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Terminal Velocity Cannot be Underestimated- Seven Reasons You Should Avoid Falling at this Speed

Updated on August 17, 2014

The Dangers of Free Falling from Up On High

Okay, there isn't any sort of nice way to put this; if you're falling and have reached terminal velocity, you have a situation requiring your attention. I know that sounds harsh and judgmental, but hear me out on this one. If you're wandering around that new and highfalutin jumbo jet and looking for the restroom, and then somehow went out this really heavy door that fought you like the dickens (no, this didn't happen to me; fourteen passengers tackled me before I could get it open), you might have suddenly discovered you're now falling. In fact, there's a good chance that, in this scenario, you might be falling a good 37,000 feet.

Or, let's say it's your birthday and you want to do what all sensible people do on their birthday (particularly those older than seventy) and that's go tandem skydiving! Yeah, it sure does sound like a good time, doesn't it? But if you're one of those impetuous people who has a tendency to just leap without looking (no, this didn't happen to me; they tazed me before I made it within three feet of the door) then you might suddenly discover you're now falling several thousand feet, thinking, oh yeah, put on your chute and then jump. Damn…

Hey, it can happen to the best of us. Like bungee jumping without actually fastening the thing to your legs (there was this hot, hot redhead so I apparently wasn't paying attention) or base jumping without looking into all the requirements (you need a parachute for this, too, not just an itch to fly). Oh, and if you ever decide to go hot air ballooning, you need to remember that when the hour you paid for has run out, even if this occurs before the balloon has landed, it isn't (that means is NOT) your responsibility to get out right there. You just have to wait until they get it to the ground.

If you ask me, that should have been in the brochure, but I'm just the picky jerk, apparently.

Anyhoo, it's more than possible to end up at terminal velocity independent of any fault of yours (that's right, I said it. I'm not taking responsibility for that incident on the Empire State Building; I didn't know the guy was a stunt man and he made it look just so easy) and once you're at that speed, it's best to concentrate on the matter at hand. You are plummeting to your death (well, not necessarily; I'm here discussing this, aren't I?) and if you're going to survive, there are at least 7 Things to Avoid in order to accentuate your chances of survival.

Pin-Wheeling your arms

I recognize that pin-wheeling your arms while falling comes in as one of the more likely natural reactions to the situation, you need to recognize that this sort of activity is bad for the shoulders, particularly when one is paying less attention to how the rotor cups are being over-extended compared to how quickly the ground is approaching. Now, if you've fallen from a jumbo jet and you're still significantly well above the clouds, even Bill Nye the Science Guy knows that the atmospheric density at this height is far too thin for you to get a firm controlled descent, so would you mind standing up and explaining to the entire class just what it was you were thinking?

Look, you have arms and not wings, so pin-wheeling isn't flapping and because you're a member of a species not known to be able to fly without complicated machinery (how do you think you got up there?), all the flapping in the world, let alone pin-wheeling, isn't going to save you. Besides, it could throw off your balance and you could end up plummeting head first, and that, Bucko, is not where you want to be.

Calling in Prescriptions

So, you're falling and have been falling for some time now. The curvature of the planet is giving way to greater and greater detail of the approaching landscape, and you've long since realized that this is going to leave a mark. That just might have you thinking that your level of good health is going to drop a notch or two, and that might remind you that you have other ailments in life that require various medications, and then, voila, you just remembered that you need to call in a few of those prescriptions.

Look, just don't do this, my friends. Because you're at terminal velocity, the wind speeds and other various factors are going to make it difficult to hear the automated operator on the other end, so when you hear something like, to hear this in Spanish, press one and the pound sign, you could miss a detail. Was that press one and the pound sign, or press eight and the pound sign? See? This could happen to anyone, so don't get your panties in a wad; you have other things to worry about. Things such as a series of missed prompts that lead the automated system to reverting to the live operator feed, whereby you'll hear something like, your call is very important to us and will be answered in the order it was received.

Look, how could you possibly know how long it's going to take to get someone on the line? The plain and simple truth is that you don't; you don't have the first clue as to how long it will be before you talk to someone live, and even then, you have no way of knowing for sure if they can help you. Sure, they might be able to fill your prescription for whatever it is you're on these days, but will they know what to do about plummeting to certain demise? I think I know a certain falling rock who needs to wake up and smell the coffee.

Calling out for help

Now, you're getting a little closer to a solution, but not close enough, I'm afraid. You see, you could be on your way down and screeching your pretty little head off. Now, don't panic; that's just an expression and your head isn't actually coming off, at least not unless you hit something that shears your head off in the fall, but that's another point entirely. The issue is that when you're falling, you're falling at a rate that will see you at terminal velocity within twelve seconds, to just over 120 miles per hour. The speed of sound (your hopeless cries for some sort of assistance) is somewhere around 760-770 miles per hour, depending on conditions.

Now, your plummeting speed is only about six times slower than the speed of your voice, but the atmospheric density below you is growing at a rapid rate and this is actually hindering your voice from reaching down and is forcing your voice to trail, well, up. Further, a significant percentage of your scream is going in many directions, part of which is up and out from you, which is being left, well, up there above you. Now, could anyone with the sense God gave an Orangutan juggling chainsaws tell me how it would make any sense at all to yell to someone above you that you need help because you're falling? Sure, if it was Superman or someone equally nonexistent, then they might be able to rush to your rescue, but otherwise…

Look, crying out for help in this situation isn't going to find you heard by those below. Well, once you're only a few hundred feet above the ground (or deck, if you're falling onto an aircraft carrier) they might hear something, but it would take a feat of extraordinary proportions to react fast enough to even avoid the blood splatter let alone any efforts to rescue from this dramatic end.

