We’ve all seen it in the movies. People get sucked out of an airplane after some form of explosion causes a hole to be blown in the side of the plane. This happened in Fight Club (1999), in the movie Alive (1993), and Total Recall (1990).
Is it possible to be sucked out of a plane through a hole? Yes, but it depends on the size of the hole. A small hole, like the size of a pencil, a bullet, or even a golfball will probably not pose any risk. However, if the hole is the size of a softball or larger, it’s very dangerous because the plane’s air pressurization system can’t pump new air into the cabin faster than it’s escaping into the lower pressure atmosphere outside of the plane. Therefore an enormous amount of air pressure will escape through the hole. The pressure generated depends completely on the pressurization system of the plane and the size of the hole.
Cabins of airplanes are pressurized to compensate for the differences in atmospheric pressure inside and outside of a plane. Air pressure at high altitudes is very low, so when a plane climbs in height, there is less oxygen outside of the plane. If pressure is not increased inside of the airplane, then the passengers will quickly lack the necessary oxygen to breath, and will become unconscious. This is why airplanes have those yellow emergency oxygen masks that drop from the ceiling. If passengers need oxygen, those yellow masks will increase the oxygen supply relative to what is available in the outside atmosphere.
What happens when an airplane decompresses from having a hole?
Think about a balloon. What happens when you put a hole in it? All of the air escapes through the hole. Usually with a balloon, this process happens very fast and often pops. However, airplanes don’t pop or explode just from a hole. Instead, an airplane simply releases all of the air-pressure while maintaining the structural integrity of the plane. And that’s a good thing…we wouldn’t want a minor hole to take down the entire plane.
So, through the laws of physics, the plane releases all of the air that was previously pumped into the plane by pressure valves and pump mechanisms. When a high pressure atmosphere comes into immediate contact with a low pressure atmosphere (usually through a broken window in the plane), all of the air inside of the plane will rush out through the window to achieve equilibrium.
Can a person be sucked through a hole in a plane?
Yes, absolutely. This has happened twice in human history. The force of air pressure is strong and deadly if the hole is above a certain diameter.
In two instances of un-contained engine failure, shrapnel from the engine damaged the plane and put a hole in a passenger’s window. The unfortunately result was as you’d imagine. The plane immediately began to depressurize and decompress. This created an immediate vaccum which sucked the passengers in those planes out of the window.
The scary part? Plane windows are too small to fit human torsos.
Anyone that’s ever flown in an airplane knows that airplane windows are small. Plane window frames are 15.7 inches high and 9.8 inches wide. That’s only enough window space to fit a persons head. An adult female person’s minimum torso width is on average 16 inches wide, not including the added width of the of the persons arms. This means that the torso will not willingly fit through the hole. And many people are larger than that.
Once pressure starts escaping the plane, the nearest unprepared passenger of the hole of the plane will feel the incredible force of decompression. It’s loud too.
If an unfortunate victim is too close to the hole, the person’s head goes outside of the window and the massive amount of pressure will continue to push the rest of the body through that narrow space, inflicting bone-crushing damage in a fraction of a second. Internal organs are pushed in unnatural positions and bones flex instantly as much as possible to satisfy the unrelenting force of decompression. Unfortunately, this type of bodily trauma usually doesn’t kill a person instantly.
There are at last four instances of people being sucked out of a plane
1973 – The engine of National Airlines DC-10 flight blew up. A 47 year old man from Texas was pulled from the plane at 40,000 feet over an area near Magdalena. His skeletal remains were found two years later during a large construction project.
1988 – A flight attendant was ejected from a plane when she was standing in the aisle and a large hole formed in the roof. An 18 foot piece of the cabin roof ripped off, which create an enormous vacuum that sucked the flight attendant out of the plane.
2016 – A Somalian passenger was fully sucked out of plane when an explosion went off on the plane at 10,000 feet. It’s still unknown what was the cause of the explosion. His charred remains were found in Mogadishu, the same town where the plane did an emergency landing. (Image previously shown in this article).
2018 – A Southwest Airline passenger was partially sucked out of a plane after engine shrapnel broke the passengers window. Her head, arms and upper torso were pulled out of the plane. Fortunately, her legs remained in the plane long enough for other passengers to help her. Other passengers grabbed the legs of the woman and were able to pull her back into the plane, which must have been a terrifying experience for everyone involved.
Her condition was not disclosed to the public after she was pulled back into the plane, probably to give her privacy and protect her family. However, she later died that day, which says enough about how much damage was done.
Imagining the terrifying experience of being sucked out of a plane
It doesn’t sound fun. Imagine sitting comfortably in an airplane watching your favorite movie on your laptop or smartphone. There’s a loud disorienting pop, air rushing, then a quick cracking sound of the glass breaking. The next thing you know, your head, then your torso is forced out of the plane window. You feel an unbearable amount of pain instantly, to the point that you probably are barely conscious.
The plane is traveling at 400 – 500 knots (460 – 575 mph / 740 – 930 kph) miles per hour, so your body is immediately slammed against the side of the plane while you attempt to keep your eyes closed to prevent damage from the forceful wind rushing by. When you do open your eyes for a brief glipse, all you can see is the side of the plane and the clouds below the plane. Everything is terrifyingly loud and your entire body hurts.
A moment later, you feel someone pull your legs with great force, then your hips, then the rest of your body, back into the plane in your original seat. What felt like an eternity probably only lasted 5 or 10 seconds. Your entire body has received more trama in an instant than most people will ever feel in their entire life.
Wear your seatbelt tight
The statistical chances of something like this happening are so incredibly small that “safety precautions” are hardly worth even mentioning. You are significantly more likely to win the lottery than to be the one poor bastard that is sucked out of an airplane. Also, on average it only happens once every 12 or 15 years.
However, if it makes you feel better…use your seatbelt properly and keep it tight. And while you’re at it, buy a couple mixed alcohol beverages so at least you can partially enjoy your final plummet to the earth after the seatbelt breaks and you’re sucked out of the plane.
As always, thanks for reading 🙂