OK, you’re falling out of an airplane, 35,000 feet up, scared out of your mind. Only one thing is occupying it right now, the instructions from an article in Popular Mechanics on how to survive a 35,000 foot fall.
Glass hurts, but it gives. So does grass. Haystacks and bushes have cushioned surprised-to-be-alive free-fallers. Trees aren’t bad, though they tend to skewer. Snow? Absolutely. Swamps? With their mucky, plant-covered surface, even more awesome. Hamilton documents one case of a sky diver who, upon total parachute failure, was saved by bouncing off high-tension wires. Contrary to popular belief, water is an awful choice. Like concrete, liquid doesn’t compress. Hitting the ocean is essentially the same as colliding with a sidewalk, Hamilton explains, except that pavement (perhaps unfortunately) won’t “open up and swallow your shattered body.”
With a target in mind, the next consideration is body position. To slow your descent, emulate a sky diver. Spread your arms and legs, present your chest to the ground, and arch your back and head upward. This adds friction and helps you maneuver. But don’t relax. This is not your landing pose.
Recommendation: wide-body impact. But a 1963 report by the Federal Aviation Agency argued that shifting into the classic sky diver’s landing stance—feet together, heels up, flexed knees and hips—best increases survivability. The same study noted that training in wrestling and acrobatics would help people survive falls.