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Belmont Club

The Men Who Fell To Earth

March 23rd, 2014 - 12:03 am

It must be one of the most exclusive clubs on earth.  Wikipedia lists five people who have fallen from airplanes without parachutes and survived. Each is a proof that unlikely events happen. They appear to fall into two categories. The first is World War 2 bomber crewmen and the second is women who fall out of passenger jets.

That there should have been survivors among World War 2 bomber crewmen is probably the result of a huge sample size. Thousands of airmen fell from the skies in that great conflict. Inevitably some of those by incredible luck would come off alive.

Ivan Chisov was a navigator on a Soviet Airforce Ilyushin Il-4 bomber. German fighters shot down his plane at 23,000 feet and “with the battle still raging around him, Lt. Chisov intentionally did not open his parachute… however, due to the thin atmosphere at that altitude, he lost consciousness on the way down and was unable to pull the rip cord.” He hit the edge of a snowy ravine at an estimated speed of somewhere between 120 and 150 miles per hour and was back flying in three months.

Alan Magee survived a 22,000 foot fall from his B-17 in 1943. On his 7th mission German fighters shot off his bomber’s wing. “Magee fell over four miles before crashing through the glass roof of the St. Nazaire railroad station. Somehow the glass roof mitigated Magee’s impact and rescuers found him still alive on the floor of the station. … Magee was liberated in May 1945 and received the Air Medal for meritorious conduct and the Purple Heart. After the war Magee earned his pilot’s license and enjoyed flying. He worked in the airline industry in a variety of roles. He retired in 1979 and moved to northern New Mexico.”

Nicholas Alkemade was in a Lancaster raiding Berlin in 1944 when a JU-88 night fighter shot his plane down. “He fell 18,000 feet (5,500 m) to the ground below. His fall was broken by pine trees and a soft snow cover on the ground. He was able to move his arms and legs and suffered only a sprained leg.”

The women had equally remarkable stories. Two women fell from the highest and lowest heights respectively.  Unlike the bomber pilots, it is hard to ascribe the monopoly of women survivors in this category to anything but random probability.

Vesna Vulović, was a Serbian Flight attendant on JAT 367. A bomb in the front baggage compartment of the plane blew up the airliner and she found herself falling from 33,000 feet. She was in a coma for 27 days, which in the circumstances, is understandable. “She claims she has no fear of flying, which she attributes to the loss of memory of the crash, and she even enjoys watching movies with plane crashes.”

Equally tough was Juliane Koepcke. It’s true she fell from a mere 10,000 feet. She was “the sole survivor of 93 passengers and crew in the 24 December 1971, crash of LANSA Flight 508…  in the Peruvian rainforest. After her airliner broke up in midair, she survived after falling about 3 km (~10,000 feet) still strapped to her airliner seat, before the seat crashed through the rainforest canopy and came to rest on the forest floor.”  Having reached the ground she got up to look for survivors.

Her first priority [upon coming to] was to find her mother, who had been seated next to her on the plane but her search was unsuccessful. With her eyeglasses lost and one eye swollen shut, she struggled to no avail. She later found out her mother had initially survived the crash as well, but died several days later due to her injuries.

Then she walked out of the jungle.

Koepcke found some sweets which were to become her only food on her trip. After looking for her mother and other passengers, she was soon able to locate a small stream. She then waded through knee-high water downstream from her landing site, relying on the survival principle her father had taught her, that tracking downstream should eventually lead to civilization.

To a certain extent the height from which all these fell was equalized by terminal velocity.  A skydiver belly down to earth will reach 122 mph, less if he has a higher drag coefficient, more if he’s slick. Maybe Juliane Koepcke was helped in part by being strapped to her seat, which may have created a higher drag and lessened the speed of her descent.

One person, Norman Cyril Jackson, who almost made the Terminal Velocity club, reached the earth with the scant aid of a burning parachute. He won the Victoria Cross in 1944 by clambering outside the wing of his burning Lancaster and attempting to put out the fire from outside the plane.

Having bombed the target, Jackson’s Lancaster (serial ME669) was attacked by a German night fighter and a fuel tank in the starboard wing caught fire. Jackson, already wounded from shell splinters, strapped on a parachute and equipped himself with a fire extinguisher before climbing out of the aircraft and onto the wing, whilst the aeroplane was flying at 140 miles per hour (230 km/h), in order to put out the fire. He gripped the air intake on the leading edge of the wing with one hand, and fought the fire with the other. The flames seared his hands, face, and clothes. The fighter returned and hit the bomber with a burst of gunfire that sent two bullets into his legs. The burst also swept him off the wing.

