The Elevator Falls

If you are in a falling elevator, can you save yourself by jumping up just before it hits ground level?

I’m selecting question 95 from our new book coming out in October.

ANSWER

A fine question and one that people have debated for many years. Good luck, but if the elevator falls any significant distance, jumping up will not likely save your life.

First of all, if a cable has broken, you would be in free fall and floating around inside the elevator, much like the astronauts in the International Space Station. They are in constant free fall. There is only a slight chance your feet will be in contact with the floor at the moment the elevator hits the bottom of the shaft. But let’s say your feet are ‘velcroed’ to the floor and you can somehow anticipate the proper time to jump upward.

Pretend the elevator falls ten floors, or about 120 feet. You would be going about 88 feet per second or 60 miles per hour. Let’s assume you can normally jump up in the air a distance of four feet. (Only a few basketball players have a four-foot standing jump). You would jump upward at 16 feet per second or about ten miles per hour. So, if you subtract the 10 mph from the 60 mph, you’re still slamming into the ground at 50 mph. Now remember, most of us can’t jump up a distance of four feet. We’re lucky to do two feet. So don’t count on saving yourself in a falling elevator by jumping up at the last second. It will not work, either for you or the star forward of the LA Lakers.

Not to worry, however. If the elevator cable breaks, safety devices will stop the elevator from falling. Elisha Otis invented the safety elevator in 1885 for the ten-story Home Insurance Company skyscraper in Chicago.

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