How To Survive When Your Elevator Plunges

Over at Radiolab, we are devoting a full hour to one word: "fall." We consider falling people, falling cats, falling planets, falling toddlers, falling oldsters, falling water and falling in love — but we don't consider this:

What's the best way to survive inside a falling elevator?

Man in elevator
Robert Krulwich

We've all had the nightmare: You step into the elevator, push "Lobby" and suddenly...

Jumping in an elevator
Robert Krulwich
Sitting in a falling elevator
Robert Krulwich
Lying down in an elevator
Robert Krulwich

What should you do? Jump? Squat? Lie Down? You want to know before it happens because when the moment comes you are not going to have time to go to the library.

Here's an answer: It popped up in a footnote on the bottom of page 133 in Mary Roach's latest (and very charming) book, Packing for Mars.

[T]he best way to survive in a falling elevator is to lie down on your back. Sitting is bad but better than standing, because buttocks are nature's safety foam. Muscle and fat are compressible: they help absorb the G forces of the impact.

As for jumping up in the air just before the elevator hits bottom, it only delays the inevitable. Plus, then you might be squatting when you hit. In a 1960 Civil Aeromedical Research Institute study, squatting on a drop platform caused "severe knee pain" at relatively low G forces. "Apparently the flexor muscles ... acted as a fulcrum to pry open the knee joint," the researchers noted with interest and no apparent remorse.

So when the moment comes, lie down, tush to the ground, and big people, whatever your previous experience in social settings, just this once, you will be envied.

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