Author: Chris Bracken <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Wed, 15 Sep 2021 10:55:59 -0700
Add Unplanned Freefall
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+Unplanned Freefall? Some Survival Tips
+By David Carkeet <email@example.com>
+Admit it: You want to be the sole survivor of an airline disaster. You aren't
+looking for a disaster to happen, but if it does, you see yourself coming
+through it. I'm here to tell you that you're not out of touch with reality—you
+can do it. Sure, you'll take a few hits, and I'm not saying there won't be some
+sweaty flashbacks later on, but you'll make it. You'll sit up in your hospital
+bed and meet the press. Refreshingly, you will keep God out of your public
+comments, knowing that it's unfair to sing His praises when all of your dead
+fellow-passengers have no platform from which to offer an alternative view.
+Let's say your jet blows apart at 35,000 feet. You exit the aircraft, and you
+begin to descend independently. Now what?
+First of all, you're starting off a full mile higher than Everest, so after a
+few gulps of disappointing air you're going to black out. This is not a bad
+thing. If you have ever tried to keep your head when all about you are losing
+theirs, you know what I mean. This brief respite from the ambient fear and chaos
+will come to an end when you wake up at about 15,000 feet. Here begins the final
+phase of your descent, which will last about a minute. It is a time of planning
+and preparation. Look around you. What equipment is available? None? Are you
+sure? Look carefully. Perhaps a shipment of packed parachutes was in the cargo
+hold, and the blast opened the box and scattered them. One of these just might
+be within reach. Grab it, put it on, and hit the silk. You're sitting pretty.
+Other items can be helpful as well. Let nature be your guide. See how yon maple
+seed gently wafts to earth on gossamer wings. Look around for a proportionate
+personal vehicle—some large, flat, aerodynamically suitable piece of wreckage.
+Mount it and ride, cowboy! Remember: molecules are your friends. You want a
+bunch of surface-area molecules hitting a bunch of atmospheric molecules in
+order to reduce your rate of acceleration.
+As you fall, you're going to realize that your previous visualization of this
+experience has been off the mark. You have seen yourself as a loose, free body,
+and you've imagined yourself in the belly-down, limbs-out position (good: you
+remembered the molecules). But, pray tell, who unstrapped your seat belt? You
+could very well be riding your seat (or it could be riding you; if so,
+straighten up and fly right!); you might still be connected to an entire row of
+seats or to a row and some of the attached cabin structure.
+If thus connected, you have some questions to address. Is your new conveyance
+air-worthy? If your entire row is intact and the seats are occupied, is the
+passenger next to you now going to feel free to break the code of silence your
+body language enjoined upon him at takeoff? If you choose to go it alone, simply
+unclasp your seat belt and drift free. Resist the common impulse to use the
+wreckage fragment as a "jumping-off point" to reduce your plunge-rate, not
+because you will thereby worsen the chances of those you leave behind (who are
+they kidding? they're goners!), but just because the effect of your puny jump is
+so small compared with the alarming Newtonian forces at work.
+Just how fast are you going? Imagine standing atop a train going 120 mph, and
+the train goes through a tunnel but you do not. You hit the wall above the
+opening at 120 mph. That's how fast you will be going at the end of your fall.
+Yes, it's discouraging, but proper planning requires that you know the facts.
+You're used to seeing things fall more slowly. You're used to a jump from a
+swing or a jungle gym, or a fall from a three-story building on TV action news.
+Those folks are not going 120 mph. They will not bounce. You will bounce. Your
+body will be found some distance away from the dent you make in the soil (or
+crack in the concrete). Make no mistake: you will be motoring.
+At this point you will think: trees. It's a reasonable thought. The concept of
+"breaking the fall" is powerful, as is the hopeful message implicit in the
+nursery song "Rock-a-bye, Baby," which one must assume from the affect of the
+average singer tells the story not of a baby's death but of its survival. You
+will want a tall tree with an excurrent growth pattern—a single, undivided trunk
+with lateral branches, delicate on top and thicker as you cascade downward. A
+conifer is best. The redwood is attractive for the way it rises to shorten your
+fall, but a word of caution here: the redwood's lowest branches grow dangerously
+high from the ground; having gone 35,000 feet, you don't want the last 50 feet
+to ruin everything. The perfectly tiered Norfolk Island pine is a natural safety
+net, so if you're near New Zealand, you're in luck, pilgrim. When crunch time
+comes, elongate your body and hit the tree limbs at a perfectly flat angle as
+close to the trunk as possible. Think!
