Human hail?

The Discovery Channel had a show on about weather phenomena. In describing the strength of a storm, the show summarized a story of 3 glider pilots:

Apparently, they flew into a powerful hail storm that sucked them up into the clouds. Eventually, all 3 fell to the earth completely and individually coated with ice. Literally, they became human hail. Improbable, but not terribly shocking to me so far. Finally, I hear the real unbelievable part: One of them actually survived this ordeal.

Now, is this even possible? I’ve heard the story of one skydiver whose parachute didn’t open yet managed to walk away unharmed. I was even skeptical of that story.

But for the Discovery Channel to transmit a story that’s doubly unbelievable (human hail + 1 survivor) and not expand on it surprises me.

Does anyone know if it’s real?

I cannot answer the question, but can probably provide some info that may assist your quest.

I have experience skydiving (several hundred jumps) and soaring (several hundred hours).

One thing you should know about soaring, pilots deliberately seek out developing thunderheads. This may sound screwy, but is easily explainable. In the desert Southwest (at least), thunderheads develop in isolation. What these isolated clouds are marking is a very strong thermal. These are sought out while they are developing and before rain is coming from them. It is prudent to exit the thermal before you get too close to the bottom of the cloud. Mistakes here have gotten more than a couple pilots in trouble. Sailplane pilots frequently wear parachutes as well. All this makes the idea of several pilots finding themselves in a really bad spot and deciding to bail out pretty reasonable.

As a skydiver, I can tell you that people do survive falls without their parachute. This isn’t exactly common, but not unheard of. I can’t think of a documented case of anyone “walking away” from a fall without an open parachute. Many of the no parachute stories are really without ANY parachute. Typically, the person has at least something out increasing drag and reducing impact speed. Good? No. But better than nothing.

What would make more sense is this.

*Pilots get into trouble in an intense thunderstorm.
*Pilots bail out.
*Pilots are held in the thunderhead by the intense updraft and to come degree covered in ice.
*Pilots eventually fall out of cloud.
*One of the pilots has little enough ice on him, is still conscious, etc… and manages to use his parachute and survives.

Did the story say he didn’t have a parachute?
Did the story say he survived without injury, or just survived?


Should be:
Many of the no parachute stories are not really without ANY parachute.

If they had opened their parachutes, then maybe the thermals kept them up too long in the hailstorm (isn’t this how hailstones form?)

Storms strong enough to form hailstones can have updrafts strong enough to support a person in the cloud without the deployment of a parachute. Proper training also indicates free falling until clear of such powerful updrafts.

There was no mention of parachutes. I agree that if they were wearing parachutes, the story would become a whole lot more believable. Do glider pilots typically wear parachutes?

It is not “standard equipment”, but it is not uncommon either.

Many sailplanes have at least modest aerobatics capabilities. If you are going to do any aerobatics, you should wear one.

I frequently wore one.