Skydiving has recently been thrust into the spotlight by the USPA Skydiving Championships and Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner’s space jump.
The sport of plunging through the clouds never fails to captivate spectators and supplies the athletes themselves with an adrenaline kick unlike any other.
But things midair don’t always go as planned. There are some daredevils out there who famously pushed skydiving to the limits — and took far more of a tumble than they bargained for.
Here are five extreme skydiving survivors:
Missouri skydiver Shayna Richardson thought she was a goner in 2005 when her parachute malfunctioned. She was making her 10th dive and her first solo jump with a brand new parachute at Siloam Springs, Arkansas.
Landing face-first in a car park, she was badly injured but survived. “Several things flashed through my mind. But of course, the first one is, you know, ‘This is going to be a death. It’s going to be a fatality. There is no fixing this,’” CBS quoted her saying.
She added that she was doing everything possible to fix the malfunction. “Just please don’t make it hurt,” she prayed, seconds before impact. She wound up with fractures all over her body — a fortunate ending to an incredible 50 mile-an-hour free fall.
Few experiences force you to improvise with more deftness than plunging from space at high speed. In April 1944, WWII pilot Joe Herman was flying a Royal Australian Air Force Halifax, bound to bomb munitions factories at Bochum, Germany.
After unleashing its bombs, Herman’s Halifax was hit by German flak. Herman told his crew to bail, but before he could get his own parachute, the Halifax burst apart. He was catapulted into the air without a parachute.
Rocketing earthward through the night sky amid airplane debris, Herman snatched what transpired to be the leg of gunner John Vivash, who was in the process of yanking his ripcord. Vivash’s parachute inflated slowly, helping Herman sustain his grip.
Herman hung on grimly and had the decency to hit the ground first, cushioning his impromptu rescuer’s fall. Because of this unbelievable fluke, Herman’s survival story may be the most remarkable in this epic list.
Both he and his skydiving partner sustained minor injuries and survived as prisoners of war.
In 2006, Englishman Michael Holmes had a much more insane skydiving experience than he expected when he plunged from more than two miles above Lake Taupo in New Zealand.
He knew something was wrong the second he yanked the ripcord because he went into a spin instead of being righted.
The parachute had failed to open. Holmes kept cool, knowing that the impact zone was a long way down, and spent 46 seconds trying to un-snag his main parachute. He was spinning so fast that the G-force almost caused him to black out.
It was impossible for him to select a touchdown spot or aim at all. Luckily, he hit a blackberry bush and the thorny patch cushioned his landing a little. He walked away with a collapsed right lung and shattered left ankle.
In 1943, WWII air force gunner Alan Magee was on a bombing run on France’s Atlantic coast in a B-17 Flying Fortress. During the attack, his plane, aptly named the “Snap! Crackle! Pop!” came under German fire.
Over the U-boat yards of St. Nazaire, it fell apart. Thinking fast, Magee leapt from the burning bomber without a parachute.
Due to the extreme height, he blacked out mid-way through his 20,000 feet fall and then plunged through the St. Nazaire train station’s glass roof. Next thing he knew, German doctors were putting his mangled body back together.
Among other injuries, Magee had a broken right leg and ankle, an almost severed right arm and 28 shrapnel wounds from glass splinters. He wound up appearing in Smithsonian Magazine as one of the 10 most astonishing survival stories of the war.
Skydiving need not be done from a plane — you can always BASE jump off something grounded. Daredevil BASE jumper “Miko” became a legend after surviving a 35-story fall in Munich, Germany in October 2003.
Reuters recorded that Munich police discovered him hanging by his parachute from a crane 150 feet off the ground. The amazing Miko had apparently hopped from a highrise under construction when his parachute flopped.
Miraculously, its snarling lines caught the crane, saving his life. Held by Munich police, Miko was charged with trespassing and breaching aviation laws, but got off fairly lightly due to the circumstances of his death-defying descent.
In the aftermath, it transpired that his chute had actually opened cleanly, only in the wrong direction, leaving him no time to adjust.