Human Body
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What Happens To Your Body When You're In A Falling Elevator

Updated November 5, 2019 1.6m views9 items

What happens to your body in a falling elevator? Is it even possible to survive? The good news is that modern elevator technology makes these incidents extraordinarily rare. The bad news is that if you were to find yourself in an old, malfunctioning elevator… it would be bad news.

So what your body does in a falling elevator is actually pretty similar to what happens to astronauts in zero gravity, but only if the conditions are perfect. Most likely, a falling elevator won’t be totally unobstructed. But if it was, you would get to experience weightlessness for a few seconds before being crushed like a bug. Because what happens to your fragile body in a falling elevator can’t be undone by any “tricks” like jumping at the last second. Who do you think you are, Wile E. Coyote? Read on to learn what really happens to your body in a totally unobstructed, free-falling elevator death trap.

  • Time Would Appear To Move More Slowly

    NASA has actually done research on what happens to the human body under sudden weightless conditions - or as they put it, “a rapid, abrupt occurrence of the absence of gravity.” The first few seconds of weightlessness sounds great: “…time appears to move more slowly; and a unique insensitivity to pains and feelings of displeasure appear.”

    NASA even says that “a certain feeling of elevated vitality and physical fitness…perhaps similar to that experienced after taking a stimulant” occurs once you get used to it, which, of course, you wouldn’t have a chance to do in a free-falling elevator because you’d be crushed like a soda can.

  • Your Organs Would Shift Around

    Photo: Knight725 / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Just like being on a super-tall rollercoaster, the free-fall you’d experience would make your guts shift around, slightly, in your body, giving you that feeling of your stomach “dropping.” The intestines are “relatively mobile,” according to Dr. Brad Sagura, a surgeon at University of Minnesota’s Amplatz Children’s Hospital, in an interview with WCCO.

    Sagura says while no one knows “with absolute certainty” what causes the “stomach drop” feeling, it’s likely your organs shifting around ever so slightly, sending a message to your brain. There’s also all that liquid in your organs shifting around, while the rest of your body is held in place. A rollercoaster’s seatbelt or harness causes the feeling by keeping the rest of your body relatively immobile; in a free-falling elevator, it would be whatever you’re holding on to, like the railing, or maybe the arm of the terrified stranger next to you.

  • Your Memory Shifts Gears

    Neuroscientists say the fright of such a dramatic fall would cause your memory to “shift gears” and stop acting “like a sieve,” which is memory’s default state. In other words, during the fall, you would suddenly accumulate a ton of memories that you would normally discard. It’s your brain’s way of seeking out useful information to keep you alive.

    It’s not a matter of “turbo perception” as much as it turbo memory. You don’t become the Terminator, scanning the scene for information with your new supercomputer brain - you just start remembering a hell of a lot more stuff.

  • Jumping At The Last Second Is Basically Useless

    Photo: _Pixelmaniac_ / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    What about jumping up at the last second? That won’t help at all, unless, using the Mythbusters example, you can somehow jump up at 53 miles per hour at precisely the right moment and somehow stop yourself before hitting the roof. You’d have to be Iron Man, basically, to survive this. But even then, there’s the crushed elevator car and debris collapsing in on you to consider...