Minimum fatal drop (somewhat morbid)

I’m working on a piece of fanfic with a friend at the moment, in which a character is killed by falling from a balcony onto a solid concrete floor. The character is reasonably athletic, but not a trained acrobat, so will make the best landing possible - in other words, not on his head.

What’s the minimum distance he can fall to make this realistic? 30’? 50’? 100’? A number of stories would be just as good - 4, 6, 10? We don’t need medical data, we just want to stop people saying “Ha! A fall from an n’th floor balcony isn’t going to kill him!”

Ain’t no such animal. People have been killed falling from as few as a few feet, and have survived falls of thousands of feet. There’s simply too many variables involoved to say a fall of X feet is definitely survivable, while a fall of Y feet is invariably fatal. One could, for instance, jump from the second floor of a building and land on one’s feet on the concrete sidewalk below, but suffer a compound fracture of the femur which severs the femoral artery causing him to bleed to death.

Excellent idea, thanks. Now we just have to decide how gruesome to make the description. :slight_smile:

I knew someone who killed herself by jumping off a first floor balcony, roughly ten feet above ground level.

Don’t sweat the physics; just be descriptive of the aftereffect. The character doesn’t have to die instantly. He can have a few moments when he tries to get up and move but feels something inside his body pull sharply, sending him dizzyingly back to his knees. His mouth fills with blood, making him cough a red spray over the backs of his hands. His fingers shake, smearing the tiny puddles, staining the floor. His eyes try to follow the patterns but can’t focus. His head turns toward the sounds of running footsteps, concerned bystanders closing in on him. He tries to tell them he’s okay, tries to tell them anything, but collapses on his side instead. His shattered ribs grind and creak but he can no longer hear them.

Dan Brown, is that you?


No, the description is too believable–this could, just possibly, happen.

FWIW, I have heard that iron workers stop worrying about the height after 30 ft. After about that height, it doesn’t matter how far one falls…
Don’t have a cite though.

I heard somewhere (maybe even here) that a 14 foot fall onto concrete is the height where 50% of the fallees die from it. Seems kind of low but that is why I remembered it.

But just before he died, he hacked up a piece of thyme and spit it on the sidewalk, where it landed with a wet plop in exactly in the shape of a pyramid.

Well, yes, but was it a 3-sided pyramid or a 4-sided pyramid?

There’s no such thing as a three-sided pyramid. A four-side “pyramid” is a tetrahedron. A “real” pyramid has five sides.

That was extremely nit-picky, wasn’t it? :wink:

… thought Dr. Goodguy as he stroked his rugged but handsome chin on the way to the secret Trilateral headquarters bunker in the center of the earth on a supersonic black helicopter, which had appeared out of the earth in an almost supernatural way.

I have heard it this way too. Or rather fall from the fourth floor and up you are done for which is close enough for government work (~40 feet).

What others say is true…very slight falls have killed people and then some have survived falling thousands of feet.

For your story you just want to keep it within the realm of believability for most people so under 30’ is probably doable (although onto flat concrete [no slope to it] I am thinking 30’ is pushing it).

FYI this page says:

"It is estimated that the human body reaches 99% of its low-level terminal velocity after falling 573m 1880ft which takes 13-14 sec. This is 117-125mph at normal atmospheric pressure and in a random posture.

(At the 1100 ft Emley Moor TV mast near me they reckon that you would reach terminal velocity (great term) well before hitting the ground)"

My husband the engineer tells me something similar, but with 10 feet. The technical term for the “dose” at which 50% die is the LD50 (lethal dose, 50). I found that quite sobering.

Only 10 feet? I know I have jumped 10 feet before and was fine (did it fairly frequently when I was a kid). If it is only your head breaking your fall then I can see it but otherwise I find it hard to believe 10 feet is lethal to 50% of people who fall that far.

I am not really sure of the height but these are falls, not jumps. Think falling off a ladder and hitting concrete.

I once had a friend that worked building radio towers and once told me ,following a fall and hospital stay, that those in his business called a fall like his a “dead man’s fall”. “Why?” I asked. He said it was under 15 feet. It is called this because that distance is too short to twist and correct your posture but high enough to kill. A bit higher and you may still twist yourself aroung to try and land on your feet. Too low and you land on your head.

The 10-foot figure seems far too low to me. From here:

Now, this obviously does not include victims who were not taken to the hospital because they were declared dead at the scene, but given the overall survivability statistics in this study, I find it difficult to believe that only 50% of people survive a fall from ten feet. Thirty seems more reasonable.

That study has a bias though, in that the subjects are children. The composition of human flesh, muscle tissue and bone is not hugely different when comparing a 10-year old and a 30-year old, but if the child weighs 40 kilograms and the adult weighs 80 kilograms, the adult is going to hit the concrete with much greater force, inviting more broken bones and bleeding and whatnot for overall greater (and possibly fatal) injury.