An intense sinking feeling

Window washers: Remember, guys: belly down.
Window washers: Remember, guys: belly down.Courtesy Poagao
On the subject of falling from great heights (and surviving), the New York Times reported a couple days ago on a man who fell 47 floors from a New York apartment building and lived.

The man and his brother were washing the windows of the building when their platform gave way and plummeted into the Manhattan air. When emergency services arrived, one of the men was dead, but the other was already sitting up and conscious (though seriously injured). Authorities are still uncertain as to how he could have survived.

Their best guess, however, is that the man followed his training for such a situation. In the event of a high scaffolding collapse, apparently, one is supposed to flatten his or her body against the platform, belly down. The idea is that the greater surface area of the material should generate some small wind-resistance, slowing the fall. The lightweight material of the platform may also absorb some of the shock upon landing. The main thing is to be lucky, though.

Anyway, they think that the surviving man probably did something like this, and that his brother either did not have the chance to do so, or panicked, and leapt from the falling platform (which, I guess, is what instinct dictates).

The article briefly mentions two other similarly baffling fall-and-survive stories; an amateur sky-diver whose parachute failed to open, and fell from a mile up into a three-foot-deep duck pond, as well as the slightly less amazing - but closer to home - story of a drunk man falling seventeen stories in a Minneapolis hotel atrium (Twin Cities represent! Our drunks fall way better than anyone else’s!)

For a fun and slightly less horrifying lesson in density, gravity, and acceleration, come check out the SMM’s Science Live “Free Fall” show, where we drop stuff from the top of our own fifty-foot atrium (usually water balloons instead of drunks, though).

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