On January 26, 1972, stewardess Vesna Vulovic was working on a Yugoslav Airlines flight when a bomb blew up the plane. She fell 31,000 feet and miraculously survived. No one else on the flight did. She eventually made a near-full recovery and went back to work at the airline, though not as a stewardess. She died in 2016. To this day, she maintains the world record for having made the longest fall without a parachute.
Vulovic is part of a small group of human marvels who have survived very long falls. Another member of this group is English tail gunner Nicholas Alkemade who, in 1944, survived a fall of 18,000 feet out of a Lancaster bomber.
A woman jumps out of a sixth-story window and walks away uninjured. Another slips on a banana peel and is killed. Why? That was the question Hugh De Haven asked himself...
Obviously, De Haven couldn't subject human guinea pigs to experimental accidents in a laboratory. Instead, he analyzed the records of some remarkably lucky and well-documented falls—cases where men and women dropped from as high as 320 feet (the equivalent of 28 stories) and survived. A few of them:
--A 42-year-old woman jumped from a sixth floor. Hurtling 55 feet, she landed at 37 miles an hour on her left side and back in a well-packed plot of garden soil. She arose with the remark: "Six stories and not even hurt." Her body had made a 4-inch hollow in the earth.
--A 27-year-old girl dropped from a seventh story window and landed head first on a wooden roof. She crashed through, breaking three 6- by 2-inch beams, and dropped lightly to the ceiling below. None of her neighbors knew about the fall until she herself appeared at the attic door and asked assistance. And although one of her vertebrae was fractured, the girl was able to sit up in bed the same day.
--Another woman fell 74 feet, landing flat and face down on an iron bar, metal screens, a skylight, and a metal-lath ceiling. The impact made a 13-inch bend in the 1.5-inch bar, but she suffered only some cuts on her forehead and soreness about the ribs. She sat up and climbed through a nearby window.
--After a 72-foot drop, a 32-year-old woman landed in jackknife position on a fence of wire and wood. She picked herself up and marched to a first-aid station but was unhurt.
--A 27-year-old man fell 146 feet onto the rear deck of a coupe. Some of his bones were broken, but he remained conscious and was back at work within two months.
--A man dropped from a 320-foot cliff to the beach below, bouncing from a sloping ledge halfway down. Although his skull was fractured, he fully recovered. DeHaven noted that the man wore a large coat, which may have slowed his fall by a slight parachute action.
--A woman fell seventeen floors onto a metal ventilator box, landing in sitting position and crushing the metal downward 18 inches. Though both arms and one leg were broken, she sat up and demanded to be taken back to her room.
In this evidence, De Haven observed that (1) in each instance the blow was distributed over a large area of the body, and (2) the fall was not halted abruptly—in the ventilator case, for example, it was slowed through a distance of 18 inches and the impact was thus decreased. Even so, she had survived a force of more than 200 times gravity. By contrast, a person slipping on a sidewalk might crack his skull because hitting the unyielding concrete pavement generated a force of more than 300 times gravity.
Other modern record-holders are in the 18-ft range.
But they can't hold a patch to Chief Long Hair of the Crows.
Itchuuwaaóoshbishish/Red Plume (Feather) At The Temple (born ca. 1750, died in 1836) A Mountain Crow leader during fur trade days and signer of the 1825 Friendship Treaty. Traders and trappers called him Long Hair because of his extraordinarily long hair, approximately 25 feet long. At his death, his hair was cut off and maintained by Tribal leaders.
Now because Long Hair lived before photography, there is no visual record of this. However! Supposedly his tresses are part of the exhibit at Chief Plenty Coups State Park in Montana. (Plenty Coups was a descendant of Long Hair.)
In 1976, King Dixon of Miami was shot five times at close range in the head during a bar fight. Not a single bullet penetrated his skull. He was hospitalized overnight for observation, and then released the following day in satisfactory condition.
Alexandria Town Talk - May 10, 1976
Casper Star-Tribune - May 12, 1976
It seemed at the time like he must have been bulletproof, but a follow-up by Miami Herald crime reporter Edna Buchanan, in her book Never Let Them See You Cry, reveals that he was affected by bullets after all:
Dixon was treated at a hospital and sent home, where I talked to him the next day. "My ears are still ringing," he said. "The gun was right at my ear. Those shots were really loud." Other than that, he felt fine. "I guess you have to ask the good Lord why I'm still alive."
But the bullets did kill him. I found King Dixon at the morgue eight years later. Since the shooting he had suffered seizures, and one of them killed him.
The medical examiner blamed the old bullet wounds and ruled the death a homicide.
King Dixon became Miami's only murder victim in 1984 killed by bullets fired in 1976.
Ernie Hausen, of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, had one great talent. He could pick the feathers off of chickens really, really fast.
When he started picking chickens, in 1904, it took him a full half hour to defeather one. Since he was paid 5 cents per chicken, he wasn't making much money. Over the years he sped up. By 1922, he won a Chicken Picking Championship by picking his chicken clean in 6 seconds. He topped this in 1939, upping his time to 3.5 seconds. As far as I know, that record stands to this day.
Hausen dips the chickens in 164-degree water, quickly runs his large, powerful fingers across the wings, from the tips inward; does the same with the legs, finally peels the feathers from the back and breast. Suddenly the bird is as bare as a billiard ball.... He tells of picking 1,472 birds in 7 hours and 45 minutes in a contest. -Ithaca Journal - Feb 7, 1946
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.