I’m not a huge fan of flying. I’m better about it than I used to be, but, you know what? Sailing 30,000-plus feet over the ground in a flying sardine can driven by forces I do not have the intellectual capacity to understand is not what I would refer to as “soothing.” More like “terrifying.” Sometimes, I wonder, mid-flight, what I would do if the plane suddenly exploded. And I was still alive. And I’m sailing down to earth trapped in my seat. You know, like, waiting to crash. What would I think? What would I do? Then, I try and think about something else. But fear no more! Thankfully, Popular Mechanics has taken the time to explain to you how to fall 35,000 feet through the sky — and survive. Let’s face it. If you find yourself in this most unfortunate of positions, the odds of surviving aren’t great. But, hey, when you’re plummeting six miles to the ground at 120 m.p.h., you’ll take any chance you’ve got, right? The first thing that happens? You pass out. You’d think this would be no time for a cat nap, but, horrifyingly, the lack of oxygen will result in hypoxia, putting you to sleep for about a mile. So, what do you do when you wake up?
For starters, hope to God that you’re free-falling with a piece of the wreckage. If you have the, er, good fortune to be wedged between your seat, a food cart, part of the airplane, and a crew member’s body, like Serbian flight attendant Vesna Vulovic did in 1972, the extra padding may protect you when you make your crash landing. If that doesn’t happen, though, it’s time to do the unthinkable: Remain calm.
At this point, you’ve got about two minutes until impact, and it’s time to prepare for your return to the planet. As you might expect, this is the hard part; comparatively-speaking, the falling is the easy part. Your best position for the free-fall portion: that of a skydiver with arms and legs spread. In this position, you may be able to maneuver your trajectory and fall on something that may break your fall — say, a haystack. Where not to land: water. The impact on the surface will shatter you. Still, the ground is approaching. What next?
The best way to make impact is up for debate. What you don’t want to do? Land headfirst. It may be your best option to land like a skydiver would, in a kind of half-seated crouch, so your feet hit first. Wow! You nailed the landing. Now what?
In 1971, 17-year-old Juliane Koepcke was flying over the Amazon when the jetliner in which she was a passenger exploded. She woke up in the jungle, still trapped in her seat. Her mother had died in the crash. Following the advice her father, a biologist, had once given her, she followed the water in a search for civilization. For 10 days, she made her way through the jungle with a broken collarbone, eating from a bag of candy, drinking dirty water, and dodging crocodiles. Eventually, she was found by a group of lumberjacks. “I did not feel fear,” the young German woman said later.
And that is probably the best advice of all.