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How high can a human fall without death?

Falling from extreme heights is extremely dangerous and often fatal for humans. However, there are rare cases of people surviving tremendous falls. This article examines how high a person can fall and still survive.

Key Factors That Determine Fall Survival

Several key factors influence whether a person can survive a high-altitude fall:

  • Height of the fall
  • Ground surface landed on
  • Body position during the fall
  • Physical condition of the fall victim

The higher the fall, the lower the chances of survival. Falls over 10 stories (around 120 feet or 37 meters) onto a hard surface like concrete are often fatal. But people have survived falls from even greater heights by landing on soft, energy-absorbing surfaces or by spreading the impact along the body.

World Records for Highest Falls Survived

The greatest fall survivors illustrate how high humans can potentially fall and live:

  • Vesna Vulović – A Serbian flight attendant who fell 33,330 feet (10,160 meters) in 1972 when her plane exploded. She landed on snowy mountainside rubble and spent days in a coma but ultimately survived.
  • Nicholas Alkemade – A British RAF crewman who fell 18,000 feet (5,500 meters) without a parachute in 1944 and landed in pine tree branches and snow, cushioning his impact.
  • Ivan Chisov – A Soviet airman who fell 22,000 feet (6,700 meters) through the open hatch of his crippled bomber during WWII and landed on German forest terrain in 1943, surviving Impact.

These extreme cases suggest the human body can withstand vertical drops of over 15,000 feet (4,600 meters) or higher when multiple factors like air resistance, body position, and impact surface work together to minimize injuries.

Key Factors for High Fall Survival

1. Height of Fall

The elevation from which a person falls critically impacts their chance of survival. Some key statistical thresholds for falls are:

  • 98% survival rate for falls under 30 feet (9 meters).
  • 90% survival rate up to 45 feet (14 meters). Serious injuries still likely.
  • 50% survival rate around 70-80 feet (21-24 meters).
  • 10% survival rate around 110-120 feet (33-37 meters).
  • Virtually 0% survival rate over 150 feet (46 meters).

As height increases, the speed of descent and force of impact become more extreme. The body reaches its maximum velocity of around 120 mph (54 m/s) after falling 450-500 feet. Above this speed, survival chances decrease sharply.

Fall Height Survival Rate
30 feet 98%
45 feet 90%
70-80 feet 50%
110-120 feet 10%
Over 150 feet 0%

2. Landing Surface

The surface someone lands on has a major influence on fall impacts and injury potential. Materials like soil, snow, tree branches, and fabric can compress to absorb energy and decelerate the body more gradually.

Conversely, hard or unyielding surfaces like concrete, water, and stone transfer tremendous force directly to the body, causing injuries like trauma, fractures, and hemorrhage.

All of the highest recorded fall survivors benefited from landing on more forgiving surfaces which allowed them to walk away with minimal lasting harm.

3. Body Position

oriented during a fall can influence the distribution of impact forces and affect one’s chances of survival. Positions that spread out the force across larger body areas are best for mitigating injury.

Being upright often concentrates stressful forces on smaller areas like the head, hips and extremities which are more vulnerable to fractures and organ trauma.

Experts recommend spreading the body out horizontally and flat to disperse impact across all surfaces. Even subtle adjustments like tucking the chin can safeguard the head and neck.

4. Physical Condition

The age, size, health, and fitness level of the person falling also influences their tolerance to extreme impact forces and shock. Those who are young, strong, and physically fit tend to survive higher falls more frequently.

Older people and those with medical conditions like osteoporosis or heart disease are more prone to fatal injuries in high falls. Children also have higher survival rates due to their lighter weight and skeletal flexibility.

Factors That Increase Risk of Death

While there are extraordinary accounts of people surviving falls from airplanes and extreme elevations, certain factors make a fatal outcome much more likely:

  • Falls over 100 feet (30 meters). Survival drops off sharply beyond this threshold.
  • Hard contact surfaces like concrete, water, or stone.
  • Upright body positions concentrate force on smaller areas.
  • Preexisting health conditions or advanced age diminishing resilience.
  • Head or neck impacting surface directly.

Unfortunately when several of these variables are present, the chances of death become very high. However, there are still steps one can attempt to improve their odds in an accidental fall.

How to Survive a Potentially Fatal Fall

While planned high-altitude falls should always be avoided, people caught in emergencies like fires or aircraft failures may tragically find themselves falling without control. If so, experts advise:

  • Stay calm and oriented to guide body positioning.
  • Spread arms and legs out to expand surface area.
  • Flatten body parallel with ground to disperse impact.
  • Bend knees and keep limbs loose to roll with landing.
  • Tuck chin and pull shoulders forward to protect head and neck.
  • Aim for soft surface like shrubs or snow if possible.
  • Roll with the fall and momentum to extend deceleration.

Following these tips can potentially mean the difference between life and death if you unexpectedly find yourself free falling without a parachute. But again, reasonable caution should always be exercised near unprotected heights.

Medical Attention Is Critical After Any High Fall

In the event you or someone else survives a bad fall, immediate medical assessment and care is vital, even if no symptoms are apparent initially due to adrenaline and shock. Spinal injury, internal bleeding, and brain trauma can rapidly worsen if not managed promptly.

Call emergency responders right away after any significant plunge from height. Try not to move the person until paramedics arrive unless absolutely necessary to avoid exacerbating injuries. Provide reassurance and monitor breathing and consciousness closely as help is on the way.

With today’s acute trauma care, many can recover remarkably well after high velocity impacts. But early expert treatment provides the best odds of minimizing lasting harm.


Falling from heights almost always results in serious bodily injury or death. But occasionally, people do survive seemingly fatal plunges of 100 feet or greater when multiple factors converge to minimize the impact. Landing on yielding surfaces like snow or trees, spreading the body out horizontally, and physical fitness can enable improbable survival.

Still, falls over 150 feet or onto hard surfaces nearly always prove lethal. The safest strategy is to avoid unprotected heights completely. But by understanding variables that influence impact physics, we can better protect ourselves if an unexpected fall ever occurs.