Five survivors of spectacular falls
- 17 June 2013
- From the section Magazine
A British man has survived a fall from the 15th floor of a New Zealand apartment block, according to local media. The odds may be against it, but others have lived after even more dramatic plummets.
Tom Stilwell, 20, fell while trying to lower himself onto his Auckland balcony from a neighbour's, which was directly above, in the early hours of Sunday, reports said.
His life may have been saved by the roof of an adjacent building, some 13 floors below, which reportedly broke his fall.
However, history records others who have survived falls from much higher altitudes.
On Christmas Eve 1971, Juliane Koepcke, 17, was flying over the Peruvian rainforest with her mother when her plane was hit by lightning.
"I was in a freefall, strapped to my seat bench and hanging head-over-heels," she told the BBC in 2012. "The whispering of the wind was the only noise I could hear."
But she survived a two-mile (3.2km) fall and found herself alone in the jungle with a broken collarbone and deep cuts on her legs. All the other 91 passengers on the flight had been killed.
Despite having only a single bag of sweets for sustenance and being clad in a sleeveless mini-dress, Koepcke - who had spent a year and a half with her parents at a research station in the rainforest - was familiar with the terrain. On her 10th day she found a group of lumberjacks who took her to civilisation.
Koepcke herself has suggested a number of possible explanations for her survival - that a gust of air from the storm may have slowed her fall; that the three-seat bench on which she sat spun like a a maple seed on its way down; that the vegetation she hit on the way down was particularly dense; and that she struck the trees with her seat beneath her, cushioning the drop.
In March 1944, Royal Air Force rear gunner Flt Sgt Nicholas Alkemade was travelling in a Lancaster bomber which caught fire during a Luftwaffe attack.
His parachute had been destroyed in the flames, but Alkemade chose to leap at least 18,000ft (5,500m) rather than stay in the burning plane.
He landed in a deep drift of snow in a pine forest outside Berlin. The snow, and the trees, appear to have cushioned his blow.
When he was discovered by the Gestapo - who at first did not believe his story - his only injuries were a broken wrist and leg.
He was not the only World War II airman to survive such a fall. US ball turret gunner Alan Magee dropped 22,000ft (6,700m) without a parachute over France in 1943 and lived, while Soviet navigator Ivan Chisov plummeted 23,000ft (7,000m) in 1942.
Skydive gone wrong
James Boole, from Staffordshire in the UK, lived to tell the tale in 2009 after a 6,000ft (1,829m) free fall in Russia.
Boole, who had been filming another skydiver, said he was supposed to have been given a signal to open his parachute, but it came two seconds too late.
"I really thought that I was going to die," he said afterwards.
The experienced skydiver, who had previously made 2,500 jumps, left a one-metre crater in the snow.
His back and rib were broken but he was able to walk within a week with the assistance of a body brace.
Survival in the snow
In January 1972, 22-year-old Yugoslav flight attendant Vesna Vulovic's plane exploded following a suspected terrorist bomb.
The Guinness Book of Records recorded that Ms Vulovic plummeted 33,000ft (10,160m) before landing in snow at Srbska Kamenice in the former Czechoslovakia.
Despite serious injuries including a fractured skull, three broken vertebrae and two broken legs, Ms Vulovic survived.
She was found in the wrecked aircraft's fuselage, which may have cushioned her landing.
She later said: "To this day I enjoy travelling and have no fear of flying."
In 1996, Bear Grylls' career as an adventurer and television personality was almost pre-empted at the age of 21, when a SAS training exercise went wrong.
During a skydive over Zambia, his parachute failed to inflate at 16,000ft (4,900m).
"I should have cut the main parachute and gone to the reserve but thought there was time to resolve the problem," he later told the Daily Mail.
Instead, he came to earth on his parachute pack, fracturing three vertebrae in the process.
Although his spinal cord was intact, he spent the next year undergoing 10 hours a day of rehabilitation including physiotherapy, swimming and ultrasound treatment. Some 18 months after the accident, he would reach the summit of Mount Everest.