Tonight, the National Geographic Channel will, on its program The Indestructibles, will tell the tale of a sky diver who plunged 15,000 feet without a parachute and survived. To add into the dramatic nature of the program and further illustrate the truly long odds of this survival story, the program will use footage of the fall captured from the skydiver’s helmet cam.
When Michael Holmes, an avid skydiver, jumped out of a plane 5 years ago, he probably never dreamed that he would be the subject of a major TV network’s program. Well, the road to fame began with a parachute that failed to open and a backup that failed, too. In the video preview of the program set to air tonight, Holmes; friend, Jonathan King, was also skydiving that day and, through a helmet cam of his own, caught an outside perspective of what he thought was his friend’s certain death.
However, after Holmes hit the ground in some bushes with such force that King said he could hear the impact from over 100 feet up, the story takes on an amazing twist: Holmes was not only alive, but had endured only bruising and two broken bones.
So, how did Holmes live? Well, that’s the big question that tonight’s program will set out to answer.
Taking basic physics, I’ll venture a guess as to how a 15,000 foot fall with a tangled parachute was survivable. First of all, there is a thing called terminal velocity, which is a speed limit on how fast something can fall. Depending on position of a falling object, terminal velocity can vary with an object with greater surface area having a slower terminal velocity than one with less surface area. Example: a person falling upright with feet together will fall a lot faster than a person in a laying position with arms and legs outstretched. Second, Holmes landed in bushes. By landing in bushes that have some give, Holmes lengthened the time of impact, thus reducing the force of the hit. This is the same idea that is employed by SAFER barriers at racetracks, which have largely replaced concrete walls.
In the end, to get the full scientific approach, and not to mention first-person view, you’ll have to tune into the National Geographic Channel at 10pm.
By the way, this 15,000 foot near-free fall survival story pales in comparison to the highest survived free fall of approximately 33,000 feet.
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