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10 People Who Survived Falling From Extreme Heights

Shelby Hoebee

A fall from 15–18 meters (50–60 ft) will prove fatal to most people. But what about 10 or 100 times that height? There have been quite a few people who have fallen and survived from just such heights. Many survived because of sheer luck and some continue to baffle scientists. Regardless, these stories will definitely make you believe miracles are possible.

10Chris Saggers
67 Meters (220 Ft)

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To be a window washer for a high-rise building, you’ll need nerves of steel. Chris Saggers was just such a window washer, working on the Salford Tower Blocks in Britain, when his worst nightmare came true. Saggers was working on the 22nd floor when he suddenly fell off of his scaffold. The most miraculous part of his story isn’t that he simply survived the deadly drop, but rather that when he landed, he stood up, dusted himself off, and told everyone, “I’m fine.” A medical exam revealed that Saggers had only suffered a broken elbow from the event. He was lucky to have landed on the roof of a car rather than the hard pavement, but walking away from a fall of that magnitude is still astonishing.

9Josh Hanson
50 Meters (160 Ft)

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Josh Hanson was attending a dart-throwing convention at a Minneapolis hotel in 2007 when he and his dart buddies decided to have some fun. After couple of beers and a night filled with darts, Josh and his friends headed back to the hotel. Once the elevator hit the 17th floor, Hanson thought it’d be a good idea to take off sprinting down the hall of the Hyatt Regency, subsequently tripping and throwing himself out a window. The window was double paned and included a safety bar, but it was no match for the 300-pound linebacker. After plummeting almost 50 meters (160 ft), Hanson slammed into a first-floor ledge made of asphalt, which was probably the better alternative to the concrete sidewalk. He survived and suffered only a broken leg, two collapsed lungs, and a few bruises. Needless to say, he didn’t win the dart tournament, but he was lucky enough to go home with his life. Thanks to the high levels of alcohol in his system, he claims he doesn’t remember the fall at all.

8Juliane Diller
3 Kilometers (10,000 Ft)

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Diller’s story of survival extends far beyond her death-defying fall to Earth. On Christmas Eve 1971, Diller and her mother were on LANSA Flight 508 over Peru. The flight suddenly hit an extreme thunderstorm that tore the plane apart and sent Diller plummeting into the Peruvian rain forest. The 17-year-old was strapped to her seat and only suffered from a broken collarbone, deep cut on her arm, and a swollen eye. She immediately unbuckled herself and began searching in vain for her mother. Knowing that she had no choice but to find civilization or die, Diller set to find a water source that her father had told her would lead to rescue if she was ever in danger. Diller followed the river for 10 days as her injuries grew infected, and she was kept awake all night by bugs. She finally stumbled upon a boat and gasoline can, which she used to extract the 35 maggots that had made a home in the wound on her arm. She stayed with the boat for another 10 hours before she was found—because she didn’t think it was right to just steal it.

7Shayna Richardson
3 Kilometers (10,000 Ft)

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Shayna Richardson was an amateur skydiver taking a free-fall course taught by her boyfriend, Rick West. In October 2005, Richardson was finally prepared to make her first three-kilometer (10,000 ft) solo jump, reaching speeds of up to 80 kph (50mph). However, when she opened her main parachute it failed to fully deploy, forcing her to cut it off and deploy her reserve. The reserve also never fully deployed and sent Richardson into a deadly spin. To everyone’s horror, Richardson slammed into the asphalt face-first. She was immediately rushed to the hospital for her shattered skull and pelvis. Even more miraculous than Richardson surviving the fall was that when she got to the hospital, she discovered she was pregnant. The baby had survived and would go on to make a full recovery as well.

6Michael Holmes
4.3 Kilometers (14,000 Ft)

After seven years of experience, Michael Holmes was the youngest man to ever receive certification as a skydiving instructor. In December 2006, Holmes was getting ready for a routine jump when things suddenly went wrong. As he jumped from the plane, reaching about 160 kph (100 mph), his main chute failed to deploy. The failure was later determined to be because the rope had become severely tangled in his bag. Even worse, the tangle made Holmes unable to cut away the parachute and deploy his reserve, leaving him helpless as he fell towards the Earth. He struggled to untangle the rope during his descent and finally managed to cut away his main chute, but was still unable to deploy his reserve.

After falling over four kilometers, Holmes landed in a small blackberry bush that ended up saving his life. He suffered from only a punctured lung and a shattered ankle, which isn’t too bad considering he likely would have been dead had he not had the bush to cushion his fall. Holmes had been filming at the time of his fall and was able to capture his whole terrifying experience on video. One of the most disturbing moments is when Holmes realizes he can’t save himself and simply exclaims, “I’m dead. Bye.”

