lareese Butler, March 6, 2010
Lareese Butler jumped from about 3,000 feet but left the aircraft in "an unusual and unstable" position. Her parachute became entangled and only partially inflated. She did not release the tangled chute or pull her reserve. She fell to the ground at a high rate of speed. One newspaper article stated that she had not wanted to jump after seeing issues with the three skydivers who preceded her. She said she was pushed, though her instructor says she was not. Initial reports said she had bruises, a broken leg, and a concussion. Other injuries were possible, including a broken pelvis. Not long after the accident she was moved out of intensive care.
Alberto and Fernanda Rozas, February 27, 2010
Alberto and Fernanda Rozas survived the collapse of their apartment building following the earthquake in Chile in February of 2010. They were in their 13th-floor apartment when the earthquake hit. After the building toppled over they were able to climb through a window to safety with only minor injuries. At least seven people died in the building. A newspaper report the following day said that 23 people were safe and another 60 were still trapped inside. Photos by AP Photographer Natacha Pisarenko provide some perspective on how the building fell over. Rather than collapsing down on itself the building appears to have toppled over like a downed tree. This is an interesting long-fall case in that it represents a wreckage rider skyscraper fall.
Paul Lewis, August 14, 2009
According to a story in the Telegraph, on August 14, 2009, 40-year-old Paul Lewis, an experienced skydive cameraman who was filming a tandem dive, had a main parachute malfunction on a jump from 10,000 feet. He cut away the main and pulled his reserve, but had trouble controlling it and from about 2,000 feet spiraled into the roof of a hangar at Tilstock airfield in Whitchurch, Shropshire, England. The flexing of the hangar roof was credited with limiting his injuries. Lewis was airlifted to the University Hospital of North Staffordshire with head and neck injuries. Colin Fizmorris, the owner of the skydiving center, said that Mr. Lewis was expected to make a full recovery. The incident has a lot of similarity to that of Shayna Richardson whose spiraling was likely caused by a "hung slider" on her reserve chute.
James Boole, April 10, 2009
In April of 2009 British skydiver James Boole was filming another skydiver over snow-covered mountains somewhere in Eastern Russia. So absorbed was he in filming (and with no signal from the other skydiver) he didn't open his parachute until he was very close to the ground. The incident, which was filmed from the ground and from the helicopter he jumped from, shows his parachute beginning to open as he slams into the snow. Whether his parachute slowed him significantly is difficult to say but it did orient him so he hit the ground on his back. He survived with non-life-threatening injuries (broken back, rib, and teeth plus a bruised lung). See it on video.
Chuck Walz, August 31, 2008
Chuck Walz was the pilot and only passenger in a hot air balloon during the Great Southeast Balloon Fest. He was flying in a navigational competition when the basket of the balloon began to rock, he said, due to wind shear. It is unclear what caused the balloon to deflate, but witnesses described its fall as "like a rock with a shoestring." Walz said he was at 13,600 feet at his highest. He later said that his global positioning system (GPS) put the speed of descent at 95 miles per hour. The balloon came down in a residential neighborhood, landing in a tree about 20 feet from a house. Walz was pitched out of the basket at a height of about 10 to 12 feet. He was conscious when rescuers arrived but his leg was badly injured, he broke his pelvis, and he suffered burns to his right hand and arm.
Grace Bergere, July 31, 2008
Falls from aircraft are the most likely long-fall scenarios, but three skyscraper falls have been in the news, most recently Grace Bergere, but also New York City window washer Alcides Moreno (December 7, 2007) and a Wisconsin man named Joshua Hanson who fell from the Hyatt Regency in Minneapolis (January 20, 2007). 12-year-old Grace Bergere was on the roof of her West Village apartment building showing her cousin the view from the rooftop deck. She climbed a ladder beside a brick chimney to get even higher but somehow when she reached the top she fell. Her descent down the chimney covered 14 stories (an estimated 180 feet). Her rescuers did not expect to find her alive. Upon opening the door of the furnace, however, they could see Grace's hand reaching out of the soot. A two-foot pile of ash at the base of the chimney appears to have saved her. She was hospitalized at Bellevue for an injured hip and was listed in fair condition. Fire Lt. Simon Ressner speculated that she fell head first and landed on her back.
Michael Holmes, December 12, 2006
Michael Holmes, a skydiving instructor at Taupo Tandem Skydiving in Taupo, New Zealand, was preparing to film a group of skydivers when he jumped from 4,000 meters (about 13,000 feet). His main parachute became tangled. It is not clear if he pulled his reserve. A witness described him as "going round and round...he was all tangled up..." Holmes landed in a blackberry bush where he was rescued shortly after by firefighters. Holmes was hospitalized with a punctured lung and a broken ankle. You can find the video on a Dutch site called Jaggle or on YouTube.
