Airplane Survival Stories

History Uncovered Episode 94:
People Who Fell Out Of Planes — And Lived

Published November 9, 2023

Discover mind-boggling stories of people who fell out of airplanes, plummeted as much as six miles through the air, and slammed into the ground — yet somehow lived.

In January 1942, when German warplanes suddenly appeared in the sky right in front of Lieutenant Colonel Ivan Chisov, the 26-year-old Soviet navigator had just seconds to react. He was in an Ilyushin Il-4 bomber when the Nazi planes emerged out of nowhere, then launched an attack that sent his craft spinning out of control. Without much choice, Chisov leapt from the doomed plane and into the sky.

As Chisov plummeted toward the earth from a height of 23,000 feet, he decided to wait to pull open his parachute. Enemy planes surrounded him and he worried that if they spotted the blooming canvas, they would immediately attack and shoot him out of the sky. So Chisov made the stomach-dropping decision to wait as long as he could. There was just one problem. As he fell to earth, the lack of oxygen caused him to pass out.

Ilyushin Il 4 Bomber

Public DomainIvan Chisov was in an Ilyushin Il-4 bomber like this one when he was shot out of the sky.

Unconscious and unable to pull the rip cord to deploy his parachute, Chisov plummeted in free fall toward the snowy banks below. Finally, he smashed into the ground at a speed of 118 to 150 miles per hour. But incredibly, Chisov wasn’t crushed as he collided with the earth. Instead, the snow absorbed much of the impact and Chisov bounced and then slid to the bottom of a ravine. Then, nearby Soviet cavalry rushed to his aid and found, to their astonishment, that he was still alive.

He hadn’t escaped his brush with death unharmed — Chisov had a broken leg, pelvis, and spinal injuries — however, he had miraculously survived. Chisov was taken to the hospital and treated by doctors. But then, against all odds, he took to the skies once more. Undeterred by his fall from the heavens, Chisov was back flying missions against the Nazis within three months.

As incredible as this story was, Chisov wasn’t the only soldier to survive such a dizzying fall. Other airmen like Alan Magee of the U.S. Air Force and Nicholas Alkemade of the British Royal Air Force, survived similar falls straight out of the sky in the midst of war. Each of these men plummeted more than 15,000 feet and somehow managed to survive. And stories like theirs aren’t even limited to wartime.

In 1971, 17-year-old Juliane Koepcke survived a fall of 10,000 feet when her plane was struck by lightning over the Peruvian rainforest. Koepcke awoke in the jungle with minor injuries and was able to hike to find help. The very next year, flight attendant Vesna Vulović fell even further — an astounding 33,000 feet — after an explosion in the baggage compartment tore through her plane as it was flying over Czechoslovakia.

Today, we’ll be discussing people who have fallen from mind-boggling heights. And most — though tragically not all — managed to survive. These are their remarkable stories.

Read more about the most astonishing survival stories in recorded history.

Learn more about the music used in our podcast. History Uncovered is part of the Airwave Media network. Learn more about your ad choices by visiting