Flying is by far the safest mode of transportation. It's far safer than driving, anyway. Your odds of dying in a car accident in 2020 were about one in 101. But there were so few passenger airline accidents in 2020, the National Safety Council couldn't even calculate the odds you'd die in one.
But still airplane disasters happen. Imagine if you fell from an airplane, and even worse, you weren't wearing a parachute? Would you know what to do?
For starters, you wouldn't have much time. If you fall from a plane at 12,000 feet (about 2 miles or 3.6 kilometers up), you'll have less than a minute before you hit the ground. That's because in freefall, you plummet at about 120 miles per hour (193 kilometers per hour). At that speed, you drop about 175 feet (53 meters) per second!
First, try not to panic. We know. It's silly to even suggest, but it's important. From that high altitude, panic could cause you to black out from lack of oxygen, and you'll lose precious time. Because you need all the time you have to look for water. If you locate some, steer yourself toward it if you can.
Assuming you've reached terminal velocity — the maximum falling speed — it won't feel good impacting water, but you still could survive if it's deep. Try to hit the water head or feet first to minimize your body's surface area that will take the brunt of the force of impact.
If you don't see any water, you need to look for another soft-landing spot, something like a haystack, large area of bushes, a snow drift or even a marsh. These all provide better options than concrete airport tarmacs. Even grass and soil are preferable to a patch of trees, which could impale and kill you.
If you're falling in an urban area, try to steer clear of high-tension wires and buildings, and aim for structures with roofs that crumple, like RVs, mobile homes or truck trailers — if possible, of course. These aren't extremely strong, so when — or if — you hit them, they'll hopefully absorb some of the energy of the fall.
None of these options is ideal. And while there have been many people who have survived falling from airplanes without parachutes, trust us, you do not want to be one of them.
Originally Published: Apr 28, 2005