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Free Fall

The Free Fall Research Page

Fictional Falls
These amazing stories have inspired a number of fictional accounts, including:
  • Satanic Verses — In this novel by Salman Rushdie, a hijacked jumbo jet blows up at 29,003 feet just before dawn on a winter day. Gibreel Farishta (an Indian movie star) and Saladin Chamca fall into the English Channel and wash up alive on a beach.

  • A Matter of Life and Death — This film, which is also seen under the title "Stairway to Heaven", stars David Niven as an RAF pilot who has to bail out of his plane without a parachute and survives by some divine error.

  • The James Bond film "Moonraker" — Bond jumps out of a plane without a parachute to avoid an assassination attempt. He catches up with someone in mid-air and takes their parachute. His nemesis, Jaws, survives his fall by landing on a circus big top circus tent.

  • The Man Who Ate the 747 — This novel by Ben Sherwood includes a story about a Pakistani pilot who survives a fall of 33,301 feet, but bemoans the fact that he failed to beat Vesna Vulovic's record 33,330 foot fall.

  • Fall Down — Some say that the Toad the Wet Sprocket song called "Fall Down" is actually about Vesna Vulovic, but the lyrics shed little light on this.

  • X-Files — One X-Files episode mentions a British soldier who fell 4,500 feet in 1998 and only broke a rib. The description is specific, but it doesn't appear to match up with any actual event.

    October 2012 update: Rhys Milford has pointed out that in 1998 a British soldier named Paul Delaney survived a fall from 4,500 feet. It is very likely that this is the incident that inspired the X-Files writers (the show, by the way, is Episode 6 from Series 7, "The Goldberg Variation"). The Free Fall Research Page knew about this incident but somehow overlooked the connection. Thanks to Rhys for the tip.

  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom — There are no more parachutes left when Indiana Jones exits a crashing Ford Tri-Motor with his girlfriend (Willie) and his sidekick (Short Round), and yet he is able to save everyone through the timely deployment of an inflatable raft.

  • Miss Wyoming — The heroine of this novel by Douglas Coupland is Susan Colgate, a former beauty queen and child star. She is on a commercial flight from New York to Los Angeles when an engine blows up. The plane tumbles violently and passengers float in the air. The pilots regain control momentarily, giving Susan time to fasten her seat belt, but before long the plane falls to the ground and crashes in a field. She is the only survivor. Unhurt, she disappears in the crowd that soon arrives on the scene.

  • Falling — See the Poetry Corner in Recommended Reading for additional information on this poem by James Dickey.

  • WTC Urban Legend — After 9/11 a story circulated that someone on the upper floors of the World Trade Center had ridden the wreckage to safety as one of the towers collapsed. Apparently the story got started due to the confusion over the pre-collapse location of one of the last survivors found. For more information, try this link. Note: Although this urban legend isn't about a fall from an airplane, the situation that some people faced at the top floors of the World Trade Center is similar in many ways to the dilemma that faced Nicholas Alkemade (See Free Fallers). Alkemade had a choice between death by fire and death by falling. He chose death by falling, but instead survived the lengthy fall.

  • The Bionic Woman — Jaime Summers was badly injured in a parachuting accident with Steve Austin, the Bionic Man. Steve graciously enlisted the help of his boss (Oscar Goldman) and Jaime got bionic replacements for her legs, right arm, and ear.

  • PSI-Factor — The television series PSI-Factor had an episode called Freefall about a guy who went skydiving with some friends but couldn't open his main or reserve parachute. Despite this, he was able to land feet first as if helped by some unseen force.

  • King of the Hill — Peggy Hill, a character in the Fox cartoon "King of the Hill," survived an 8,000-foot fall without a parachute. She broke her back, arms, and legs. See the the Incident Log for more information.

  • Bruce Almighty — Although this scene ended up on the cutting room floor, the DVD of the Jim Carrey movie, Bruce Almighty, contains an episode where Carrey's character, Bruce Nolan, goes skydiving, and when his parachute fails to open he is saved by falling on top of Sasquatch, a.k.a. Bigfoot.

