This is an interesting question. The first thing to consider is why the heck you would be jumping in the first place! There are a lot of other ways to end it all besides jumping off a thousand foot tall building which could just turn you into a cripple, or even worse, a vegetable. Not to mention the mess it would make for the pedestrians below! Let’s take a look at the science behind the fall, and discover the details of that last final jump.
Disclaimer: Before reading this article, please note that jumping off a skyscraper will prove fatal and is not encouraged or recommended by the author or this website, nor is it encouraged as a sport in any way.
There are a whole host of things that come into play when a person jumps off a building. Newtonâ??s law of universal gravitation has a formula (n=mg) to calculate the force of impact between two bodies of different masses. This force is measured in newtons (n). One newton is equal to the force that would give a mass of one kilogram an acceleration of one metre per second. The Earthâ??s gravity (g) alone causes objects to fall at a rate of at least 32 feet per second which is 21.8 miles per hour. Now, considering a jumper’s body mass (m), the speeds can range from 110 mph with arms and legs fully extended. If they are balled up, or in a vertical position then they could be falling at over 180 mph. Since we are considering the speed of a person jumping from a tall skyscraper, we need to determine the actually height, because the distance they will fall is going to affect how much time they have to accelerate before they ‘gently’ touch down on the pavement.
If a person was to jump off of the Empire State building in New York City; they would be falling 1,454 feet. Yikes! It would take anywhere from 8-12 seconds to fall before they would make impact depending on wind drag, friction, and body mass. The average man could reach about 208 miles per hour at the time of impact if they jumped head first, stay vertical the whole fall, and are wearing tight fitting clothing. So if you look up and find yourself directly below a jumper wearing lycra, you need to run out of the way very quickly. The force would be about 1.9 newtons for a person of 115kg. Depending on the heart health of the person, they could actually die from a heart attack on the way down!
Of course, the actual impact is what usually kills a person. The likelihood of death depends primarily on if they are feet first or not. Although off a very high building it wouldn’t really matter which way you landed as you’d end up looking like an omelette anyhow. However, the best way to land is to be feet first, relaxed, with knees slightly bent, and arms in a position to protect the face and head. When the feet make contact, believe it or not, the best way to fall is forward. The person may break all the bones in their body, but if their neck and skull remain mostly intact they could live to see another day. A person that makes impact feet first is more likely to survive a fall from a tall building. Sure, they might survive if the building isn’t extremely tall. Although they might end up being three feet tall, and have to be fed Jell-O through a straw for the rest of their lives!
I’m afraid of heights and sometimes people ask me why. In answer to this question I say that if I got killed by a bomb blast, a shark or gunfire, the run up to the death would be relatively short. Falling from a height on the other hand petrifies me, as I can imagine time slowing down as you are falling. That 10 seconds would feel like 30 seconds for sure and when you are airborne and heading for the ground there’s no way back. Just what are you meant to think about on the way down?