Things You Thought You Knew #12: How to Survive Falling Out of an Airplane

What You Thought You Knew: If you fall out of an airplane when it’s at cruising altitude (around 35,000 feet), there’s no way you’ll survive.


What You Didn’t Know: While I wouldn’t use the word “many” to describe the number of people who have survived falls from airplanes, they do exist, and they’re probably a bit more numerous than you’d think.

The fact that people survive, though, is not the primary goal of this post. It is, after all, about “things you thought you knew” — so let’s address some things you probably thought are good for you if you’re falling from such a height.

Myth #1: Try to land in the water, since it will give out and break your fall.

Yeah, no. Scientists have shown that, if you’re coming from above roughly 1,000 feet, water is no better than concrete. Falling less than that (maybe a few stories)? Definitely find some water if you can. But at the velocity you’ll be going after a fall from a plane, water may actually be more dangerous than landing on concrete — at least with concrete, when you get knocked out from the impact you won’t drown.

If anything, you want to try to aim for sloped hills that you’ll roll down afterward, soft things like snow, swamps, hay, or bushes (or trees, if you deem the landscape so not-good-for-falling-people that the risk of being impaled outweighs the rest), or even aluminum/tin roofs or glass buildings and cars. All are better than the good ol’ ground.

Myth #2: Land on your feet, no matter what.

While it is best to land on the balls of your feet (with your knees bent) if at all possible, there are some situations where trying to do so would put you in more danger. If it will take a contortion to get you feet-down and you run the risk of landing on your side or in some sort of “incomplete” flip-over to your feet, the next best option, if you can believe it, is to land on your face.

Make no mistake — your “face” is not the same as your “head.” DON’T land on your head (especially the back of your head). It’s for this reason that you should lace your fingers together behind your head with your elbows facing forward during impact. But your face has a lot of extra cartilage and bones that can help to absorb the shock before it reaches your brain. You’re not going to come out looking like Natalie Portman, but you might just live.

That being said, do try not to land on your face at all. Feet, please.

Myth #3: I’ll have a lot of time to steer myself to a good place to land.

Well, yes and no. Yes, if you fall from cruising altitude, you’ll have around 2 or 2.5 minutes of free-falling. But you won’t be conscious for all of it. There’s not much oxygen up there, so you’ll be knocked out for about a minute of your total falling time. Still, one minute remaining is plenty to give you time to look around and think, so don’t panic.

It’s possible to steer yourself while in the air, and put your body into an arch to slow yourself down as much as possible.

Myth #4: I should try to get as far away from debris as possible while falling.

While it’s true that any debris (such as from a broken plane wing) could be dangerous, if you can in any way get hold of a piece of plane, DO IT. People who hit the ground while attached to a piece of debris have a significantly higher chance of survival than those who don’t (31 survivors to 13). These people are often called “wreckage riders.”

So, snag some debris, aim for a snowy hilltop, and enjoy your few minutes of contemplating the essence of life as you fall to your (probably still quite likely) death. But keep a good attitude — of the people who have survived, almost all claim that their “never give up” attitude helped them to think calmly and clearly. And they’re still alive — that says something.

Now You Know: what to do in case you fall out of an airplane.

The Flagship Niagara Diaries Part 13: Bloopers and Extras

Wondering what didn’t make it into the original Flagship Niagara Diaries series? Oh, you have no idea. I never mentioned the…

…witch-doctorish pirate wannabe with skull walking stick who was creeping after me.


…the random guitars that the Germans piled into their ship.


…my castle in the sky. And no, I was not hallucinating about the clouds this time.


…Pip electrocuting his nipple with an electric bug zapper.


…and then trying it again on different parts of his body.


…deck showers with lake water from the fire hose.


…Neil’s repeated attempts to look cool.


…the SPIDER that ambushed me in the gunport.


…showering in the Cleveland Browns’ shower.


…the creeper blimp.


…sunburn blistering all over my body (trust me, it got a lot bigger after this!)




…who can sleep anywhere.


…and “this guy,” scaring women in red shirts since 2010. 😉


Thanks for reading the Flagship Niagara Diaries! Although this series has ended, stick around bythepathlesstraveled as I prepare to head off to Japan next week!


The Flagship Niagara Diaries Part 12: The Zombie Apocalypse

We gather in a tight, worried circle, all hands on deck waiting for Captain Wes to break the news. He sighs.

“This is the largest sickness to ever strike Niagara.”

