Optimal Strategy in a Free-falling Elevator

I’m thinking the best idea would be to lie down on the floor. Since the force of the impact will be directly down, it will press your body into the floor, but there wouldn’t be much if any external trauma, since the floor would shield your body from the impact. The only problem is that your internal organs will be violently thrown about inside your body. Doesn’t sound pleasant, but I’m thinking it might be preferable than having your body slam into the floor.

As to what position, I could see it to ways. My first thought is to lie on your side with one arm under your head, thus giving your brain some cushion. But I’m wondering if the internal organs issue might be worse if you’re on your side (since people are wider than their thickness).

But of course, this is idle speculation and not based on any sort of knowledge or expertise. I’m wondering what more informed opinion holds.

How many floors free-fall are we talking about here?

Bend over, kiss your ass goodbye.

Lying down won’t work. Your entire body will still experience the sudden stop at the bottom.

Get on all fours and let your arms and legs act as shock absorbers between the trunk of your body and the floor, allowing a better chance for your internal organs and head to remain less injured.

I would assume you’d want to lie as flat as possible with your arms over your head to distribute the force of the impact as widely as possible and provide your fragile head with some protection and padding from anything falling on top of you.

I once read that falls from dangerous heights are most survivable for people who land on their feet rather than land in a horizontal position. The thinking is that the energy transfers into your legs first, and so even if you suffer terrible fractures it still absorbs some energy before it transfers to your pelvis, spine, and (eventually) head.

You wouldn’t want to be laying prone on the floor of the elevator any more than you would want to fall out of a tree and land in a belly flop position. I’m not sure what the difference is between falling onto an immobile floor and having a moving floor abruptly stop. The mechanism of injury appears to be identical.

If there is someone else inside the elevator with you, lie on top of them.

If you’re in an elevator free-falling at a conservative speed of 60 mph, I think that if you’re standing, the shock of the impact is likely to knock you off your feet, anyway.


People always talk about elevators falling, as if this is some common occurrence. It’s like the way they’re worried about teleporters scrambling their body parts with those of a fly.
Moving boxes that transport people and material up and down have been around for hundreds of years. They’[re depicted in Pieter Brueghe the Elder’s paitning of The Tower of Babylon (1563), and are probably a great deal older.

Elisha Otis didn’t inventor the Elevator (he actually purchased an elevator company, Evans Lifts, from Britain) – he invented a safety stop that would prevent the elevator from falling if the chain/rope snapped.

All elevators have arresting devices to prevent accidents. Despite what you might see in films likeThe Matrix, cutting the cables on an elevator won’t precipitate people to their deaths.

The other problem not mentioned is that the elevator not going to stay intact with any significant fall. Even if you survive hitting the ground, you not have the entire top of the elevator crashing down on top of you.

Absolutely. That’s also part of the shock-absorbing effect of standing up when you land. Paratroopers learn to land in ways that minimize injuries and they start with their feet. I wasn’t a paratrooper, but Drilll Sergeants always called our ass the “fourth point of contact”, and I’m assuming points 1-3 were feet, ankles and knees.

How do you lay on the floor when you’re weightless?

Absolutely. When the Mythbusters tested the elevator free fall, they disabled all of the safety stops before they cut the cable.

You don’t. You’re going to be in free fall just as if you were jumping from the upper floors down an empty elevator shaft. The only difference an elevator will make is that the ceiling will crash down on top of you after you land.

And possibly (?) there are some shock absorbers or something that might make landing on the elevator floor slightly better than landing on the concrete floor of the elevator shaft. I don’t know, I haven’t been in the bottom of an empty elevator shaft. Possibly there will be some friction on the way down that will prevent the elevator from being in complete free fall, so you might still have some weight holding you to the floor.

I saw the bottom of an elevator shaft that had some huge coil springs at the bottom. I imagined after slamming into the floor of the elevator car I’d be suddenly hurled upward to crash into the ceiling.

There are pneumatic elevators that have a very limited rate of descent, on top of the already mentioned safety devices that will stop a falling elevator car. The much greater danger is stepping into an elevator car that isn’t there, or one that stops when it’s not aligned with the floor. Even an inch of misalignment can cause people to trip and fall, and it’s an indication that the elevator is malfunctioning and may move again with the doors open.


Depending on design, an elevator car may have several cables suspending it from above.

If all of them are severed, the car has a counterweight that will stop it falling too fast.

If the counterweight is also severed, the car will have some sort of braking mechanism that will grip onto the shaft and stop it falling.

If all else fails, the car and/ or the shaft will have buffers (big springs) at the bottom to soften the impact.

If you are ever in a falling elevator, just keep calm, you’re gonna walk away from it.

I don’t think the physics on that work out. The whole car might bounce, but what’s going to accelerate you faster than the rest of the car to bounce into the ceiling?

One last romp, hey? Sure hope it’s Jennie from HR and not Marvin from Accounting I’m in there with.

Your best bet is probably to do like Kirk with the Kobayashi Maru. Add some extra cables before you get on.