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March 15, 2012

How should you position yourself in a free-falling elevator for the best chance of survival?


Finally, something useful.

C. Claiborne Ray's "Q&A" column in Tuesday's New York Times Science section had the answer; it follows.

Q. If I find myself in a free-falling elevator, is there any position that might increase my chance of survival? (Climbing on top of other people is not an acceptable answer.)

A. The best option would be to lie on your back on the floor as flat as possible, said Eliot H. Frank, a research engineer at the Center for Biomedical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"This will distribute the force of impact over the greatest area of your body so that no particular part of your body is subjected to the weight of any other part of your body," he said.

"The impact of the elevator at the bottom of the shaft would subject you to extreme gravitational acceleration, or G-forces," Dr. Frank explained. “The number of G's you experience multiplies your normal weight, so if you experience 10 G's, you would experience 10 times the weight of your body.

"You might think that bracing yourself or bending your legs would help, but at high G-forces, your legs would simply not be able to support the weight of your body," he said. "Even the weight of your own head would be too much for your neck to support."

The folk wisdom of jumping up at the moment of impact is convincingly debunked in a "Mythbusters" video on the Discovery Channel Web site. It would not work unless you could know the precise moment of impact and leap at the same speed the elevator is plunging.

Assume the position.

Illustration up top by Victoria Roberts.

March 15, 2012 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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Perhaps we need to put in a bed of spikes at the bottom of the guest elevator shaft in our Canary Warf offices. Blowfeld and the like don't get to leave MI5 alive. Q.

Posted by: 6.02*10^23 | Mar 16, 2012 11:10:54 AM

Just to add,


Posted by: JoePeach | Mar 16, 2012 9:45:02 AM

according to my brother, who is an elevator mechanic, elevators do not "plummet". Due to the counterweights, they "fall up". Feel better????

Posted by: retail maven | Mar 16, 2012 3:24:20 AM

thats a good idea fred - do you donate your organs?

Posted by: sherlock | Mar 16, 2012 1:30:07 AM

I would lie flat on my back, but would cushion my head by placing my forearms underneath it (holding my upper arms with the opposite hands). I wouldn't care if it broke my forearms as they would effectively be helping to decelerate my brain.

Posted by: Fred | Mar 15, 2012 11:39:31 PM

Now I lay me down to...

Posted by: JoePeach | Mar 15, 2012 5:23:34 PM

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