What Happens to Your Body When You’re in a Falling Elevator

What happens to your body in a falling elevator? Is it even possible to survive? The good news is that modern elevator technology makes these incidents extraordinarily rare. The bad news is that if you were to find yourself in an old, malfunctioning elevator… it would be bad news.

So what your body does in a falling elevator is actually pretty similar to what happens to astronauts in zero gravity, but only if the conditions are perfect. Most likely, a falling elevator won’t be totally unobstructed. But if it was, you would get to experience weightlessness for a few seconds before being crushed like a bug. Because what happens to your fragile body in a falling elevator can’t be undone by any “tricks” like jumping at the last second. Who do you think you are, Wile E. Coyote? Read on to learn what really happens to your body in a totally unobstructed, free-falling elevator death trap.

 

The G-Force On Impact Would Crush You
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In the highly unlikely event that you’re trapped in a totally free-falling elevator, without any of the numerous safety features found on all modern elevators, there’s basically zero chance you’ll survive.

Why is the scenario so hopeless? It’s simple physics: an unobstructed fall from, say, nine stories up, according to the Mythbusters guys, would mean hitting the ground at roughly 53 miles per hour. That’s gonna hurt: the force of this impact decapitated and ripped the arms off of Buster, the show’s crash test dummy.

Lying Flat On the Floor Might Save Your Life

If you’re intent on trying to survive anyway, the best bet for survival, according to Eliot Frank, a research engineer at the Center for Biomedical Engineering at MIT, is to lie on your back in the center of the elevator. Why? “This will distribute the force of impact over the greatest area of your body so that no particular part of your body is subjected to the weight of any other part of your body.” If some fluke thing happens to slow the elevator down, this position could end up saving your life.

You Could Be Lacerated If Enough Debris Collects On The Elevator Floor

Even if you lay on your back, equally distributing body weight in a crashing elevator, you could still be harmed. The crashing cabin may fill with broken parts and debris during the fall. Many of those shards would be dangerous; they could even impale you. When Betty Lou Oliver fell 75 stories in a plummeting elevator, the small compartment collected an inordinate amount of debris. If she had been laying on the floor, her body would’ve been crushed by stray particles. The disconnected elevator cable actually coiled near the bottom of the shaft and softened her landing, though.

You Would Feel Weightless

Once the elevator begins to fall, there would be an exhilarating feeling of “weightlessness,” since there would be no “force of support” on your body (this is assuming that the elevator’s fall is totally unobstructed). As Dr. Rod Nave of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Georgia State University explains, you’re “accelerating downward at the acceleration of gravity” with no feelings of so-called “apparent weight.” The only reason you feel the sensation of apparent weight day-to-day, notes Dr. Rod, is all that support you feel from the floor, your chair, etc. Take that support away and you’d feel “weightless” like an astronaut, which would be the last cheap thrill of your life before plunging to your death.

Time Would Appear To Move More Slowly

NASA has actually done research on what happens to the human body under sudden weightless conditions – or as they put it, “a rapid, abrupt occurrence of the absence of gravity.” The first few seconds of weightlessness sounds great: “…time appears to move more slowly; and a unique insensitivity to pains and feelings of displeasure appear.” NASA even says that “a certain feeling of elevated vitality and physical fitness…perhaps similar to that experienced after taking a stimulant” occurs once you get used to it, which, of course, you wouldn’t have a chance to do in a free-falling elevator because you’d be crushed like a soda can.

Your Organs Would Shift Around

Just like being on a super-tall rollercoaster, the free-fall you’d experience would make your guts shift around, slightly, in your body, giving you that feeling of your stomach “dropping.” The intestines are “relatively mobile,” according to Dr. Brad Sagura, a surgeon at University of Minnesota’s Amplatz Children’s Hospital, in an interview with WCCO.

Sagura says while no one knows “with absolute certainty” what causes the “stomach drop” feeling, it’s likely your organs shifting around ever so slightly, sending a message to your brain. There’s also all that liquid in your organs shifting around, while the rest of your body is held in place. A rollercoaster’s seatbelt or harness causes the feeling by keeping the rest of your body relatively immobile; in a free-falling elevator, it would be whatever you’re holding on to, like the railing, or maybe the arm of the terrified stranger next to you.

Your Memory Shifts Gears

Neuroscientists say the fright of such a dramatic fall would cause your memory to “shift gears” and stop acting “like a sieve,” which is memory’s default state. In other words, during the fall, you would suddenly accumulate a ton of memories that you would normally discard. It’s your brain’s way of seeking out useful information to keep you alive. It’s not a matter of “turbo perception” as much as it turbo memory. You don’t become the Terminator, scanning the scene for information with your new supercomputer brain – you just start remembering a hell of a lot more stuff.

Jumping At The Last Second Is Basically Useless

What about jumping up at the last second? That won’t help at all, unless, using the Mythbustersexample, you can somehow jump up at 53 miles per hour at precisely the right moment and somehow stop yourself before hitting the roof. You’d have to be Iron Man, basically, to survive this. But even then, there’s the crushed elevator car and debris collapsing in on you to consider…

You’ll Never Know What Hit You

What does it feel like to die in a free-falling elevator crash? It feels like nothing at all. As neuroscientist David Eagleman explains, our brains are so slow that we’re basically “always living in the past,” so falling at more than 55 miles per hour down an elevator shaft will likely be painless. As the Mythbusters test showed, your head could get ripped clean off, so it would be a lot like dying a horrible death in a car wreck – you literally won’t know what hit you. The fatal results of such a fall, according to Eagleman, won’t be perceived at all by your slow-ass brain. It takes, for example, 150-300 milliseconds for the driver of a car in a head-on collision to even be aware of what happened. Around the 70 millisecond mark, the crash is already over. So dying in a falling elevator would basically be a fun ride followed by a painless death.

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