- They really are fortunate. We’d rather not try our luck with a fall like this.
If you’ve ever had a nasty fall, like off a chair, you know it hurts. Now try falling from somewhere a bit higher.
Perhaps, say, 10,000 feet higher.
Granted, if you did have such a fall, it probably wouldn’t hurt much. Most people don’t survive falls from such heights — yet there are the lucky few who somehow did.
Here are six people who survived absolutely insane falls without a parachute.
6. Juliane Koepcke — 10,000 Feet
On Christmas Eve in 1971, Juliane Koepcke was on the LANSA Flight 508 from Lima to Pucallpa, when lightning struck the plane. The aircraft began falling apart, scattering most of the passengers into the air at 10,000 feet.
Koepcke, still strapped to her seat, somehow survived as her part of the plane plummeted into the Peruvian jungle. She received miraculously few injuries, suffering only a broken collarbone, a deep wound on her right arm, an eye injury, and a concussion.
After unbuckling herself from the seat, Koepcke spent 11 days in the jungle looking for help. It wasn’t easy, though — for example, at one point she had to pour gasoline to get maggots out of her infected arm wound.
Finally, she found a local fishing encampment and was taken to be treated.
Yet, Koepcke wasn’t the only one to survive the fall. Up to 14 other passengers are thought to have made it but later perished in the jungle from their injuries.
5. Bear Grylls — 16,000 Feet
Yes, this is Bear Grylls of the “better drink my own pee” fame. Before he started doing disgusting things on TV, he was training to join the British SAS special forces. One exercise included parachuting out of a plane at 16,000 feet.
Bur Grylls’ parachute didn’t open. He later recalled that he should’ve deployed his reserve ‘chute — but for some reason, he didn’t.
That decision probably saved him.
Grylls landed on his back on top of his parachute pack. The impact shattered three of his vertebrae but his spinal cord stayed intact.
After an intense rehabilitation routine, Grylls climbed Mount Everest only 18 months later. He then went on to start his successful pee-drinking career — yet to this day, he suffers from intense back pain.
4. Nicholas Alkemade — 18,000 Feet
Nicholas Alkemade was the tail gunner of a British Lancaster bomber during WWII. On March 24, 1944, a German fighter plane opened fire on Alkemade’s bomber, which burst into flames — alongside Alkemade’s parachute.
Yet, he wasn’t about to go down with the plane and jumped off at 18,000. He plummeted to the ground, but to his good fortune, fluffy pine trees and a thick snow cover broke his fall.
By an absolute miracle, Alkemade suffered only a sprained ankle. The rest of his crew wasn’t so lucky and they perished as the Lancaster plane crashed nearby.
When the Germans came to arrest him, they didn’t believe the story he told them. Only after they found his scorched parachute did they realize how lucky Alkemade had been.
Alkemade spent a year in a German POW camp, before going home in May 1945. He died in 1987, aged 64.
3. Alan Magee — 22,000 Feet
Like Alkemade, Alan Magee was a bomber gunner in WWII, fighting on the U.S. side. On January 1943, German anti-aircraft fire hit the B-17 Magee was on, shredding his parachute.
Another hit blew off a part of the plane and knocked Magee out, sending him tumbling out of the bomber. He fell 22,000 feet before crashing through the glass roof of a railway station in St. Nazaire, France.
You’d think landing on glass would be bad, but it’s what saved Magee’s life. The breaking glass absorbed some of the impact, keeping Magee from splattering onto the ground.
He didn’t come off unscathed, though. He suffered several broken bones, received severe injuries to his nose, eye, lungs, and kidney, and nearly severed his arm — on top of the 28 shrapnel wounds he received on the plane.
Magee spent the rest of the war recovering in a German POW hospital and, like Alkemade, was liberated in 1945. After the war, he flew civilian planes and retired in 1979 before passing in 2003 at the age of 84.
2. Ivan Chisov — 23,000 Feet
Ivan Chisov was yet another WWII bomber crewman, this time for the Soviets. In January 1942, German fighters attacked his Ilyushin Il-4 bomber, sending it into a nosedive.
Chisov leaped out of the plane at 23,000 feet but didn’t dare deploy his parachute, as he worried the Germans would shoot him. He planned to open a bit later — but he passed out before he could do so.
Chisov crashed onto the edge of a snowy ravine at a speed of 150 mph, before rolling and sliding to the bottom. Soviet cavalrymen who saw his fall discovered Chisov with severe injuries, including spinal damage.
Yet Chisov pulled through and only three months later, he was back in the air. The Soviet commanders felt he had done his share of fighting for the Motherland, though, and sent him to train new bomber crews.
After the war, Chisov became a political officer and propagandist for the Soviet Army. He died in 1986, aged 70.
1. Vesna Vulovic — 33,330 Feet
Flight attendant Vesna Vulovic holds the world record for surviving the highest fall ever without a parachute. On January 26, 1972, she was onboard a flight from Stockholm, Sweden, to Belgrade, Serbia, when a bomb went off in the plane’s luggage compartment.
The explosion tore the plane into pieces and killed everyone on board — except Vulovic. She was trapped in the falling tail portion of the plane, pinned down under a food cart.
The plane’s tail and Vulovic fell 33,000 feet and crashed into snowy woods in the northern Czech Republic. Vulovic survived the incident, thanks to the plane’s lucky fall angle and the deep snow.
Additionally, Vulovic had always had low blood pressure, which had prevented her heart from exploding upon impact.
Nonetheless, she had a fractured skull, both her legs and three vertebrae were broken, her pelvis had shattered, and she was temporarily paralyzed from the waist down. Yet, she was walking only 10 months later — albeit with a permanent limp due to spinal damage.
Vulovic later became a pro-democracy advocate and died in 2016, aged 66. She always said she could not remember a thing about what happened after the bomb went off.