Survival Techniques for Falling from Height

In 2007, two brothers employed as window cleaners by a New York window cleaning service were washing windows on a 47 storey apartment building when the anchors holding their cleaning platform failed and they plummeted 472 feet to the ground.  The younger brother, was instantly killed on impact but rescuers were stunned to discover Alcides Moreno alive and conscious.  He was quickly rushed to the nearest hospital where surgeons began operating on him in the ER room, fearful that moving him to an operating theatre could result in his death from one of his extensive injuries.  Alcides received 24 pints of blood and 19 pints of plasma before his bleeding was stopped.  His injuries included two broken legs, a broken arm, a broken foot, several broken ribs and a crushed vertebra, along with two collapsed lungs, several ruptured organs and swelling to the brain.  While Alcides eventually recovered from his injuries, they’ve left him unable to return to work, but according to doctor’s it’s a miracle that he’s still alive. 

It’s thought that Alcides’ survival was due to the fact that he’d undergone training on what to do if the platform fell and lay down flat on the aluminium platform which landed on a pile of cables which absorbed some of the impact.  Alcides is not the only person to have survived such a fall – in 1917 an American air cadet, Hugh DeHaven, was in a biplane that collided with another biplane at 700 ft.  While three of the men aboard the planes died, DeHaven survived the plunge and spent the rest of his career studying falls from height.  His research culminated in the publication of a report in 1942 “Mechanical analysis of survival in falls from heights of fifty to one hundred and fifty feet” which included eight cases of people surviving long falls. 

A fall has three stages – initiation, descent and impact and it seems that how you prepare for the possibility of falling, what you do during the fall and what you hit on impact all determine how severe the resulting injuries will be.  Scientists who study falling are developing “safe landing responses” in order to limit the damage from falls.  The most important thing to do is to protect your head.  Parachute jump coaches teach people to try not to fall straight forwards or backwards but to roll and try to let the fleshy sides of the body absorb much of the impact.  Distribute the weight on the calf, thigh and into the glutes, rolling on the outside of the leg as opposed to falling straight backwards or forwards.

This advice is just as essential for somebody who falls from a relatively short distance, rather than from a great height.  Most falls that take place in the workplace in the UK can be from a fairly short distance, such as a ladder or work platform, so knowing what to do during a fall and having the time to do so can go a long way towards lessening the severity of the injuries sustained.