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How do you survive a 1,000ft fall?

Graphic and Ben Nevis

A Scottish man has survived a 1,000ft (305m) fall down a snow-covered mountain peak. So how do you survive such an extreme fall?

When mountain rescuers were told a climber had tumbled down the near-vertical eastern slope of Sgurr Choinnich Mor near Ben Nevis, in Scotland, they feared the worst.

After Adam Potter, 36, from Glasgow, and three climbing companions reached the summit, Mr Potter lost his footing. He fell down the mountain, dropping 1,000ft (305m) over three rocky crags.

Surprisingly, when rescue helicopters arrived at the scene they found the experienced climber had only relatively minor injuries and was standing up and looking at his map. So exactly how did he survive such a massive drop?

Climbing experts say survival in such conditions is largely down to luck. But other elements, like the gear you have with you and snowy conditions, could decrease the chance of serious injury.

Although a snow-covered slope will accelerate the speed of a fall, climbers can use ice axes to grab hold of the mountainside and slow themselves down. Mr Potter had an ice axe tied to his rucksack, but he was unable to reach it to help stop his fall.

One mountaineering expert says his padded rucksack could have helped cushion his fall, although it is still very unlikely.

Feeling 'fine'

Mr Potter has described his accident as "just a little slip which led to a lot more slips". A lot of smaller slips do occur during climbing, but this kind of fall does not happen often, says British Mountaineering Council training officer Jon Garside.

Image caption Adam Potter was found standing up

To survive it is even rarer. Apart from some cuts and bruises and three "minor fractures" to his back, Mr Potter is said to be feeling fine.

"He's very, very lucky really," says Mr Garside. "People that fall that far don't often walk away alive."

Even advances in climbing gear aren't likely to alter someone's chances of surviving such a drop, he adds.

"It seems like he just bounced at the right time. His big rucksack might have helped brace his fall."

But again, it's not likely.

"If you are talking a significant fall, like this guy [Potter], it doesn't matter what you are wearing - other than a parachute," says Mountaineering Council of Scotland mountain safety advisor, Heather Morning.

It's even hard to assume a position that will help brace the fall and reduce impact.

"If you are falling, it happens in a total split second and you have no control," she says.

Weather could affect a climber's chance of survival. In the winter a climber would likely have a sharp ice axe and that could be used to grab hold of the ground to slow a fall, like a brake, says Mr Garside.

But snow on a steep slope causes quicker acceleration and it can be difficult to get into the proper position to use the ice axe, he adds.

And you certainly wouldn't want to fall from such a height in the summer. While you wouldn't fall as quickly, more protruding rocks and debris could increase the chance of significant injury, says Mr Garside.

"If you fell down the slope in the summer, you'd probably be dead."

So how often does a fall of this magnitude happen?

"These types of falls do occur and I can think of a couple instances last winter where people got away with it," says Ms Morning.

Simple slips are much more common and can also be very dangerous.

But the experience hasn't put Mr Potter off climbing.

"I was hoping to go again next weekend but I think that will be cancelled," he says. "But maybe in a few weeks - I'll see how the injuries go."