They Fell From the Skies and Lived to Tell the Tale

Hamilton ranks falls on a 1-to-100 scale based upon distance fallen and other factors. At the top of his scale, with a score of 96, is Vesna Vulovic, a Yugoslavian stewardess said to have survived a 33,000-foot fall in plane wreckage in Czechoslovakia in 1972 -- though the account recently was challenged.

Also near the top of Hamilton's all-time list is the March 1944 case of Nicholas Stephen Alkemade, a British World War II airman forced to bail out of a burning plane at 18,000 feet over Germany, unable to reach his parachute.

"I had no sensation of falling. It was more like being at rest on an airy cloud," he wrote in Reader's Digest in 1958. "If this was dying it was nothing to be afraid of. I only regretted that I should go without saying goodbye to my friends. I would never again see Pearl, my sweetheart back home in Loughborough. And I'd been due to go on leave the following Saturday. Then -- nothing. I must have blacked out."

Alkemade woke up hours later in snow and underbrush looking up at interlaced fir trees. He felt pain in his back but could move his legs. He thanked God. He reached into his pocket for a cigarette and lit up.

Soon, he was dragged away by Nazis. His captors doubted his story until confirming details using physical evidence from the wrecked plane, where Alkemade's unused parachute was found.

Michael Holmes: 'Oh S***, I'm Dead. Bye.'

More recently, as with Shayna West, a large part of the "wow" factor in these survival falls is that they are captured on video -- as happened in three falls by British men.

Briton Michael Holmes even got to deliver what he thought was his final goodbye via a helmet camera when he fell approximately 12,000 feet in December 2006 over Lake Taupo, New Zealand at age 25. About 5 seconds from impact, after struggling almost a minute to regain control of his parachute, he can be seen waving and heard saying goodbye.

"I tried to think of the right thing to say for the camera," he told Australia's Sunday Mail in February 2007. "But I looked at the ground again and just blurted out, 'Oh s***, I'm dead. Bye.'"

Holmes, who said he had done 7,000 jumps, told the Sunday Mail that he was angry about the failure of his emergency efforts, and in his final moments "didn't have time to think about anything" like his loved ones or his life experiences.

"I was frightened, but not overwhelmingly so," he said in subsequent comments published by New Scientist magazine in October 2007. "I even remember accepting that I was going to die, and from then on everything seemed peaceful. I hit the ground at about 35 meters per second [almost 80 mph], so I really should have died. I survived because some blackberry bushes cushioned my fall."

He suffered a broken ankle and punctured lung, but said he never considered giving up skydiving.

Paul Lewis: 'It's All Over'

Fellow Brit Paul Lewis, 40, a skydive cameraman, got video of his Aug. 14, 2009 fall on a 10,000-foot skydive over Shropshire, England. He told the media he became fearful and "resigned to dying" after struggling in vain with his snarled parachute.

"I didn't shout out goodbye mum or dad, or anything like that," he told the British newspaper News of the World, which ran video of his fall soon after it happened. "I just looked at the ground and quite calmly said, 'It's all over.' ... And I shut my eyes -- and blacked out."

An airplane hangar roof broke his fall and he suffered no broken bones, according to accounts.

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