TIMELINES: A UK fighter pilot survives a how many thousand-foot freefall, March 23, 1944?

March 23, 2012 Updated: September 29, 2015

Friday, Mar. 23, 2012


On March 23, 1944, tail gunner Nicholas Alkemade of the U.K.’s Royal Air Force survives an 18,000-foot (5,500-meter) jump without a parachute. Attacked by German planes while returning from a bombing mission, Alkemade decides to jump from the burning plane without his parachute, which had been torn to shreds by shrapnel. Large tree branches break his fall and a foot and a half of snow cushion his landing. He breaks no bones and only sprains an ankle. The Germans don’t believe his story and suspect him of being a spy until finding his unused parachute at the crash site.


Last Thursday, skydiver Felix Baumgartner successfully jumped from a height of 13.6 miles or 71,581 feet. During his 3 minute 33 second free fall he reached a speed of 364.4 mph. He opened his parachute when he was less than 8,000 feet above the New Mexico desert. The jump was a practice run for his upcoming, record-breaking 23-mile, 120,000-foot jump planned for this summer. The goal of the test was to have Baumgartner go beyond the altitude where humans can survive without a pressurized environment, which is 62,000 to 63,500 feet. Baumgartner ascended to his jump altitude in a pressurized capsule dangling from of a 165-foot-tall helium balloon. He was also wearing a pressurized suit. The capsule returned to earth by parachute.