A Man Who Nearly Drowned at the Height of 30,000 Ft

Not many survival stories can rival the miracle that happened to Marine Lt. Col. William Henry Rankin in 1959. See for yourself: one bad day, this man nearly drowned — falling from the sky! Um, are you saying that it sounds too paradoxical to be true?

So, it was a high-altitude flight, and Rankin, together with his wingman were flying at the height of more than 47,000 ft. The only thing that could cause some trouble was a storm that was raging far beneath the planes, but now, it didn’t present any threat. However, the pilots were supposed to pass through this storm on their way to the Marine air base in Beaufort, South Carolina…

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“Engine failure. I have to eject.” 0:24
Decompression 1:46
… wasn’t the worst thing 2:53
Falling through the black clouds 3:26
Is it possible to drown in the sky? 5:07
How he landed 6:27
…and what happened to him next 7:07

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– Things took a turn for the worse when the aircraft was approximately 9 miles and mere minutes away from the military base. Suddenly, Rankin’s engine quit, and the fire warning light switched on.
– Desperately trying to keep his plane from gaining speed and going into a complete nosedive, Rankin radioed his partner, “Engine failure. I have to eject.”
– Rankin was in a free fall at a height of 40,000 feet, with a temperature of minus 65 degrees F.
– When the man found himself in the air at such an unprecedented height, he experienced severe decompression. It felt as if his stomach had increased to twice its size, and his nose seemed like it was about to explode.
– Rankin continued falling, and all he could feel besides all-encompassing fear was the shocking cold.
– Rankin had been falling through the black clouds with almost no visibility for about five minutes, surrounded by lightning, rain, hail, and violent winds, when something went wrong with the barometer that was supposed to deploy his parachute automatically.
– ut it wasn’t just any old thunderstorm. Nope, the unlucky 39-year-old fighter pilot plunged straight into a cumulonimbus cloud.
– Lightning snapped and crackled around Rankin, and even though he didn’t hear the thunder per se, he could feel it vibrating through his body. The hailstones were so big that at some moments, Rankin worried they would tear his parachute.
– The pilot was shocked to discover that he was relatively unscathed, the lightning hadn’t grazed him, his parachute was in one piece, and he hadn’t drowned in the rainwater. The only thing he had to worry about now was a safe landing.
– At first, Rankin was going down toward a clearing, but his bad luck continued, because, at the last moment, a powerful gust of wind threw him into a tree.
– After freeing himself and staggering to his feet, the pilot limped through the forest until he found a country road. But hitching a ride turned out to be a tough task.
– Rankin spent several weeks in the hospital and made a complete recovery. Later, he wrote the book “The Man Who Rode the Thunder” where he described his experience.

Music by Epidemic Sound https://www.epidemicsound.com/

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