Falling is one of humans' deepest, most primordial fears. And it's a worthy thing to be afraid of, given that the impact from any fall of significant height is likely to cause serious injuries and could even lead to death. This reality is likely the reason why people are so scared of heights, yet it's actually possible to live through even the most traumatic falls – as people who have fallen off of buildings but lived to tell the tale prove.
There are all types of situations whereby someone might accidentally plummet from a great height. They could fall from the side of a cruise ship in rough seas or have their parachute fail to open during a skydive. Whatever the case, it's perfectly clear that falling from anything high would be a truly terrifying ordeal. Just take heart from the fact that such incidents do not always equal death.
In January 1972, Vesna Vulovic was on a flight over what was then Czechoslovakia as a flight attendant for Jugoslavenski Aerotransport. The aircraft broke up in midair when a bomb exploded onboard, killing everybody with the exception of Vulovic. She fell an estimated 33,333 ft before landing on the ground and somehow managed to survive. She was seriously injured from the accident, however.
She spent 16 months in the hospital and was in a coma for 27 days, as well as having dozens of broken bones. However, she went on to make a full recovery.
Before he became a popular television personality and adventurer, Bear Grylls spent a short amount of time in the armed forces. During this military service, he was involved with the SAS Territorial Army and took part in a training exercise over Zambia. During a skydive, his parachute failed to inflate.
Thinking he had time to fix the problem before he hit the ground, he chose not to open the reserve chute and instead fell 16,000 ft and landed on his parachute pack. Although he narrowly avoided severing his spinal cord, he did break his back, which required him to go through 12 months of 10-hour-a-day physiotherapy.
Juliane Koepcke was a passenger on a flight traveling over Peru on Christmas Eve in 1971 when the plane began to experience heavy turbulence. After several minutes of passing through the storm, an engine on the wing was hit by lightning, and the aircraft plummeted towards the ground. Juliane was the only survivor out of the 91 passengers on board, and the 17-year-old landed in the jungle with a broken collar bone, one shoe, and only a few sweets for food.
She spent 10 days in the Peruvian jungle before she was rescued. The leading theory for how she survived is that the heavy vegetation softened her fall while the row of seats she was strapped in acted as a makeshift glider.
August 2004 was not a good month for South African skydiver Christine McKenzie. The 23-year-old was in free-fall when her parachute failed to open. This prompted her to try her reserve chute, but this too malfunctioned and became tangled as it partially inflated. The incredibly rare occurrence meant that McKenzie hardly slowed before she smashed into a series of powerlines before hitting the ground. Those powerlines saved her life, though, absorbing most of the energy from the fall and drastically reducing her impact.
Despite the fact that literally everything that could go wrong in her jump did go wrong, McKenzie managed to survive with just a broken pelvis and some bruising.