A British soldier has just survived the seemingly impossible after surviving a 4572-meter (15,000-foot) fall and crashing into the ground after his parachute failed to open fully. Residents of Via Cielo, around 322 kilometers (200 miles) northwest of Los Angeles, were greeted to quite the shock when the parachutist crashed through the roof of a neighboring house, creating a cartoonish hole as the soldier lay in the uninhabited home.
Images were shared by Twitter users of the ordeal showing the aftermath.
Miraculously, the soldier had no major injuries and is recovering well, says the Ministry of Defence to the Evening Standard.
The incident occurred on July 6 after soldiers based at Camp Roberts were performing group training of HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) jumps. This deployment technique is used to insert troops and equipment into often hostile environments, and involves dropping from altitudes as high as 12,192 meters (40,000 feet), but only opening parachutes as low as 914 meters (3,000 feet) before reaching the ground. HALO jumps are perfect for avoiding detection and reaching the drop zones rapidly, but allow little room for error or equipment malfunctions. As a result, these techniques are only utilized by highly specialized units, which from Britain involve the Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS).
In this exercise, the paratrooper was reportedly falling from a more modest 4,572 meters (15,000 feet) when the main parachute failed to open. Equipped with a reserve chute, the soldier deployed it to slow the descent, but it was unable to open in time to reach the designated Drop Zone. Instead, the soldier fell rapidly and crashed through the roof of a residential building – which luckily had no one inside at the time – where he was recovered by emergency services. Atascadero Police Department detailed the incident in a Facebook post on July 7.
While it may sound impossible, falling from 15,000 feet differs very little from falling 1,500 feet. On average, it takes just 12 seconds for a skydiver to reach terminal velocity – a blistering 120 mph (200 km/h) – in which time they will have covered around 1,500 feet (450 meters). From here, the skydiver will maintain a steady speed throughout the dive, before deploying a parachute to slow themselves for landing. As such, surviving falls from huge altitudes lies well within the realms of possibility, particularly when the individual is slightly slowed by a half-open parachute, which appears to have happened here.
The longest survived freefall without a parachute occurred on 26 January 1972, after a bomb exploding within the baggage compartment of a flight cruising at 33,330 feet caused the plane to rip apart, trapping Vesna Vulović within. After plummeting 10,160 meters (33,000 feet), the fuselage hit the ground at an angle, and the unconscious Vesna was found within. Scientists attribute her low blood pressure, resulting in her unconsciousness and preventing her heart from bursting upon impact, as the reason Vesna survived the fall. Reports of World War II paratroopers also indicate soldiers survived freefalls from above 6,096 meters (20,000 feet), but it is certainly a rare occurrence.