5Danny Yamashiro
122 Meters (400 Ft)

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December 22, 1985 started out like any other day for Danny Yamashiro as he and his girlfriend decided to go out and climb Nuuanu Pali in Hawaii. Things quickly took a turn for the worse when his girlfriend became stranded and he made a brave attempt to rescue her. Unfortunately, the 18-year-old lost his footing and plummeted 91 meters (300 ft) down the mountain, before slamming headfirst into a rock ledge. Despite being severely injured, Yamashiro clung to life while rescue workers attempted to retrieve him. As the rescuers moved down the mountain, Yamashiro shifted his weight on the ledge causing him to fall another 30 meters (100 ft).

While he did survive both falls and go on to make a full recovery (as well as a successful career in televangelism), the ordeal didn’t leave him unscathed. Yamashiro sustained an array of life-threatening injuries including a fractured skull and ankle, multiple deep wounds to his head and other parts of his body, brain and organ damage, and actually slipped into a coma following the fall. He attributes his survival to his strong will to survive as well as his faith, which has led him to become a motivational speaker, author, and minister.

4Roger Woodward
50 Meters (165 ft)

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While Kirk Jones was the first person to go over Niagara falls, Roger Woodward has gone down in history as the youngest person to take the plunge unprotected and survive. His fall was accidental as he and his sister, Deanne, were thrown from a boat on the upper Niagara River. The boating trip had been a family outing with their uncle, James Honeycutt. Roger’s first boat ride took a turn for the worse when, to everyone’s horror, the motor of their small aluminum boat stopped working. The current soon pushed them close to the falls before their boat capsized, sending Deanne, Roger, and James into the raging waters.

Fortunately, a few men on the shore grabbed Deanne before she was forced over the falls, but Roger and James weren’t so lucky. Both were thrown over Horseshoe Falls into the rapids and rocks below. James didn’t survive, but Roger miraculously made it out completely uninjured, with only a mild case of shock. He had been wearing a life jacket at the time and was rescued by the Maid of the Mist, a boat at the bottom of the falls. What makes this story of survival even more amazing is that at the time, Woodard was only seven years old. He has since found a passion for boating—though he does his best to avoid monstrous waterfalls.

3Felix Baumgartner
39 Kilometers (128,000 Ft)

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What makes Felix Baumgartner’s fall so amazing isn’t the landing (he had a parachute), but rather what happened to his body during the drop. In 2012, he became the first person to break the sound barrier, unprotected and under his own power. His 39-kilometer adrenaline rush crushed the previous record set by Joe Kittinger and reached speeds of up to 1,342 kph (834 mph). Baungartner’s body was pushed to its limits once he entered the stratosphere, as he went into a dangerous spin. The flat spin, as it’s known, has proven deadly for many, causing blood to rush to the brain due to the centripetal force.

It took Baumgartner a full four minutes to make the descent from space to the soil of New Mexico. He managed to remained conscious throughout the fall, avoiding another risk that jumping from space brings. Had Baumgartner passed out, it’s likely that his flat spin would’ve killed him. The famous daredevil has since retired and has claimed that he didn’t enjoy the record-breaking space jump.

2Steve Fossett
6.7 Kilometers (22,000 Ft)

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Steve Fossett is mostly known for being the first person to navigate non-stop around the world in a hot air balloon. However, he also survived a 6.7-kilometer (22,000 ft) fall without injury. In 1998, he set out to circle the globe nonstop for the fourth time in his hot air balloon the Solo Spirit. He had completed about 60 percent of his journey when he decided to travel through a rough storm over the Coral Sea. Hail ripped through his balloon and his basket began a rapid descent toward the rough waters. Bracing for impact and expecting the worst, Fossett hit the ocean only to find himself completely uninjured with his capsule on fire. He grabbed a life raft to escape the burning basket and was forced to spend 10 hours in the open ocean surrounded by sharks until he was rescued.

1James Boole
1.8 Kilometers (6,000 Ft)

James Boole is an experienced skydiver with over 2,000 jumps under his belt. In 2009, he was shooting a documentary about another skydiver in Russia’s snowy Kamchatka mountain. The man he was filming with was supposed to signal for Boole to open his parachute around 200m (656 ft) above the ground. The signal never came, and Boole was so engrossed in his filming that he didn’t realize until he was 20 meters (65 ft) from slamming into the ground. He immediately deployed his chute, but it did very little to slow his fall. His impact made a crater over one meter deep in the snow and he quickly lost consciousness as others rushed to his aid. It took him over an hour to get treatment for his severely broken back and ribs, as well as a badly injured lung, but he somehow made a full recovery, and even intended to continue skydiving.

Shelby is an undergraduate at Arizona State University studying psychology and medicinal biochemistry. She is constantly fascinated by the mysteries of the world around her. She hopes to go on to medical school once she graduates to be able to search for and solve these mysteries.