He fell 20,000 feet (6,100 m), but his smouldering and holed parachute worked well enough to save his life. He suffered further injuries upon landing, including a broken ankle, but managed to crawl to a nearby German village the next morning, where he was paraded through the street.

Jackson received his VC at Buckingham Palace in the same ceremony as Leonard Cheshire who insisted Jackson precede him out sheer awe for his feat.

There is almost nothing one can add to these stories, simply because they are so seemingly miraculous as to defy a rational narrative. One can only say, “it happened,” and leave it at that. But I will add one postscript. Last Christmas I met a man who had helped an Australian family find a treatment for a child suffering from extremely rare form of cancer in one of the less than half dozen facilities in the world that could do it.

“It was at the Danny Thomas foundation hospital. Do you know it?”

I confessed I did not. But later I looked up the hospital. It was the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and there’s an interesting story attached to it.

As a “starving actor,” Thomas had made a vow: If he found success, he would open a shrine dedicated to St Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes. Thomas never forgot his promise to St. Jude, and after becoming a successful actor in the early 1950s, his wife joined him and began traveling the United States to help raise funds to build his dream – St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He fervently believed that “no child should die in the dawn of life.” With help from Dr. Lemuel Diggs and close friend, Anthony Abraham, an auto magnate in Miami, Florida, Thomas founded the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee in 1962. Since its inception, St. Jude has treated children from all 50 states and around the world, continuing the mission of finding cures and saving children. Dr. Peter C. Doherty of St. Jude’s Immunology Department, was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1996 for key discoveries on how the immune system works to kill virus-infected cells.

Then it occurred to me that perhaps miracles happened all the time. They must since rare events do occur in their due probability, as everyone knows. What we regard as a “miracle” is the perception of these rare events. We mostly don’t see them. But sometimes it registers, it makes the news when we notice the billion-to-one shot come off; when report comes to us of extraordinary bravery; when we see a pledge fulfilled or hear of strangers helping a child in rural Australia for no apparent reason. Rare events happen and in them that we most clearly see the pivot; through them we most dramatically visualize a possible turn of events.

We think we lead ordinary lives, but as someone observed humanity’s existence itself is so improbable as to be ludicrous, a circumstance summarized as the anthropic principle. Perhaps the world is not only stranger than we think, but stranger than we can know.  Sparrows to fall to earth all the time;  what we regard as ridiculous is that anyone should notice, that any one in particular should count.  But if all of them, perhaps every single one, is actually special then there are no ordinary events, just a poverty of perception. A pointless universe is in many ways a much simpler model than one in which we each play some unknown but important part. That opens many more mysteries than living in a mere fabric of noise. Juliane Koepcke wrote, “the thought ‘Why was I the only survivor?’ haunts me. It always will.”

Maybe we count for something after all, and that’s a scary thing to think.

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Top Rated Comments   
The margin of death for he first female Navy pilot was not .4 seconds, it was affirmative action. The cover-up for her incompetence was intense.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
The logical people either say "game's over" and lay down to die or blow themselves up for Allah. It is those with hope, a hope in complexity and the indeterminate, at least to our ignorant mortal eyes, future who keep on trying.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Leonard Cheshire was an interesting man. According to his wiki the VC ceremony went as follows:
"When Cheshire went to Buckingham Palace to receive his VC from King George VI, he was accompanied by Norman Jackson who was also due to receive his award on that day. Cheshire insisted that despite the difference in rank (Group Captain and Warrant Officer), they should approach the King together. Jackson remembers that Cheshire said to the King, "This chap stuck his neck out more than I did - he should get his VC first!" The King had to keep to protocol, but Jackson commented he would "never forget what Cheshire said.""

His private life and religious journey also make for interesting reading. The only possible criticism I can think to offer for his long and worthy life though are that in his charitable work he once did work with Roger Waters. Decent people should Boycott Divest and Sanction the execrable Mr. Waters.

The world is a complicated place. That is what gives us hope. If things were simple, so simple that even a collection of government clerks could manage it, then the future would be determinate and there would be no room for hope.

