A NEW SCIENCE: HOW TO FALL

One person falls a quarter of a mile and survives; another sprawls on a bathroom floor and is killed. In finding why, science is giving valuable tips to paratroopers.

A man and his wife were flying over the snow fields of Alaska at fifteen hundred feet. They were talking cheerfully, but suddenly a remark of the husband's received no reply. Turning from the controls, he saw the door of the plane swinging open; his wife was gone.

In a flood of horror, he realized that she had fallen, without parachute or protection of any sort, more than a quarter of a mile. That was certainly the end. Yet, with the stubbornness of the human mind that will hope against all logic, he circled back, landed on an ice field, and began a despairing search for the woman he loved.

During two hours he stumbled on through the heavy drifts, his eyes half blinded by the flaring whiteness, and then he happened on a deep hole in the even surface of the snow. Peering down, he saw at the bottom, fifteen feet below, the body of his wife.

Rapid digging brought her to the surface, and when at last he held the woman in his arms unbelievable joy flooded his veins: though unconscious, she was warm and breathing. He staggered to a nearby Eskimo village, where he borrowed a dog sled.

The wife was treated first by a native doctor and then by an orthopedic surgeon rushed up from Seattle; it was two months before she was strong enough to be carried to a hospital in Canada. But in the end she limped from the hospital doors, able to return to active living.

This woman had fallen more than a quarter of a mile and had survived; yet strong men are killed daily by slips on the sidewalk or a parlor rug that involve falls no greater than their own heights. The capriciousness of chance could seem to go no further.

We all know that luck seems to preside over every accident. A

____________________
An earlier version of this essay appeared in Science Year Book of 1944, ed. John D. Ratcliff ( New York: Doubleday. Doran, 1944), pp. 193-200.

-309-

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