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8 People Who Fell from Incredible Heights and Survived

We've all had nightmares where we're falling, but for the people profiled here, it was their reality. Read on to learn how they survived falls that make the rest of us cower in fear.

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Paul RontoCourtesy Paul Ronto

He almost made it to the top

“When I was 18 and an avid rock climber, I took off with a buddy to explore a new crag. On that climb, I decided to take the 25-foot long route. That turned out to be a mistake. When I reached the top, I found a small overhang that had no grip; it was just sandy and smooth. I panicked because I couldn’t go back under the overhang. I slipped and fell 25 feet to the deck, which was a rocky slope. My right foot landed on dirt and my left foot landed on a rock the size of a lemon. I shattered my foot and ankle in over 100 places. My bones, ligaments, and cartilage were all destroyed. I had to have two surgeries to fix it and there are 17 pieces of titanium in my foot. It’s turned out well though; since then I’ve healed and ran six marathons and countless other races” —Paul Ronto, digital research and content editor. Make sure you know these proven skills to survive any emergency.

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Alayna PehrsonCourtesy Alayna Pehrson

She sleep-walked out the window

“Years ago, I was tired after I returned home from a high school summer camp, so I went to bed early. The last thing I remember was falling asleep in my bed. The next thing I knew, I was in a significant amount of pain and I was outside on the ground. It turns out, I had somehow opened the window right next to my bed on the second floor of the house while I was sleeping and fell out of it. I hit a tree on the way down. Miraculously, I didn’t break any bones and walked away with only a deep cut on my leg.” —Alayna Pehrson, content management specialist.

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Mary KaartoCourtesy Mary Kaarto

She was trying to save money

“I had recently been laid off from work, so I was trying to save money by pruning a tree myself. That’s when I fell off the top rung of a 16-foot ladder. As I was falling, I remember thinking, ‘I’m falling and this is going to hurt!’ I called my best friend, who came and took me to the ER, where I discovered I had broken my right leg, torn the meniscus in the right knee, and injured my right arm.” —Mary Kaarto, author and speaker. This man was stranded at sea for 438 days. His survival story will amaze you.

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Meg HallCourtesy Meg Hall Photography

She let go of the rope

“I always loved rock climbing and repelling, so when I was college and was invited to go to Rock Canyon in Provo, Utah, I couldn’t turn it down. The terrain is very intense and steep, and after making it to the top, I started to repel. I made it over the edge and started to descend when my foot slipped. I let go of the rope on accident when I was 60-feet high and tried to grab the rock. I just started falling. I hit the ground and did a safety roll like I used to teach in gymnastics. I was in the absolute worst pain of my life. Eventually, the paramedics were able to get to me. I broke my pelvis, sacrum, and right ankle. I sustained a compound sprain and dislocation of my right foot, shattered my left leg, broke a finger, and needed a staple in my elbow. Nine surgeries later, I have learned how to walk, run, and drive again.” —Meg Warner.

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Jeff GriffinCourtesy Jeff Griffin

His life changed forever

“I was up 40 feet on a ladder and scaffolding while working on a construction project when I fell. I hit straight-legged and broke my back. I was paralyzed from the waist down, changing my life forever. Since I’ve been in a wheelchair, I’ve played in the 2004 Paralympic Games, and I was a silver medalist for the USA men’s wheelchair basketball team. I hold two Guinness Book World Records, and I’ve created a nonprofit organization that helps disabled people and injured veterans. Though I’ve had many successes, these don’t define me. I’ve married my best friend, Emily, and we have four children together. I love helping others turn the impossible into the possible.” —Jeff Griffin, M.Ed., author and speaker.

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Justin RenningerCourtesy Liz Renninger

He slipped off a 20-foot boulder

“My friend and I decided to climb boulders in North Phoenix, Arizona. When you go bouldering you don’t use ropes because it’s only 20 to 30 feet up, and you have crash pads underneath in case you fall. (Crash pads give you six to eight inches of cushion to prevent any injuries.) However, we did not bring crash pads with us that day. I got about 20 feet high on this boulder when I realized the rock was completely smooth, and there was nowhere I could grab with my hands. I tried grasping at the rock to pull myself up when I began to feel myself slip and down I went. I hit another boulder after I sprung forward and the force of the fall dislocated my left wrist. I severely bruised both my ankles and had some scrapes and cuts all over me. I was on crutches for two months.” —Justin Renninger. Two pilots were flying from Oahu to Hawaii when they heard their engines go silent. Here’s how they survived.

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Vicki FitchDonna Edman/Courtesy Vicki Fitch

She fell down an entire flight of stairs

“I fell down a flight of stairs in front of 7,000 people, ripped my pants, and was bleeding on stage as I accepted an award for recruiting for my company. The stairs were made to look like the staircase in a cruise ship, and when I stepped down two steps, the molding gave way, and I came crashing down the entire flight of stairs. You could have heard a pin drop! I didn’t know at the time that I had torn the ligament in my hip. It healed incorrectly, and I ended up spending over three years in a wheelchair. Through it all, I remained at the top of my field. —Vicki Fitch, direct sales expert. 

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EmilyCourtesy Emily Wornes

The balcony collapsed beneath her

“With a single step the ground beneath me evaporated, and although it was the very last thing I’d ever imagined to have happened, it only took me a second to realize the hotel balcony I stood on was collapsing. I put my arms out, floundering to grab onto something, but everything around me was going down too. My mind has blocked out what my eyes saw after this, as my body fell faster to the marble tiles five stories below. Every part of my body was screaming, I was screaming. I was on vacation in Peru and was moved to Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego by air ambulance for emergency treatment. While my paralyzed body lay numb in the bed, my mind remained active. The staff at Sharp helped; their passionate, upbeat, and loving attitudes never once let me doubt that I soon again would be dancing. I’m still recovering, but I hope to one day go back to Sharp Memorial Hospital to thank them for their amazing care.” —Emily Wornes. Next, read about these twists of fate that saved people’s lives on 9/11.

Jen Babakhan
Jen Babakhan is an author and credentialed educator living in California. She writes regularly about advice and culture for Reader's Digest. She is also the author of Detoured: The Messy, Grace-Filled Journey From Working Professional to Stay-at-Home Mom (Harvest House Publishers, 2019). She earned her BA in Communication Studies from California State University, Stanislaus. You can follow her on Instagram @JenBabakhan , Twitter @JenBabakhan, and Facebook @JenBabakhanauthor.