Those of us who are heirs to the Anglo-Saxon heritage have much to be grateful for. Complicated and illogical weights and measures, arbitrary distance and temperature scales, the acceptance of constant and instantaneous change among multiple interacting elements in the Calculus, and the Common Law based on the deductive principle of deference to the tradition of what works rather than the induction of what an authority that uses logic to determine what should be are liberating compared to the straightjackets wrought of Cartesian logic.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (77)
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"On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below."

By chance, a monk witnesses the tragedy. Brother Juniper then embarks on a quest to prove that it was divine intervention rather than chance that led to the deaths of those who perished in the tragedy. His search leads to his own death -- and to the author's timeless investigation into the nature of love and the meaning of the human condition.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Partly answering my question below: just heard that the satellite info from other planes in the area added to the knowledge, perhaps flights going west to S Africa.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
MachiasPrivateer, et al:

I understand Doppler and distance but where did they get the direction being to the SE? Why not maybe NE also? I haven't seen an explanation of that.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
The initial point of the track is somewhat ENE of the geosynchronous point of the satellite. The result is the northern track ends up considerably west of the initial point, while the end point of the southern track is mostly south. You can tell by the Doppler.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Early in my physics days, I had a professor ask: "If you throw a light bulb off a four-story building, will it break?" Of course, we all said yes without hesitation. Then he asked, "If you throw ten thousand light bulbs off a four-story building, will they all break?"

It was a great introduction to the strange probabilities that would haunt the next few years of my life.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
The probability of any event is always at a min, one divided by a number called n. As n get larger, in turn, probability goes to zero. Notice though, that it really never reach zero. This has two major outcomes. First the probability of any event can and will happen because it is one over some number. Just look at life itself,e.g., DNA, RNA, nerves cells even a hemoglobin molecule. What are the odds for these being created? Most probability experts assume zero probability at 1/10eE14, which is the probability that a meteorite would land on you. This is very unlikely. However if one could ensure 10E14 meteorites land on earth, then yes it is likely. This brings about the second outcome. That if one attempts any event and fails, then keeps trying because the odds increase after each attempt so that he or she will succeed. This does work very well, here I am. So never ever give up, for sure the odds of success increase with every failure. This is why failures are so important and truly make you. Never give in, never, never, never give in. WC in 1948. Persistence is the greatest of all characteristics for a successful life.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
There are periods when miracles seem to be a common occurrence in my life. Getting thru this winter, somehow avoiding death or severe bodily injury, feels like a miracle. And I have frequently expressed my gratitude as these miracles unfolded.

Perhaps the biggest miracle of all is that my wife has put up with me for so long.

Like the song says...

"One more thing I just got to say
I need a miracle every day"
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment

Malaysia PM says satellite data indicates missing jetliner went down in Indian Ocean

"Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak says new analysis of satellite data in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 indicates that the plane went down in the Southern Indian Ocean.

The analysis was provided by British satellite company Inmarsat and UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch, Razak said.

“Based on their new analysis….MH370 flew along the southern corridor and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean west of Perth,” Razak said Monday. “This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites. It is therefore, with deep sadness and regret, that I must inform you that according to this new data that flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.”

Shortly before Razak’s announcement, relatives of the passengers were booked on charter flights to take them to Australia, sources told Sky News. An emergency meeting between families and Malaysia Airlines officials took place in Beijing, Razak said. Paramedics were on scene there, according to Sky News.

“For them, the past few weeks have been heartbreaking. I know this news must be harder still,” Razak said."

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49 weeks ago
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Wall Street Journal reports that Doppler shift data has been used to indicate MH370's velocity.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Ended in Indian Ocean, Prime Minister Says

Inmarsat Data Show Last Location West of Perth, Far From 'Any Possible Landing Sites'

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Monday that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was lost in the southern Indian Ocean based on a new analysis of satellite data.

The Malaysian leader said that he was briefed by Britain's Air Accident Investigations Branch on data from Inmarsat, ISAT.LN +1.12% the satellite company that had provided data that has led to a massive search for the aircraft. Analysis showed the Boeing BA +0.19% 777-200's last position was in the Indian Ocean west of the Australian city of Perth. (Follow the latest developments on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.)

"This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites,'' Mr. Najib said. "It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, Flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.''

The latest calculations were based on a new analysis of the satellite-operator's original data, relying on minute changes in the frequency of the electronic "pings"—or attempts to link up with satellites—received from the plane during its more than six-hour flight after dropping off radar, according to Tim Farrar, a satellite industry consultant.

