People fall from miles high--and survive
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By John L. Guerra
The world shakes its head in wonder as navies from several nations search for a stolen Boeing 777 with more than 200 passengers aboard. A heavy is gone, without a trace.
That sentence would have sounded absurd just two weeks ago, but not this week. The decades-long mystery of Amelia Earhart's missing Electra aircraft has now been supplanted by Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.
Aviation history teaches us that it ain't over until it's over, that miracles do occur in mid-air and passengers survive. For instance, in World War I, there are stories of pilots or gunners falling out of their open cockpits, only to land on another flying biplane below. One man actually fell out of his plane and landed back in it.
These true stories of aviation miracles are taken from Historynet.com.
- Pilot falls 3 miles into the Pacific, lives: Marine Lt. Cliff Judkins, flying an F-8 Crusader fighter jet during mid-air refueling, pulled his ejection seat when his jet caught fire.
- Captain sucked through windshield, survives: The captain of British Airways Flight 5390, flying from Birmingham, England to an island off Spain, was doing just fine until the windscreen on his left side blew out when the aircraft was at 17,300 feet. Capt. Tim Lancaster was sucked through the opening to the outside of the aircraft, but the backs of his knees jammed against the top of the hole and his feet caught under the yoke of the control column. Another member of the crew grabbed his legs. The wind flailed Lancaster's head against the outside of the fuselage like a snare drum for quite a few air miles. The crew assumed he was dead; his eyes were open but blank. Tough to picture, but suffice it to say that Lancaster's body was in an impossible contortion. He lived: His body went comatose from the shock and force of the blows but he revived a few days later (the plane landed with him still sticking out of the window). He suffered a fractured arm and wrist.
- Young woman survives after plane breaks apart: Peruvian LANSA Flight 508 from Limablew up in mid-air after lightning struck at 21,000 feet. The world learned that 86 passengers and three crew members had died in the crash. That number, however, had to be reduced to 85 dead about two weeks later. That's when 17-year-old Juliane Koepcke walked out of the jungle and asked for help. How did she survive the fall to earth? The seats were attached in rows of three; when the plane exploded, Juliane stayed belted in her seat, though the other seats lost their passengers. So the two empty seats with her in the third created a spiraling effect--just like those helicopter seeds you toss in the air. She spun all the way to the jungle canopy two miles below. She landed in an area thick with vines, which broke her fall. She unsnapped her seat belt, stood up, and began to walk. Unable to see out of one eye, wearing one sandal and a mini-skirt, she stepped out of the jungle 12 days later, right into the town where the plane was scheduled to land before it fell from the sky.
- Plane keeps flying without passengers: In February 1943, a C-87, the cargo version of the military B-24, took off from West Palm Beach for the Azores.
- The crew leveled off at 9,000 feet (nearly two miles) but 90 miles off shore, the plane soon started to misbehave. The pilot turned west, back toward West Palm Beach but things got worse. The crew threw everything overboard, but no good. The pilot ordered everyone out, including himself. Eight went out the door, but Coast Guard vessels could only find six. The two are lost to history. However, the plane, bereft of the humans, leveled out and flew on. It traveled another 1,300 miles, crossing the Gulf of Mexico (it was on auto pilot, due west) and arrived above the town of Zaragoza, Mexico. Once above the town, it flew lazy circles above the town and eventually crashed into a nearby mountain.
-- From "Amazing But True Stories," by Stephan Wilkinson, Historynet.com