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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.

How to Use This Site
Use the bar at the top or bottom of each page to find an area that interests you. In general, the stories fall into one of these categories Free Fallers, Wreckage Riders, Unlucky Skydivers, and Other Amazing Stories. Unsolved mysteries and the most recent incidents are catalogued on the Incident Log. We answer your Questions. You can also find a quick overview of the Free Fall Research page on our site map. Looking for something specific? Use the search tool below. Click here to visit the Green Harbor Publications store front where you can purchase the Long-Fall Survival Report and other Green Harbor Publications books. Follow us on Twitter at @FreeFallReport. You can also check out the work in progress on a graphic novel on long-fall survival by author/illustrator Jim Hamilton whose book Falling: Amazing Survival Stories was published in March of 2024.
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Free Fall News (recent stories highlighted here, scroll down for more)

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

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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The Free Fall Research Page is sponsored by Green Harbor Publications.

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