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Free Fall

The Free Fall Research Page
A few people have survived a fall of thousands of feet without a working parachute. This research page is dedicated to recording their stories.

Using the Free Fall Research Page
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Free Fall News (recent stories highlighted here, scroll down for more)

July 2024: Touching the Void: The Story of Joe Simpson
March 2024: Jim Hamilton's Book on Long-Fall Survival Is Complete!
February 2024: A Great Source of Long-Fall Survival Incidents
September 2023: Some Thoughts on Mountain Climber Falls
March 2023: Long-Fall Survival at the Academy Awards
December 2022: Wreckage Riders in a Car
October 2022: Jim Hamilton article in World War One Illustrated
June 2022: Jim Hamilton's Appearance on The UnXplained
April 2022: Jordan Hatmaker
October 2021: The Ten-Story Rule
September 2021: How Far Did McGarry Fall? A Fair Distance
September 2021: An Unlucky Skydiver's Story
July 2021: A Graphic Novel about Long-Fall Survival
June 2021: Sole Survivors on the Mack Maloney Podcast
March 2021: Catch a Falling Child
February 2021: Be Sure to Enjoy the View
December 2020: The Man Who Jumped Off Clouds
November 2020: Statista's 'No Parachute' Graphic
October 2020: The Flying Greek: Col. Steve Pisanos
September 2020: Youth, Memory, Risk, and Change
February 2020: Miracles Still Happen: A 1974 Film on the Juliane Koepcke Story

Touching the Void: The Story of Joe Simpson
July 2024: We have stated previously (see
Some Thoughts on Mountain Climber Falls) that we are rarely impressed by stories of people who survive falls in mountainous regions, mainly because they tend to bounce down the mountainside rather than fall freely. However, a mountain-climbing story has come to our attention that is amazing on many levels. In a sense, this story is a bit like Juliane Koepcke's. Juliane survived a long fall after the airliner she was in broke up during a storm, yet that was only the first challenge facing her. Landing in the rain forest, Juliane had to find her own way out. Joe Simpson faced a similar challenge.

In 1985, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates had successfully climbed the snow-covered and icy 4,500-foot west face of Siula Grande in Peru when on the way back down Simpson fell and broke his right leg. Faced with the daunting challenge of the lengthy descent with a badly broken leg, the two climbers used a strategy in which Yates would lower Simpson using their 300-foot rope and then climb down himself to join Simpson and repeat the process. This worked well until Yates unknowingly lowered Simpson over a ledge and left him hanging in mid-air. Faced with the choice of sliding down over the ledge himself or letting Simpson fall an undetermined distance, Yates chose to cut the rope and let Simpson fall. Simpson fell approximately 100 feet to the ground and then another 50 feet into a crevasse. Yates descended and searched for Simpson but could not find him, and assumed that he had died in the fall. But Simpson hadn't died. Broken leg and all, Simpson found a way out of the crevasse and slowly (and painfully) made his way back to their base camp over a period of several days. He arrived before Yates and a companion named Richard Hawking, who was guarding the camp in their absence, had left the area. In addition to his broken leg, Simpson had lost 35% of his body weight during the ordeal. Simpson's worst injury came before the fall (his broken leg). He was not badly injured in the fall.

Joe Simpson wrote a book called 'Touching the Void' in 1988. A documentary of the same name appeared in 2003, followed by a stage play in 2018. Obviously, his story has had a significant impact.

Falling: Amazing Survival Stories Is Now Available!
March 2024: Author/illustrator Jim Hamilton's latest book, Falling: Amazing Survival Stories, has just been published. You can purchase it here.

A Great Source of Long-Fall Survival Incidents
February 2024: Robert Jackson's book Baling Out: Amazing Dramas of Military Flying (2006, Pen & Sword Military) includes a handful of long-fall survival stories that were new to us:
  • In July of 1957 in Oberhausen, Germany, Lt. Kurt Angele was participating in a training exercise and jumped from a Noratlas transport aircraft at 1,500 feet. His jump equipment included a 100-lb. sandpack to simulate battle conditions. He had loosened the straps on the pack and upon jumping this caused him to go off balance and roll uncontrollably. The parachute was pulled out by the static line but simply wrapped around him as he fell. He landed on soft ground and left a two-foot-deep impression. Sources at the time estimated that he was falling at 90 miles per hour. Angele suffered seven broken ribs, a torn lung, two broken vertebrae, and a crushed right kidney. He recovered and returned to his unit by November, though his days as a paratrooper were over.
  • Lt. Tracy B. Mathewson was the pilot of a USAF F-80 Shooting star on December 11, 1950 on a mission into North Korea. His aircraft was hit by enemy fire and disintegrated in mid-air. Finding himself flying through air, Mathewson pulled his D-ring but not much happened. Only a small strip of silk came out. He hit the ground, amazed to be alive, and scrambled toward the wreckage of his aircraft. Not long after, Stinson L-5 rescue aircraft piloted by 1st Lt. Donald R. Michaelis arrived and landed in a nearby frozen rice paddy. Michaelis collected Mathewson under enemy fire. Mathewson returned to his unit and flew seven more missions before discovering that his neck was broken. He was out of commission for 14 months.
  • In February of 1943, Commander Sergei Kurzenkov was flying an Ilyushin IL-2 ground attack aircraft on a mission to Kirkenes airfield when his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Though his aircraft was damaged badly and he was injured, he managed to climb to 11,000 feet to return to Vaenga airfield. On his way there, the fire on the aircraft spread and he was forced to bail out. He fell five to six throusand feet before pulling his ripcord, but when he did so, it came loose. Accounts differ as to whether the parachute had been cut entirely away, or simply rendered useless, but in any case, Kurzenkove fell thousands of feet and awoke lying at the bottom of a steep slope in a snow drift. He was rescued not long after by an infantry unit.
  • In June of 1918, a Lt. Smith of #29 Balloon Section jumped from his damaged balloon following an attack by enemy aircraft. He fell several hundred feet through tree branches and landed safely in a bog. Outside of a "severe shaking" he was fine.
  • Early in May 1916 after their balloon was hit by artillery fire, Flight Sergeant W.S. Lewis and an officer described as "Lt. H." chose to jump from the balloon. Lewis's parachute failed and tangled at first with the wreckage of the balloon. He then fell and landed on top of Lt. H.'s parachute, collapsing it. Lt. H.'s parachute reinflated, saving both of them as Lewis somehow became snared in Lt. H.'s parachute. Lewis landed first and Lt. H. fell on top of him. Both survived unhurt.
Some Thoughts on Mountain Climber Falls
September 2023: Every once in a while there is a report about a mountain climber who survived a long fall. Such is the case with a recent story from the BBC,
Mount Taranaki: Climber survives 600m fall with minor injuries. The article notes that a climber on Mount Taranaki in New Zealand "survived a fall of 600m (1,968ft) with only minor injuries after tumbling down the side of a mountain." The reporter compares that height to the height of the Makkah Clock Royal Tower in Saudi Arabia, one of the world's tallest buildings. This is where we politely object. Tumbling is a special sub-category of falling that implies some bouncing. If we hear that someone has survived a fall off of the Makkah Clock Royal Tower, we will be suitably impressed. And while we are glad to hear that the climber who fell down Mount Taranaki is okay, it is worth pointing out that surviving a fall by bouncing down the side of a snowy mountain (which it appears this climber did rather than falling free) is a lot less fantastic than surviving a free fall of the same distance.

Long-Fall Survival at the Academy Awards
March 2023: This year, two short animated films with long-fall survival themes have been nominated for Academy Awards:

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