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How to survive with a parachute failure

Approximately one of the 100 thousand jumps of professional skydivers ends in death

Former instructor of the British Army, Emil Chillie, was found guilty of attempted murder of his wife, Victoria. He intentionally damaged her parachute, but the woman survived, although she broke her bones.

How can you stay alive, falling from a height of 1200 meters?

Earth is rapidly approaching. You pull the ring, but the parachute does not open. Your body rushes to the ground, and only friction against the air slows down a little bit. You decide to open a spare parachute – and again a failure.

The moments between the failure of a reserve parachute and a strike on the ground or on water are usually the last in the life of a parachute. But not for Victoria Chilie.

1200 meters is not the greatest height, having fallen from which a person managed to survive. According to the Guinness Book of Records, in 1972, Serbian stewardess Vesna Vulović survived, falling from a height of 10,160 meters, after the plane exploded in mid-air.

Ulf Björnstig, a senior professor of surgery at Umeå University in Sweden, is a co-author of several studies on the risks of skydiving. The chances of survival as a result of a free fall from a great height, he estimates as very low, and says that Chillie and Vulovic were just incredibly lucky.

However, when we deal with large (over 140 meters) heights, it is not so important anymore, a person drops from 1 thousand or 10 thousand meters – the height has little effect on the final speed.

The fact is that as the vertical speed increases, the air resistance also increases, and at some point the fall speed reaches the limit.

It is estimated that the body of a man in free fall on average develops 99% of his maximum (critical) speed, flying 573 meters. It usually takes 13-14 seconds.

Funnel in the snow
Can a person slow down his fall? Yes, says Professor Björnstig. If you fall flat, stretching your legs and arms as wide as possible, the top speed will be about 200 km / h, he explains. “If you reduce the resistance, for example, fall head first, you can accelerate to 420-430 km / h.”

Let’s say a skydiver will reduce the speed of a fall to a minimum, but on what surface is it best for him to land?

In 2009, James Bull from Staffordshire fell from a height of 1,830 meters. It happened in Russia. He crashed into deep snow, a funnel formed from the impact, but the skydiver survived.

In 2006, Michael Holmes, an experienced Jersey parachuter, was denied primary and reserve parachutes, and he collapsed from a height of 3.2 km. He was lucky to fall into the thick bushes of blackberry.

Victoria Chilie fell on a plowed field near the airfield, having fractures of the pelvis, ribs and fissures of several vertebrae. According to eyewitnesses, the surface of arable land was unusually soft.

Professor Bjørnstig says that when a person has reached a speed of falling, he needs a cushioning layer in front of a solid surface, at least half a meter thick, to avoid fatal injuries. For example, snow, swamp or tree branches.

A distressed parachutist needs to find such a “soft spot.” This is difficult, but possible, as demonstrated by American stuntman Luke Akins in July 2016.

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