Even though it’s a super convenient way to navigate buildings, cramming yourself into an elevator full of strangers and relying on thin cables to hoist you up and down is less-than fun. Fortunately, the companies that install them do a great job — most of the time.
One natural fear when you step into those potential death traps is the cables snapping, followed by a vicious plummet to the ground floor. Luckily, history shows us there are a few simple tricks anyone can use to ensure they survive the long fall down.
Elevators. Some people love the convenience with which they carry them floor to floor without having to use their own legs, but others see them as metal death traps that must be avoided at all costs.
Not only can it be unsettling to hear the moan of an elevator shaft and the rickety cranking of the cables pulling you towards your destination, but when an elevator is full of strangers, claustrophobia can kick in fast.
Let’s face it, we’ve all stepped into an elevator, pushed the button for the floor we needed, and wondered what would happen if something went awry. Well, that “if” became a stark reality for a one woman in 1945 when she plummeted from a record-breaking height.
Her name was Betty Lou Oliver, and when she was 20 years old, she worked as an elevator attendant in the New York City’s Empire State Building. On July 28, 1945, her workday was anything but ordinary.
It all started with a B-25 bomber. It was the final months of World War II, and the plane was making a routine trip from Massachusetts to LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York.
The plane was carrying servicemen, and it was a route the bomber took dozens of times before. However, a thick layer of fog enveloped the city on this particular day.
Even though the pilot, Captain William Smith, was a seasoned veteran who knew his way around the inside of many different planes, the fog caused him to nervously veer in the wrong direction. Then, disaster struck.
The bomber smashed directly into the Empire State Building between floors 78 and 80, killing the captain, the two servicemen on board, and 11 people who were working on the floors at the time.
It was an absolute disaster. Witnesses described walls of flames all around them. Some people even leaped out the windows assuming all hope was lost. Down on the street level, chaos also ensued.
Firefighters pulled up, eager to save everyone they could. People were staring on in horror as the flames engulfed the upper floors. Throughout all of this, Betty was inside fearing for her life.
Betty was working on the eightieth floor at the time of the crash, and she suffered severe burns and several broken bones. First aid workers rushed her into an elevator and punched the ground floor button.
However, workers didn’t take into consideration the damage the impact of the plane did to the elevator, and just seconds into her descent, the cables snapped. Betty plunged roughly 1,000 feet to the bottom.
Now, it’s impossible to picture anyone survive a fall from that height. But, in an absolutely miraculous series of events, the thousand feet of broken elevator cable coiled up on the ground below acted as a springy cushion.
Betty’s ridiculous fall down the elevator shaft actually landed her in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest survived fall down an elevator shaft. Her story is enough to spook anyone into taking the stairs.
Luckily, elevators crashes are rare. Occasionally they might get stuck, but an accident where the cables snap is extremely rare. Funny enough, Walt Disney World has a ride that simulates the disaster.
Anyone who loves thrilling rides can’t leave Disney World without visiting the exhilarating Tower of Terror that drops riders over 131 feet. But, what if you really were in that situation?
There’s a popular belief that jumping while an elevator is in free fall will increase the rate of survival, but Mythbusters debunked it. Your body will smash into the ground with just as much force, eviscerating your person.
If you really want to increase the chance of surviving, experts say to lie on top of luggage if you have it. The luggage will absorb much of the impact — like those springs did for Betty — increasing your chances of living. But, there’s also another tactic.
If you can muster the wherewithal to lie down flat on your back, the chances of survival increase, as well. The assumption is spreading out your body disperses the impact over a larger area than taking it all in the legs.
In the end, a falling elevator situation is never going to end well. Just make sure you don’t jump. There are also a ton of other false survival tactics to be wary of.
Eat snow for water: Yeah, eating snow is better than downing a glass of pee, but snow’s cold. Like, really cold. Eating enough of it to satiate a serious thirst can bring your core temperature down to dangerous levels.
Always play dead when threatened by a bear: The opposite is true—you should back away! At least if it’s a brown or grizzly bear. They’re likely just trying to get you away from their kiddos. If a black bear threatens you, well… fight for your life.
Lean-tos make great shelters: They’re simple to build, just a series of branches leaned across a supporting beam-like branch. But they won’t keep you warm, dry, or safe from animals—like black bears—which is a survival shelter strikeout.