  • Angels and Demons — Robert Langdon, hero of Dan Brown’s "Angels and Demons" (and also of "The Da Vinci Code"), survives a leap from a helicopter and a fall of thousands of feet into Rome’s Tiber River. His fall is slowed somewhat by a windshield tarp (four yards by two yards with convenient bungee loop handles) that he takes with him when he exits the chopper, which is about to explode. He was remembering something he had learned earlier in the novel in a laboratory in Switzerland: "one square yard of drag will slow a falling body almost 20%." Langdon is hospitalized briefly but he leaves of his own accord shortly after being pulled nearly lifeless from the "churning" Tiber River. The raging Tiber River is so "frothy and air-filled" that it is "three times softer than standing water".

  • The Hulk — In the 2003 movie, the Hulk hops from the Golden Gate bridge onto the back of a jet fighter, whose pilot tries to kill him by climbing steeply to a very high altitude. The Hulk falls off and plummets many thousands of feet into the bay. He survives. Instead of surfacing, he digs a tunnel and comes up on land in San Francisco.

  • Fandango — Clark Lampson wrote us to suggest that we mention the 1985 movie “Fandango” and its skydiving scene on our Fictional Falls page. He says that when he learned to skydive in Hollister, California they showed it to all first time students after their jump. The movie doesn’t depict a free fall incident but does have a humorous training scene as well as a hapless jumper (played by Judd Nelson) whose main parachute turns out to be packed with dirty laundry instead of a chute. (He is able to deploy his reserve just in time.) The movie also stars Kevin Costner and Sam Robards.

  • Lord of the Rings — The wizard Gandalf survives a long fall into a lake while fighting a horned fire demon called a Balrog in the mines of Moria.

  • Point Break — Briant Platt recommended that we include the 1991 movie "Point Break," which includes an unusual skydiving sequence. Keanu Reeves plays an FBI agent named Johnny Utah who is tracking down a surfer/bank robber played by Patrick Swayze. When Swayzes' characer, Bohdi, leaps from a skydiving plane with the last parachute, Johnny Utah jumps out after him. He catches him in mid-air, and after a tense confrontation with a gun, both survive under Bodhi's chute.

  • Halo: First Strike — In this novel by Eric Nylund, the crew of Spartan super-soldiers on a Pelican dropship are attacked by Seraph fliers from their arch-enemy, the Covenant. They freefall to the ground after exiting the Pelican in low orbit over their home planet, Reach. Some of the original twenty-nine crewmembers manage to survive the fall through a combination of armor shielding, pressurization of interior suit layers, and fortuitous landing areas. Thanks to Michael Hoyle for pointing out this story and for clarifying some of the intricacies of this novel, which is based on a popular video game.

  • Firehouse Dog — In this 2007 movie, a Hollywood star dog named Rexxx (played in the film by four separate pooches named Arwen, Frodo, Rohan, and Stryder) falls from a jet airliner while filming a movie. He survives unhurt when he lands in a truck full of tomatoes that is conveniently driving along below him. Renamed Dewey by the boy who finds him (coincidentally the son of the fire chief), he becomes the station mascot and helps to save a local firehouse.

  • Commando — In this 1985 film Arnold Schwarzenegger jumps from the landing gear of a jet airliner as it is taking off. He falls (probably a couple of hundred feet) into a swampy wetland and survives with no noticeable ill effects. You can watch this one on YouTube. Thanks to Ray Goff for pointing this one out.

  • Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows — Second in the series of Robert Downey, Jr. as Sherlock Holmes movies, the title character survives a fall of what appears to be hundreds of feet (or more) in the climactic scene. SPOILER ALERT: Luckily he is carrying an oxygen cannister so he can breath underwater. (The fall is into a waterfall beneath a mountainside Swiss castle.) Earlier in the movie, Holmes tosses Dr. Watson's wife off a train (to save her) and she survives a fall into river.

  • Iron Man 3 — Robert Downey, Jr. is at it again, this time as Iron Man, saving thirteen people who are falling in mid-air after their aircraft explodes.
General comment: It should be noted that many, if not most, adventure/action films include long falls of some kind which the hero/heroine survives. Some are from airplanes, but a lot are simply jumps from buildings or cliffs, for example the classic moment in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Special note for authors, screenwriters, and the like: You may benefit from our Falling Tips for Authors, particularly if you've got your protagonist at the top of a cliff (or about to be pushed out of an airplane) and can't figure out how to get them down safely.

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| The Unplanned Freefall | Falling Math | Fictional Falls | Record Falls |
| Incident Log | Questions | Recommended Reading | About This Research |

Questions? Send an e-mail to Jim Hamilton.

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