Putting Humpty to Shame: How to Have a Great Fall (and Survive)

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What's the furthest you've ever fallen?

Humpty Dumpty was a big wuss. While he was busy incurring mortal breakage from falling off a dinky little wall, people have been falling off of skyscrapers and out of planes -- and surviving. Heck, it even happened to someone I know: my friend Sara's dad worked construction in the 80s, and one unfortunate day (or fortunate, depending on how you look at it), he fell off the top of a six-story work site -- and landed on his feet. Some nagging pain aside, after a lengthy hospital stay he was more or less fully-functional, and every year on the anniversary of the accident, his family throws him a tongue-in-cheek "fall party." As cool (and scary) as that is, however, it's small potatoes compared to the following Guinness-worthy fallers. Take a page from their book, Humpty:

The faller: Alcides Moreno, a Manhattan window washer
He fell off of: the side of a 47-story Upper East Side apartment building after the safety ropes on his 3-foot-wide window washer's platform failed, last week.
Putting him back together: is going much better than expected; despite extensive injuries, he's awake and talking, and doctors expect he'll walk again, too.

What we can learn: well, Moreno was certainly lucky: according to staff at the New York-Presbyterian hospital where he's being treated, fewer than 1 percent of people who fall more than 10 stories survive. Falls from much shorter distances can be fatal if the victim hits his or her head. (When Moreno is feeling a little better, maybe he'll share his technique.)

vesnavulovic.jpgThe faller: Vesna Vulovic, a stewardess, in the winter of 1972
She fell: 33,330 feet from an airplane over the Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia) after a terrorist bomb ripped it to pieces, earning her a place in the Guinness Book: "Highest Fall Survived Without a Parachute." She was the sole survivor -- 27 others died -- and was found on a snowy mountainside by a German hiker, a serving cart pinned against her spine.
Putting her back together again: She never walked again, but aside from that, Vesna made a full recovery. She even went back to work for the airline (though she took a desk job), and claims to have suffered no psychological trauma as a result of the accident, because a month-long amnesia erased it from her memory.

What we can learn: it's hard to know what Vesna's falling technique was, thanks to her memory loss. It's thought, however, that her low blood pressure helped her survive the initial shock of the 500 mph wind and -45°C temperatures (her heart may have burst otherwise), and that the snow cushioned her landing somewhat. The best way to survive a fall from an airplane is to fall into a body of deep water with your body extended into as neat a line as possible -- though deep snow also provides some cushion.

bomber.jpgThe faller: The Royal Air Force's Sgt. Nicholas Alkamede
He didn't fall so much as he: jumped, seeing as how it was World War II and his plane was on fire during a not-so-successful bombing mission over Germany, which turned out to be a good move. He fell 18,000 feet to become the luckiest parachuteless bailout of the war, falling through tree branches and into a snowdrift, where his worst injuries were scratches, bruises, burns and a twisted knee. Not so luckily, he was then captured by the Germans.

What we can learn: aim for the trees, and cross your fingers that ski conditions are primo.

January 4, 2008 - 6:13am
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