Benno Jacobs, August 19, 2006
Benno Jacobs was on his first jump, having trained the previous day at a parachute club in Bloemfontein, South Africa. He fell 1,000 meters (about 3,300 feet) when his parachute failed to open properly. A witness described the chute as "75% open with a rope over the top." Jacobs said that the jump was supposed to last about six minutes but took less than a minute in this instance. He calculated his speed at impact as 60 kilometers per hour (about 37 miles per hour). This calculation neglects the possibility that he was accelerating at the time, but it is probably not too far off. Jacobs came down in a recently plowed farmer's field and walked to a nearby gate where he was picked up by an ambulance. Jacobs was hospitalized and held under observation in a neurological unit. His injuries included bruises, a bruised lung, a swollen lip, a bloody nose, and severe body stiffness.
Shayna Richardson, October 9, 2005
Shayna Richardson was making her first solo jump when she had trouble with her main parachute and cut it away. She deployed her reserve, which came out but was malfunctioning, slowing her descent but leaving her spiraling out of control. She came down in a parking lot and smashed her face on the pavement. It later turned out that she was pregnant. She is recovering and the baby is fine. Shayna's due due date is June 25, 2005. She hopes to jump again not long thereafter. The story made national news in large part because her instructor videotaped the jump. The incident happened in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. See The Shayna Richardson Story for more details.
Charles Williams, October 25, 2004
Irish Guard Lt. Charlie Williams fell 3,500 feet headfirst with his feet caught in the cords of his tangled parachute. He was unable to pull his reserve. He thought he was going to die but was saved when he plunged through the corrugated roof of a well-placed hut. His injuries: three cracked vertebrae and a dislocated finger. The incident happened in Malindi, Kenya.
Christine McKenzie, August 22, 2004
Recreational skydiver Christine McKenzie jumped at 11,000 feet but her main parachute didn't open. She tried her reserve and it released, but several lines broke and it never fully deployed. As she spun toward the ground she hit some power lines, which slowed her fall. She survived with a fractured pelvic bone and some bruises. It was her 112th jump. She says she wants to jump again. The incident occured at Carletonville, South Africa (40 miles west of Johannesburg).
Special thanks to Peter Ceulemans for the tip. The full story is in the South African newspaper The Star.
Dragan Curcic, October 29, 2002
Dragan Curcic, a Yugoslav Army paratrooper, survived a 3,000-foot fall when his main and spare parachute malfunctioned during an exercise. He fell through the roof of an army building and survived with only minor cuts and bruises. He jumped again two days later. The incident happened in Nis, Serbia-Montenegro.
Many attentive correspondents pointed out this story. Special thanks to Tony Adriani and B. Faircloth. The full story is at: Reuters.
We found an article on Curcic that is in Serbian. See Glas-Javnosti if you can read it. However we also found a volunteer, Andrija Pesic, who translated it for us. Try this link for the translation. Our thanks to Andrija!
S D Magidela, September 21, 2002
Private S D Magidela of the 44th Parachute Brigade from Tempe, Bloemfontein made a low-level jump from a C-130 during an African Aerospace and Defence air show. Unfortunately his parachute failed to open and he did not open (or did not have time to open) his reserve. He was seriously injured, suffering spinal injuries and a broken pelvis.
Glenn Hood, June 25, 2002
While jumping near Jarvis Lake in Western Alberta, the parachute of Corporal Glenn Hood, a Canadian forces member, became entangled with that of a colleague, Shawn Harrison. Harrison was able to break free and use his reserve. Hood, unfortunately, was all tangled up and rode his streaming parachute to the ground where his fall was broken by some "springy shrubs". Hood attributes his survival to divine intervention. See some thoughts on that topic.
Thanks to Hutch Hubbard for pointing out this story, which he saw in The Vancouver Sun. For more details try this link.
Update: Mr. Hood contacted us recently to say that he had "basically healed" and that he had jumped "close to another 40 times" since the accident. In regard to divine intervention, he wrote, "The divine intervention thing was taken slightly out of context but in all honesty I had to give thanks to someone for letting me live and I can think of no better entity to thank."
Najib Ibrahim, May 4, 2002
Najib Ibrahim jumped from a flaming airliner onto a rooftop as the plane crashed in Kano, Nigeria. He survived with minor burns and a non-life-threatening blood clot in his liver. More than 70 passengers died and nearly as many lives were lost on the ground.