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.

Things You Thought You Knew #9: Do Animals Have Pets?

What You Thought You Knew: Animals may live in packs and have close friendships, but only humans have pets.


What You Didn’t Know: The realm of pet ownership really does extend to the animal kingdom, but it will be easier to explain what examples of animal friendship are not pet-keeping before going on to who actually owns pets.

For example, I personally do not consider Tarra and and Bella, the semi-famous dog & elephant duo, as an example of an elephant keeping a dog as a pet. This is because Tarra (the elephant) did not personally take care of Bella in a way that pet owners do. This type of caregiving behavior can be seen a little more fully in Koko, the famous gorilla used in linguistic experiments to try to teach animals sign language and prove that they had language capabilities.

Koko did have a “pet” cat, and although she was not entirely responsible for the care of the cat, she did play an important part in raising it. Well-documented incidents of her grooming the cat and even showing an understanding of the cat as a “living-partner” by blaming the cat for things gone wrong and destroyed in their shared living space show that Koko viewed the cat not just as a friend but as a partner in life in the same way that humans co-exist with pets. The only qualm I have with calling the cats (either All Ball or Moe) Koko’s “pets” is that Koko was domesticated and somewhat guided in how to treat these animals.

This brings us, then, to the real pet owners of the animal kingdom — otters. Don’t judge; a pet rock still counts as a pet! Otters search far and wide for their perfect, compatible rock, and once they’ve found it, they care deeply for it, protect it, and ensure that it survives as long as possible. Because otters are known for being some of the most intelligent tool-users, it should come as no surprise that an otter’s pet rock is so important — a rock that can crack open shellfish so perfectly is certainly to be cherished! When an otter has finished using its pet rock, it has extra folds of skin that it uses to help hold it and carry it along. When possible, it carries the rock on its stomach when floating. Interestingly, this is also the place where it cradles its young.

Pet rocks = little inanimate baby otters.


Now You Know: That some animals do keep pets, even if they may be pet rocks.

Things You Thought You Knew #3: Do Circles Really Exist?

What You Thought You Knew: Geometry contains a shape called a “circle,” a line forming a closed loop where all points are equally distant from the middle.


What You Didn’t Know: In the 15th century, Nicholas of Cusa was a big fan of this geometric creature we call “the circle.” In fact, he loved it so much that he just couldn’t stop thinking about circular things — balls, plates, earth, anything he could find.

Since he spent so much time fantasizing about circles, it’s no wonder that he started to notice some strange things. The amount of curve around a circle decreases as a circle gets bigger. Make sense?

Think about it — if I have a tiny little circle and a big circle next to each other, the tiny one has a much tighter curve than the big one, right? The big one curves in a long, lazy way, and the tiny one is like, “Whoosh! I’m done!”


In other words, the bigger one is closer to being flat.

Nicholas first noticed this trend when he viewed the earth — the earth is so big, in fact, that the horizon looks flat even though we all know it is curved as part of a sphere. So then, we now know that the bigger the circle, the less it curves. By that logic, an infinite circle (one that is infinitely large) would have the greatest decrease in curve. An infinite circle is a shape that has the least amount of curve — a straight line! And we all know that straight lines are not circles. What gives?

Now You Know: that a circle can be composed of a straight line and is, therefore, not a circle. So do circles even exist?

Things You Thought You Knew #2: Do Men See the Same Things as Women?

What You Thought You Knew: Men and women can see the same things.


What You Didn’t Know: It’s long been said that a big part of getting along with people is learning to “see the world through their eyes.” But according to science, doing that might be a bit harder if you and your friend are of the opposite gender.

According to numerous reports produced by institutions like the Smithsonian and National Geographic, a man’s eyes are not physiologically geared to see the same things that women see. This means that women’s eyes perceive slightly shorter wavelengths of color than men’s, so a woman is more likely to see more colors than a man does. Where a man’s eyes fail him is mostly in the middle of the spectrum, where these short wavelengths matter (in the yellows and greens). What women perceive as slightly orange, men overwhelmingly perceive as more yellow than orange. When men describe things as white, most women detect a very light brown shade called “ecru.”

This means, of course, that women also have a bigger vocabulary for expressing colors, as they distinguish fine differences in hue more readily than their male counterparts. It’s no wonder you can’t agree with your wife that the living room should be painted xanadu or gamboge. 99% chance those words were created by women….

Interestingly enough, though, just as women have an advantage over men in color perception, men are much more attentive to moving objects traveling across their field of vision. This means that a man is much more likely to be able to identify the shape, color, and details of a quickly-moving object. Some scientists attribute this to the ancient man’s need to hunt; the woman’s color focus is explained as a need that developed for her to differentiate between plant life used for medicines, food, and other things. Ironically, though, more men die in vehicle crashes each year than women, according to the IIHS. It seems that object-sensitive male vision, while useful for detail, does not affect reaction time.


Now You Know: that women see color better than men, but men see moving objects better than women.