Inmarsat was able to correlate two streams of data to form a more precise picture of where the Boeing 777 may have ended up, Mr. Farrar said. The initial data stream focused on the timing of the "pings" from the plane, he said, revealing distance from the satellite. The later stream focused on frequency changes involving the "Doppler effect," he said, revealing the plane's speed.

The Doppler effect has to do with changes in the frequency of a moving source of waves relative to an observer.

"It shows there is a lot more information hidden in what appears to be simple satellite data," Mr. Farrar said. The latest analysis also indicated "there is a higher likelihood of the plane ending up in certain parts" of the southern arc.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Uphill Racer

Morally, the response was perplexing, and Gronen himself seems to have struggled with the ambivalence. He recalls an incident that symbolized the ambiguity he felt: "I went to a small private school in the mountains. I had a really far-out algebra teacher who also taught religion. Every spring he told his class to design and put on a boat race in a local irrigation ditch. It had to do with design, but it also taught us to take responsibility for the event.

"When it came time to write the rules -- e.g., no batteries, no engines -- everyone wanted to detail all the things you couldn't do. I became extremely annoyed. I'd been through the race process; I knew how corruption occurs. So I said, 'Let's just write a paragraph explaining the spirit of the race, then have three judges decide whether entries qualify.' Listing every way to cheat encourages people to think of ways to go through the cracks."

Gronen says his classmates overruled him. So to make his point, he found a fifty-foot rubber band and made what was in effect a huge slingshot. His boat won the race easily.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
..."I didn't cheat," he points out. "I actually played within the rules. I was demonstrating to them the folly" of trying to anticipate all the ways people might cheat.

Toward the end of high school, Gronen says, he began exploring the notion of spirituality, mostly through Eastern mystic religions. Studying them soon became the central part of his life...

He continues: "The scandal overall was a real blessing to me. I'm sorry that it happened, but I think there was a benefit to it."

"There are two motivations for seeking the truth. One, to escape pain. And two, a love of the truth itself. I share both of these motives."
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
From P-38 Heroics, and Revolutionary Lange Ski Boots, To Soap Box Derby Infamy and Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor:

Robert B. ("Bob") Lange flew Lockheed P-38 Lightning airplanes for the United States Army Air Forces before leaving to earn a degree at Harvard University, where he studied economics and engineering.[6] It was during this time that he took up skiing, and like many other beginner skiers of the era, found himself dismayed by the relative antiquity of the designs. (Contrast with the Head Standard ski).[7]

Soap Box Derby Scandal:

In 1973, 14 year old Jimmy Gronen of Boulder, Colorado was stripped of his title two days after winning the national race. Suspicions were running high even before the finals, and Gronen was actually booed by many spectators.

The unusual dimensions of Gronen's margins of victory and heat times tipped off derby officials to illegal circumstances surrounding Gronen's racer. Subsequent X-ray examination of his car revealed an electromagnet in the nose. When activated at the starting line, the electromagnet would pull the car forward by attracting it to the steel paddle used to start the race. Gronen would activate the electromagnet by leaning his helmet against the backrest of his seat, which activated its power source. This became very evident as Gronen's heat times progressively slowed down as the race wore on, because the electromagnet lost strength each time it was activated.

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49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Usually, heat times get faster each time a racer completes a heat. Videotape of the race also showed a suspiciously sudden lead for Gronen just a few feet after each heat began. The margin of victory for a race heat will normally be no more than 1 to 3 feet. Gronen's early heat victories were in the 20 to 30 feet range. (Aluminum insulator plates were added to the starting ramps in 1974 to render an electromagnetic system useless.) [22]

Midway through the 1973 race, Derby officials also replaced Gronen's wheels after chemicals were found to be applied to the wheels' rubber. The chemicals caused the tire rubber to swell, which reduced the rolling resistance of the tire.
In the final heat, Gronen finished narrowly ahead of Bret Yarborough. Within two days, Yarborough was declared the 1973 champion.

Gronen's uncle and legal guardian at the time, wealthy engineer Robert Lange, was indicted for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and paid a $2,000 settlement.[23]
Lange's son, Bob Lange Jr. (and Jimmy Gronen's cousin) had won the previous 1972 Derby using a car considered to be indistinguishable from the vehicle used by Gronen. Boulder, Colorado was also banned from any future participation in the All-American Soap Box Derby.
49 weeks ago
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