Whether you’re a skydiver with a failed parachute or you fell off a steep cliff while rock climbing, a sudden free fall can cause anyone to panic. Living through a fall from a high location, such as 1,000, 5,000 or even 35,000 feet, is extremely rare but not impossible. Keeping your wits about you and taking defensive actions during your downward descent can improve your odds of surviving.
Stay as alert as possible. Avoid panicking, if you are able. Relax your muscles but keep your mind sharp. Dan Koeppel explains in Popular Mechanics that remaining attentive and prepared during each phase that you will pass through on your way down, can help you to land with your life intact.
Emulate a skydiver with your body position to increase the air resistance and friction, which can help you to maneuver during the free fall. Rotate onto your stomach, so that your chest is facing down. Spread your arms and legs out wide. Arch your back and hold your head upward.
Land on your feet. A feet-first landing can improve your odds of surviving. Mimic a skydiver again; bring your feet together, flex your feet and bend at the knees and hips upon impact. Roll immediately, rather than trying to stick your landing; rolling helps to decrease your speed and reduce the effects of the impact. Keep rolling until your body naturally stops.
Protect your head. Most free-fall deaths are due to head and brain injuries. If you are unable to turn your body around and are diving toward the ground head first, lace your fingers together and place them on top of your skull while protecting as much of your head as possible with your arms. Turn, if you are able, and attempt to land on your face rather than on the back of your skull; your face will likely suffer damages, but you may save yourself from brain injuries.
- Seek medical attention right away, even if you think serious injuries were not sustained. Internal bleeding, shock and brain injuries may not be obvious at first; take precautionary measures and consult with a trauma physician as soon as possible.
- Land in the water feet first rather than leading with your head like a dive. The pencil or knife body position can decrease your odds of a head injury and increase your chances of surviving.