7. You can safely jump from a burning skyscraper/bridge/aircraft into water.

December 13, 2018

Angels and Demons (2009) Tom Hanks character, Robert Langdon, hero of Dan Brown’s jumps from a helicopter and falls thousands of feet into Rome’s Tiber River and survives, of course.

Ahhhh! Look up. It’s raining Tom Hanks!!!!!The Hulk (2003) The Hulk hops from the Golden Gate bridge onto a jet fighter, whose pilot tries to get rid of him at high altitude. The Hulk falls off and plummets many thousands of feet into the bay. He survives.

There are 2 factors we must consider when jumping or diving from a great height:

1. Surface Impact

2.Water depth 

1. Surface Impact

According to the Free Fall website falling into water is not a good survival strategy. 

‘Someone falling without a parachute from more than 2,000 feet or so would be falling quite a bit faster than 100 miles per hour (161 kph) The folks who have survived falls into water have had streaming parachutes above them, which probably slowed their falls to the 60 mph range (97 kph). Having a streaming parachute helps in another way because it aligns the body in a position where the feet enter the water first.’

The website goes on to explain that water is an INCOMPRESSIBLE FLUID. It’s like landing on concrete. Landing in mud, on snow, on trees, on circus tents etc helps break the fall. Moreover, jumping off a bridge into turbulent sea may be safer than jumping into calm water.

On 24th Oct 1930, Vincent Kelly, 31, while working on the Sydney Harbour Bridge fell 170 ft (52 m) into Sydney Harbour and survived.

A champion diver he did several summersaults and landed feet first. He broke a couple of ribs as he did not enter the water at a perfect RIGHT ANGLE but rather a few degrees off perpendicular..

2. Water Depth

The next issue is, if you are going to dive or jump into water from a great height and, miraculously, survive the impact, how deep should the water  be?

Olympic divers often practice their dives in a bubble pools (like a spa). This reduces the impact for a bad dive but the water must be much deeper. Sports Smart Canada recommends a water depth of double the height of the drop. But is this realistic if, say, you are jumping or diving from the top of a waterfall into aerated water.

You can work out approximate depths needed if you were jumping into calm water from heights such as below:

How deep do you plunge? The answer is surprising because, in fact, you decelerate really fast in water.

See REd Bull Jump Science here

Thanks to Rod Vance  for the Fluid Engineering Calcs (done by hand … not by computer program) for calculating the depth of water when your feet stop moving. That is the minimum depth of water needed for the jump (See graph below)

NOTE: Even with this fancy maths assumptions must be made about the transition epoch-half in/half out of the water.

 Assuming you survive the impact and you breath out through your nose – to stop water going up your nostrils really fast- then you will not go any deeper than approx 4 m or 13 ft from a platform of 20 m (65 ft) or less.

If you’re diving into water from, say, a helicopter as in the Demons & Angels movie you don’t need extremely deep water. Assume Langdon was at 100m (328 ft) or the height of The Statue of Liberty(above) or a 33 story building  when he jumped, then extrapolating the graph (above), maybe, a depth of 5m (16 ft) would do.

If you want to see what looking down from a 58.8 m (193 ft) platform looks like check out thisWorld Record Jump by Laso Schaller.

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