Besides, as you scream you're expelling large portions of air from your lungs, which is affecting your level of buoyancy (wow, I had to look up the spelling of that) in the atmosphere, only causing you to fall even faster and harder. So, maybe the next time you're in this spot, try holding your breath, maybe?

Hitchhiking for passing aircraft

When one is in a bit of a pickle, rash decisions can be made and some of these can be seen as a symptom of panic. Now, don't feel bad, as panicking when falling at terminal velocity is quite understandable, particularly when one is heavily laden with anvils, bricks, and fifteen bags of broken glass that weigh eight pounds apiece. Granted, most people aren't in such a pickle when they're falling, but pickles can come in varying degrees of difficulty when they're this sort of pickle, let me tell you.

Anyhoo, the chances that you'll spot an aircraft nearby that can actually do something other than demonstrate the occupants mouthing, what in the world do you think we're going to do, genius, (I need you to recognize you're not going to hear them because they are inside the aircraft and you, I'm afraid, are not. Further, the wind speed is going to hinder your ability to hear them unless you can get them on the phone and…wow, haven't we already been through this? Look, if you're going to survive this pickle, then you really need to pay attention and stop fidgeting, okay?), leaving you to options offering solutions equal to rolling your eyes at them (attitudes are not helpful here), which are not really viable options at all. Wow, that was an awkward sentence and I'm rather surprised Word didn't ping on it.

What you don't want is a helicopter hovering directly below you while the occupants scream out, we got you, dude, because they do not got you. Really. They don't.

Seeking a fall into a pool

I am proud of all of you for coming to the sensible and adult realization that there are no viable options for your rescue while you're still airborne and falling at terminal velocity. While I can't say there are no options whatsoever, I can say they diminish with every passing second. So, anyone with the sense of a panda with a pickaxe can recognize the next potential solution lies on the ground. What we're looking for is a soft spot or one that will minimize any bodily injury.

What you're looking for is a trampoline.

People love these stupid contraptions and buy them at a rate exceeding Justin Bieber paper targets, never taking in the fact that trampolines lead to more injuries than Special Olympics archery competitions. In fact, you have to wonder about the state of mind of people when they buy something that is hurtling their untrained children into the air with no contingency plan as to what to do on the way down, but the Emergency Room employees just adore the opportunities to pass the time.

So, while a trampoline will hurl you skyward (which is something akin to what you've grown tired of) it will be at a drastically reduced rate of speed and your subsequent fall will almost certainly not be at terminal velocity, but might still lead to significant injury. That is because subsequent injury is something that occurs wherever moronic things like trampolines exist. Oh, and I have no clue why a panda would have a pickaxe.

But you don't want to aim for a pool. Thinking you're going to do some sort of swan dive while at terminal velocity seems really cool at first, but one must consider the actual density of water. Hitting the water at such speeds is going to resemble hitting partially dried concrete at high rates of speed. You might as well just aim for a basketball court and count your blessings.

Removing your pants to create a streamer effect

Granted, while this seems like you're thinking on your toes (so to speak) and does often come as a part of emergency training for soldiers and other elite personnel, you have to consider a few variables. Now, just based on statistics (I am not judging) who are the people who wear parachute pants? Yeah, exactly; people who listen to Justin Bieber and are stuck in the eighties, all at the same time, and people who are grossly overweight.

Do you want to see the mangled remains of a body that has Justin Bieber tattooed all over those pasty-white thighs? Same here, sweetie. And I can't tell you what's going to happen to someone who is significantly overweight and falling at that rate of speed, regardless of their choice in pants.

There is some truth to the notion that one's pants can provide a streamer effect and produce some drag, thereby reducing one's speed on the way down, but remember what your mother always told you:

Always wear clean underpants; what if you're ever in an accident!

Just to point out a few things: How clean are your underpants going to be once you've discovered you're falling at terminal velocity?

Same here, sweetie.

It reminds me of those pamphlets they pass out at Yellowstone. If a bear attacks you, lie down and just play dead. Sure, you might play dead and not move while that thing mauls and eventually eats you, but you're going to get your underpants dirty. Nobody wants to see that, so die with some dignity for a change.

Yelling Geronimo!

Okay, we've already discussed the issue of buoyancy in a thin atmosphere, so yelling anything (like, Holy terminal velocity, Batman!) is reducing your chances of floating like a balloon, even though we know most people don't float in the air regardless of how much air is stored up in their lungs. In fact, when I was in the fifth grade, I knew a kid who took a big swig of helium from a party balloon and then jumped off the back of the bleachers, thinking he might just ease to the ground.

Oh, those were the days! Hearing him cry out about his ankle in that voice was one of the funniest things I've ever heard in my life! But there's a lesson here, my friends, and that is there isn't anything you can say that's going to make this better. Furthermore, the word Geronimo has no magical effect on a fall, and to be honest, neither does the word, abracadabra, so don't yell that, either. I say that because if someone hears you yelling abracadabra while you're falling at terminal velocity, they're more likely to just stand there and watch for a dramatic finish rather than rush to your assistance.

If they hear you yelling Geronimo…same thing.

So, there you have it, kids! 7 Things to Avoid if you are ever in a situation where you are falling at terminal velocity. Now, if you're curious at all about something you should do when you're falling at terminal velocity, hoping for some sort of positive outcome, I would recommend you ask Danny Bonaduce.

He won't be able to provide you with any sensible solutions, but his expression to the question would be amusing to most of us.


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