A big fire beats a shelter: Need to warm up? Bigger is not always better when it comes to survival. Focus on shelter first, even if it means you sleep beside a tiny fire. Put all your energy into a roaring flame and a rainstorm or heavy wind can leave you with nothing in a second.
Build a fire in a cave for warmth: A fire in a secluded cave—the perfect hovel, no? Almost romantic, even! Well, heat—like that from a fire—makes rocks expand. Expanding rocks break. Breaking rocks crush and trap people. Keep the fire outside.
Wet matches work when dried: Soaked by the rain? Took a dunk in a raging river? Hopefully, you didn’t have matches in your pocket. Moisture changes the chemical balance in match heads, making them impossible to light. Invest in a waterproof container.
Eat anything animals eat: When you do go searching for food, it’s common sense to think what’s good for the birds and squirrels is good for us, too, right? Not always. Birds and squirrels can eat berries, nuts, mushrooms, and more than human bodies find toxic.
Eating raw meat and seafood is safe: Ever have bad sushi? Sure, just bite into a raw fish, you rugged survivor, you. Expose yourself to pathogens and bacterium that wouldn’t leave you fit to survive the toilet. Be safe. Cook your meat.
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Find food immediately: Put that dead bug down and leave that rotting animal corpse where you found it—you can survive about six weeks without food. Yeah, it might be uncomfortable, but prioritize water, shelter, and safe-to-consume food before getting desperate.
Follow flying birds to find water: This works if the birds are actually flying towards the water, but since you, presumably, can’t read a bird’s mind, it’s impossible to know whether the flock’s flying toward an open field, South America, or a caravan of friendly monkeys.
Drink cactus fluid for hydration: There’s one — count ’em, one — type of cactus survivors can safely extract and drink water from without getting sick and vomiting. If you can’t pick out that particular barrel cactus, search for other water sources first.
Drink urine to stay hydrated: No one tell pee-drinking legend Bear Grylls, below, but if you’re dehydrated to the point that urine is an appetizing source of fluid, your pee is mostly made up of bodily waste. Therefore, it carries no true re-hydration value.
Drink raw blood to survive: Thirsty folks are better served not slurping down a few mouthfuls of animal blood, either. Consuming blood exposes you to diseases and illnesses you’d probably rather not deal with when stranded in the wilderness.
Suck on a stone for hydration: Dry mouth? Some survival myths suggest sucking on stones to work up saliva, but in doing so, you’d only be drawing much-needed moisture from other parts of your body. Is that worth sucking on dirty stones?
Moss grows on the north side of trees: Moss likes shade because without sunlight pestering it, it can better retain its moisture. That means north isn’t always the most conducive to growth. The angle of the sun at your given location, climate, and shade caused by environmental features can dictate moss growth.
Cut and suck a snakebite: Movies show it all the time. Someone suffers a snakebite, and a heroic buddy sucks the poison out. But it’s a farce. All this does is put spit into the open wound and spread venom into your mouth. Try putting pressure on the snakebite instead, then find a doctor.
Drinking liquor warms you up: Nothing perks the sense like a shot of booze in the cold, but because alcohol dilates surface blood vessels, it makes your blood more susceptible to the cold. And, you know, you need that stuff for your vital organs. Try coffee.
Rub frostbitten skin: Don’t do it. Frostbite forms when sharp ice crystals infiltrate your skin and tissue, so rubbing frostbite warm is the equivalent to rubbing sharp icicles into a suffering person’s soft tissues. You’ve got to slowly re-heat a frostbitten limb.
Hot tubs cure hypothermia: Rubbing frostbite won’t cut it, and neither will a hot tub. A dunk in hot water will spike low body temperatures, which can cause a heart attack. Instead, give the victim small doses of warmth by putting hot water bottles on their body.
Space blankets are useless: Mylar-coated emergency blankets look like something from a low-budget sci-fi film, but they do indeed reflect infrared energy, and therefore, heat. Wrap yourself in one of these to keep your body heat packed in tight.
Punch an attacking shark in the nose: Just think about how hard it would be getting a solid punch on the schnoz of an oncoming shark. How fast must you be? How accurate? Instead, put a solid object between you and the beast or claw at its eyes and gills.
Swim parallel to the shore if caught in a rip current: Most rip currents, top, work at an angle, so you can be swimming parallel to the shore while still getting ripped out to sea. Instead, swim along the shore, but towards it, too.