Survival in air

A plane falls apart in air, say 30 minutes after takeoff. How long will you be alive, asuming the plane did not explode?Minutes?Less than a minute?

In my plane, till you hit the ground :slight_smile:
We really need to know the altitude, airspeed, food served, obesity (er drag/mass ratio) of victim etc. Interesting question though, I always thought that one would quickly pass from hypoxia into consiousness well before … well … [edited in deference to recent tradegy]


I’ll be alive for a long time, because I’m not on the plane.

Was this flight shorter than 30 minutes? The plane is still in the air unless they store it in a total vacumm.

Were the people flying low under radar or at ten thousand feet.

As for anybody on the plane, do you remember the Indiana Jones and the life raft? Just grab the nearest Samsonite luggage and crawl inside.

I’m only your wildest fear, from the corners of your darkest thoughts.

30 minutes after take off, plane still is with full fuel load, instant bar-b-q. Or you may make it all the way to the inpact, but not much further. Just bend over and kiss your heini goodbye.


Actually, I saw something published when Payne Stewart’s plane crashed:

Time to passing out due to hypoxia:

40,000 feet - 15 secs
30,000 feet - 30 secs
I don’t remember much more, until 10,000 feet gave you like 20 minutes or so, but one hopes people could reduce altitude in 20 minutes or so to prevent this.

It didn’t say whether people were likely to revive as they free fell from 40,000 feet to less than 10,000 feet - but one tends to hope not…

Sue from El Paso

You lose about three degrees for every thousand feet. So, if you’re flying at 40,000 feet, the temperature is 120 degrees BELOW what it is on the ground. Thus, even on the hottest summer days it’s going to be about 20 below zero up there. Ergo, if hypoxia doesn’t get you, you’ll freeze to death.

Rastahomie: That’s not correct, because the lapse rate is not linear. It’s about 3 degrees F/1000 ft. when you start at sea level, but eventually slows, until eventually it actually starts to warm up.

The summit of Everest is at something like 37,000 ft. It’s not 120 degrees below zero there.

I don’t have the data handy, but I seem to recall that it never gets colder than about -60 or so before warming up.

The useful time before unconsciousness depends a LOT on the condition of the person, and the speed of decompression. There is a climber who went to the summit of Everest and back without any oxygen at all. Mind you, Everest climbers have to stop at various altitudes and wait long periods of time to acclimate.

Not very accurate, Rasta, but yes, it is freezing at 40,000 ft. It is my guess that the OP was induced by the recent AirEgypt’s accident near Nantucket, am I right Sunbear?

If that is the case, 30 minutes after take-off will take you close to 30,000 ft, where the air temperature is around 55°F below zero, and your consciousness will be lost in just a few seconds (15 or so) due to a lack of air pressure.

I can’t give you a more accurate info, since I’m working on this from the top of my head, but most probably you’d die from the impact with the ground. The time of exposure to sub-freezing temperatures and low air pressure would just not be long enough to kill you.

I just (sincerely) hope that you remain unconscious.

Just a little note, Dhanson. Mount Everest maximum elevation is 8,848 mt., or close to 29,000 ft. Not 37,000.

At the Tropopause (36,000 ft in a Standard -or ideal- Atmosphere), the temperature remains at a constant -56°C, or about -69°F.

The 30 min was just arbitrary. I was thinking of the last 3 planes that went down leaving Kennedy, or the East coast. And yes, I guess we have two points in time to deal with in estimates, unconsciousness and death.

Has there ever been a water landing where quite a few survived?

E1Skeptic: Thanks. Methinks I mixed up the height of Everest with the depth of the Marianas Trench, which is a little over 36,000 ft deep.

Ironically, an EygptAir ditched after it was hijacked and suffered fuel exhaustion. I believe there were quite a few survivors.


Wait a sec. You mean to tell me the residents of La Paz, Bolivia (elev. 11800 ft.) keep passing out every 20 minutes?

“For what a man had rather were true, he more readily believes” - Francis Bacon

Mark, if I lived in Bolivia, I’d do my best to pass out as quickly as possible, too.

Sunbear: Yes. There have been many “ditchings” in which passengers and crewmembers have survived. Check this out Comoro Islands ditching

But you have to remember than in those cases, the airplane has not been “blown apart”. At least not completely. Check this as an example Aloha Air

No, because they live there & their bodies have adapted. This chart referred to going from sea level to 10,000 in minutes, without pressurization. And I acknowledge quoting it from memory which may be affected by the altitude here in El Paso :wink:


The above post was inadvertently posted while PUNdit’s (my husband) name was still up - it came from me…

Sue from El Paso

You won’t pass out at 10,000 ft. When flying an airplane you don’t even have to use oxygen until you’re over 12,500. Even there, you probably won’t pass out, but you must use oxygen because your mental faculties may be diminished without it.

Some pressurized airplanes maintain cabin elevations of 8500 ft.

Ok, I did remember incorrectly…

here is a link to the story I saw:

& here are the key figures:

40,ooo feet - 15 seconds
35 20
30 30
25 2.5 minutes
20 10 minutes
15,ooo Indefinite.

Sorry for the inaccuracy.

Sue from El Paso

It seems to me that all this discussion about passing out due to low air density and freezing temperatures is kinda irrelevant. Regardless of the altitude at which you become separated from an airplane, without it you’re not going to be at any altitude long enough to worry about it.

Although it varies with several conditions, I believe the terminal velocity of a human body – the maximum falling speed, or the point where air resistance roughly equals the kinetic energy of the falling body – is around 180 mph, or 264 fps. Assuming a beginning vertical velocity of 0, and allowing a little for air resistance, you’ll reach that speed in roughly ten seconds, during which time you’ll have already descended around 1,500 ft. Thereafter, you’ll be losing another thousand feet of altitude every four seconds or so. Thus, if you unwisely or unfortunately deplane at 30,000 feet, you’ll find yourself in warmer and denser air in very short order.

In other words, as has already been pointed out, what’s gonna getcha is the ground (or the water, which, at 180 mph, is just about as unforgiving). I seem to recall reading about a coroner who described the death of a less-than-skillful skydiver as being the result of “excessive deceleration…”

The most frightening thought, in my mind, is the fact that a 30,000-foot trip such as described would take about two minutes to complete. That’s a lot of time to think…

I also recollect reading about a fellow who survived a similar fall during WWII. I believe he was a tailgunner in a bomber and found himself bomber-less at something like 18,000 feet. Anyone else hear about this?