I look around, still unsettled by the gaps where Neil, Jesse, and Paul should be standing. We haven’t heard back from the hospital.

“I know it’s not exactly what you want to be talking about,” Wes continues, “but you’ve got to be honest.” He looks at each of us. “Has anyone been having diarrhea? Anything unusual?”

Megan huffs. “Captain, girls don’t poop!” We all chuckle, and it’s reassuring to see even Captain’s face break into a smile once again.


The sun’s hot. The deck isn’t as cool as I’d like it to be as I lay flat on the grainy wood. Sweat trickles behind my ears and down my neck, carving paths in the dirt and dust that none of us has had time or strength to wash off. I watch the rigid lines of the mast and yards contort and crackle like the static on a dead television.

We’re dropping like flies out here.

Another weary crewmember wobbles toward a gunport in time to vomit into one of the buckets, but the bucket to sick crewmember ratio is, shall we say, a little inadequate. Sailors lie draped over all manner of deck equipment like rags, like a bomb went off. I sigh and close my eyes, losing myself to hot, damp darkness for the next 16 hours.


When I wake, I see the hammock population below deck has nearly tripled as more than half of the crew succumbs to whatever invisible foe is attacking us. There aren’t enough sailors left to man the ship.

We’ve run aground in the water.

I don’t know what time or day it is, and I haven’t had anything to eat or drink for close to a day. Slinking out of my hammock and ducking out of the way of a sick and wobbly fellow, I head up onto the deck to take a few sips of water, then a few sips of Gatorade. I’m not as bad as most of the others, but I need to sit down again.

When I return to the berth deck, I notice that some still-surviving crewmember has dumped out a stash of granola bars on a storage box near the galley. I snag one and flip back into my hammock, sweaty and drained. It takes another 20 minutes of doing nothing before I actually crack the package open.

This is THE BEST granola bar I have ever tasted. Sunbelt chocolate chip granola bars — who knew?

I doze, letting my mind wander and my ears take in the wonderful sound of creaking ropes as my hammock rocks back and forth. Wait, what? My hammock’s rocking.

We’re moving?

Just as I roll over, I see Lara come down into the berth deck.

“What’s happening?”

She ninjas her way through the maze of hammocks over to me. “There’s enough crew left to get us back to Erie. We’re in quarantine, so we’re not helping. Captain disbanded alpha, bravo, and charlie watches. Now we’ve got Healthy Watch and Zombie Watch, which is us.”

“What about everyone at the hospital?” I ask.

Lara shakes her head. “They took Jamie and Jesse to Hamot.”

“Jamie too?”

“Yeah, unfortunately.” As she makes her way over to her hammock, I roll over again and stare up at the ceiling a few inches away, hoping that everyone will be all right.


It’s dark and cold the next time I emerge on deck. Why on earth would Captain call all-hands right now? I look around.

We’re at another port. A port with a rounded stone pier. There’s a lighthouse nearby. Dobbins’ Landing? Wait….

I’m home.

This is the pier where I first boarded Niagara.

Wes sends us off in quarantine groups after a few wonderful (and obviously tired) cooks emerge from a nearby building and give us a little food. It must be 2 in the morning, and they’ve been cooking for us!


The hugs are long and strong when my parents meet up with me after all this time. The ship, now revived, once again bustles with hale crewmembers, and Cusson helps me to unload the last of my belongings from sea bag #42. Neil, Jesse, Paul, and Jamie are as fit as ever, and I scan over the ship one last time. I turn back to my mother, tucking my right arm behind me to hide the injuries that I don’t want her to see, and I shake Captain Wes’ hand with a confident smile that’s so much the opposite of the shy stare that I gave him all those weeks ago.

What have I gotten myself into? That’s what I asked when I first stepped aboard Niagara. What am I doing? I watch Wes turn away and return to his ship, and I catch Billy waving at me from up on the bridge deck. I smile.

I got myself into something great.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

— John Masefield


Quotes from these days’ ship logs:

“Half of our entire crew is down.”

“Wes is handling the situation very well — this is the largest sickness to ever strike Niagara.”

“Spent the entire day in quarantine in the berth deck. Only a handful of crew are left.”


This marks the end of the official Flagship Niagara Diaries series. However, stay tuned for next week, when I’ll do a great collage of all the things that didn’t make it into the series! Lots of pictures, and TONS of hilarity! Don’t miss it. When I return to the ships in September 2013, expect another post about the historic Battle of Lake Erie! Thanks for reading!