Browsing the web the other day, I ran across the case of Joan Murray who experienced a skydiving accident on September 25, 1999.
On September 25, 1999, she went on a skydive from 14,500 feet. Her main parachute could not open, and although her backup parachute opened at 700 feet, it quickly deflated. She approached the ground at 81 miles per hour (130 kilometers per hour), landing on a mound of fire ants. Doctors believe that the shock of being stung over 200 times by the ants released a surge of adrenaline which kept her heart beating.
Murray suffered serious injuries, shattering the right side of her body and knocking fillings out of her teeth. She went into a coma for two weeks at Carolinas Medical Center, but survived after 20 reconstructive surgeries and 17 blood transfusions. She continued work at Bank of America after the accident, turning down retirement because of disability. She took physical therapy sessions and went on a 37th skydive in 2001. Her daughter Carmen chose to skydive to celebrate her 18th birthday – celebrating life and not focusing on what was a freak accident.
Looking at other cases of people who survived these sorts of accidents, they all seem to have one thing in common–something intervenes near the end of their falls to slow their velocity to around 80 miles per hour or less. This is significantly less than the typical velocity of 115-120 mph that a skydiver at that height typically achieves before deploying a parachute.