Free FallThe Free Fall Research Page
|Another group of survivors are ones who stayed with the wreckage of a destroyed aircraft. This group includes the most famous survivor, Vesna Vulovic, who fell from the greatest height of any person whose story is recorded on this site.
Vesna Vulovic was a stewardess on a Yugoslav DC 9 jet airliner that blew up in January of 1972 (probably as the result of a terrorist bomb). She fell more than 33,000 feet in the wreckage of the plane, which hit a snow-covered slope. The only survivor, she was badly injured and was paralyzed from the waist down, but later recovered and now can walk.
Larissa Sovitskaya was returning with her husband from their honeymoon trip in August of 1981 when the Antonov-24 turbo-prop plane they were traveling in collided with a Soviet Tupolev-16 bomber. Sovitskaya fell 18,000 feet in the mangled wreckage of the plane. Found in a remote part of eastern Russia after a three-day search, Soviskaya eventually recovered but still suffers from back pain and headaches.
On Christmas Eve of 1971, a commercial airliner over Peru was struck by lightning and broke up during a storm. A teenage girl, Juliane Koepcke, fell two miles, still strapped in her seat. She survived, but her ordeal had just begun. Despite a broken collarbone and other injuries, she walked for 11 days through the Amazon rain forest and finally found help. Her story has been the subject of two films, the most recent being a Werner Herzog documentary called Wings of Hope. (See www.wernerherzog.com for more details.)
|Gerald Duval and John Wells
|Duval and Wells were gunners on a B-24 bomber of the U.S. 459th Bomb Group. On a mission to Steyr, Austria in April of 1944, their B-24 was attacked by German fighters and badly damaged. With the pilot dead and several other crewmembers dead or injured, the plane went into a spin. Duval and Wells were pinned down by centrifugal force and were unable to reach their parachutes to escape. The plane fell 24,000 feet and crashed. Duval and Wells were rescued from the wreckage by a crewmember who had parachuted from the plane. Though badly injured, both survived. The incident is described in Duval's book "Wings and Barbed Wire," which is available through 1stbooks.com.
|Shibble was a ball turret gunner in a B-17 bomber of the 447th Bomb Group. On a mission to Koblenz, a bomber in the formation above was hit and it tumbled down, hitting Shibble's B-17 and splitting it in two. The ball turret with Shibble in it remained with the front part of the plane, which plummeted 23,000 feet. His back was broken, but he survived the crash.
|Jones was a tail gunner in a 385th Bomb Group B-17 bomber on a March 1945 bombing raid to Belgium. When it collided with another plane, Jones' bomber broke apart. Trapped in the tail section, Jones awaited his fate, falling 13,500 feet. Pulled unconscious from the wreckage, he woke up a few days later in a British field hospital.
|William Stannard was a tail gunner in a British Ventura bomber on a mission to Holland in May of 1943. Struck by enemy gunfire, the plane broke into pieces. By some aerodynamic trick of fate, the severed tail section glided to earth and landed on the grounds of a large estate where Stannard was pulled alive from the wreckage.
|Tatyana Moiseyava and Arina Vinogradova
|In July of 2002 Tatyana Moiseyava and Arina Vinogradova were stewardesses in a Russian II-86 airliner that crashed shortly after take-off at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport. The plane reached an altitude of no more than 1,000 feet or so before crashing to the ground. Moiseyava and Vinogradova were the only survivors. Both were seatbelted in the tail section of the plane. A third stewardess seated in the back was killed when she unbuckled her seatbelt to get up and see what was happening.
|In February of 1945, two B-17 bombers collided over Graz, Austria. The tail gunner of one of the B-17s, S/Sgt. Erwin Koszyczarek, fell 28,000 feet in the severed tail. He emerged unhurt and was taken prisoner.
|On a mission to Bremen, German in November of 1943, tailgunner Eugene Moran's B-17 was hit by enemy fire. S/Sgt Moran couldn't bail out because his parachute was shot full of holes. He rode the tail to the ground where it crashed into some trees. He spent four mounths in a German hospital, but he survived.
|In January of 1945, Federico Gonzales was a pilot of a 398th Bomb Group B-17 whose wing was shot off over Dusseldorf. He was unable to bail out of the spinning plane and fell 27,000 feet. He was pulled alive from the wreckage. Everyone else died. See Recommended Reading for a book written by Gonzales' son.
|On a mission to Leipheim, Germany in April of 1944, Merle Hasenfratz was the tailgunner in a 392nd Bomb Group B-24. The aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire and broke in two. Hasenfratz and two two other crew members were trapped in the tail and fell 18,000 feet to the ground. Hasenfratz was the only survivor. He had shrapnel wounds to his legs and an eye.
|Sgt. George was the tail gunner of a Sunderland flying boat that was shot down by German fighters near Sylling, Norway in April of 1940. He survived a fall of 1,000 meters in his turret and was pulled from a snowbank alive by three Norwegians who had seen him fall. (See the Incident Log for additional details.)
|Fossett fell 29,000 feet into the Coral Sea when his hot air balloon ruptured. He fell with the remains of the balloon at a speed that he estimated to be around 45 miles per hour. He was rescued uninjured.