+Snow is good—soft, deep, drifted snow. Snow is lovely. Remember that you are the
+pilot and your body is the aircraft. By tilting forward and putting your hands
+at your side, you can modify your pitch and make progress not just vertically
+but horizontally as well. As you go down 15,000 feet, you can also go sideways
+two-thirds of that distance—that's two miles! Choose your landing zone. You be
+If your search discloses no trees or snow, the parachutist's "five-point
+landing" is useful to remember even in the absence of a parachute. Meet the
+ground with your feet together, and fall sideways in such a way that five parts
+of your body successively absorb the shock, equally and in this order: feet,
+calf, thigh, buttock, and shoulder. 120 divided by 5 = 24. Not bad! 24 mph is
+only a bit faster than the speed at which experienced parachutists land. There
+will be some bruising and breakage but no loss of consciousness to delay your
+press conference. Just be sure to apportion the 120-mph blow in equal fifths.
+Much will depend on your attitude. Don't let negative thinking ruin your
+descent. If you find yourself dwelling morbidly on your discouraging starting
+point of seven miles up, think of this: Thirty feet is the cutoff for fatality
+in a fall. That is, most who fall from thirty feet or higher die. Thirty feet!
+It's nothing! Pity the poor sod who falls from such a "height." What kind of
+planning time does he have?
+Think of the pluses in your situation. For example, although you fall faster and
+faster for the first fifteen seconds or so, you soon reach "terminal
+velocity"—the point at which atmospheric drag resists gravity's acceleration in
+a perfect standoff. Not only do you stop speeding up, but because the air is
+thickening as you fall, you actually begin to slow down. With every foot that
+you drop, you are going slower and slower.
+There's more. When parachutists focus on a landing zone, sometimes they become
+so fascinated with it that they forget to pull the ripcord. Since you probably
+have no ripcord, "target fixation" poses no danger. Count your blessings.
+Think of others who have gone before you. Think of Vesna Vulovic, a flight
+attendant who in 1972 fell 33,000 feet in the tail of an exploded DC-9 jetliner;
+she landed in snow and lived. Vesna knew about molecules.
+Think of Joe Hermann of the Royal Australian Air Force, blown out of his bomber
+in 1944 without a parachute. He found himself falling through the night sky amid
+airplane debris and wildly grabbed a piece of it. It turned out to be not debris
+at all, but rather a fellow flyer in the process of pulling his ripcord. Joe
+hung on and, as a courtesy, hit the ground first, breaking the fall of his
+savior and a mere two ribs of his own. Joe was not a quitter. Don't you be.
+Think of Nick Alkemade, an RAF tailgunner who jumped from his flaming turret
+without a parachute and fell 18,000 feet. When he came to and saw stars
+overhead, he lit a cigarette. He would later describe the fall as "a pleasant
+experience." Nick's trick: fir trees, underbrush, and snow.
+But in one important regard, Nick is a disappointment. He gave up. As he
+plummeted to Germany, he concluded he was going to die and felt "a strange
+peace." This is exactly the wrong kind of thinking. It will get you nowhere but
+dead fast. You cannot give up and plan aggressively at the same time.
+To conclude, here are some words that might help you avoid such a collapse of
+resolve on your way down.
+ * "Keep a-goin'." (Frank L. Stanton)
+ * "Failure is not an option." (Ed Harris, as the guy in Apollo 13 who says,
+ "Failure is not an option")
+ * "'Hope' is the thing with feathers
+ That perches in the soul
+ And sings the tune without the words
+ And never stops-at all." (Emily Dickinson)
+Note: A different version of Unplanned Freefall was originally published in
+Interested in more information on David Carkeet? Try [this link][david_carkeet].