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In a falling elevator, could you save yourself by jumping up at the last minute?

Dear Cecil:

Being a frequent traveler in elevators, I have had occasion to ponder various unpleasant scenarios, such as being trapped inside with a car plunging me to almost certain death many floors below. I have always wondered, however, whether I might be able to save myself in such a predicament by jumping into the air at the moment of impact, thus offsetting the force of gravity. Would it work? I await your supreme knowledge.

B.J., Los Angeles

Cecil replies:

Sorry, kiddo. The only thing you can do if you get stuck in a falling elevator is tuck your head between your knees and kiss your arse good-bye. It’s a simple matter of physics. Let’s say, for purposes of illustration, that your falling elevator reaches a terminal velocity of 100 feet per second. Even if you manage a leap of Nureyevian proportions, you’ll only reach a speed of maybe 5-10 feet per second. (For purposes of comparison, a sprinter doing 40 yards in five seconds is moving at 24 feet per second–horizontally, of course, and with room to work up a little velocity.) That leaves you with a net downward velocity of 90-95 feet per second. In short, Pancake City.

Cecil Adams

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