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John Wheeler, WDAY, Published October 17 2012

Weather Talk: Pilot ‘rode the thunder’ after jet’s engine failed

Felix Baumgartner became the first skydiver to achieve supersonic speed this week when he parachuted from 24 miles up in the sky Sunday.

I was reminded of the story of William Rankin who, in 1959, was forced to eject from his F-8 fighter jet when its engine failed at 45,000 feet near the top of a thunderstorm. Rankin was not wearing a pressure suit, and he immediately suffered frostbite and decompression. The thunderstorm updrafts held him aloft for more than 30 minutes as he was pelted by hail and heavy rain. The severely low air pressure at the high altitude caused his abdomen to enlarge and his ears, eyes, and nose to bleed. Lightning flashed dangerously all around him, but he was not electrocuted.

He eventually was blown clear of the storm and was able to parachute safely to the ground, where he was able to walk for help. He not only survived, but eight years later published a book about his experiences called “The Man Who Rode the Thunder.”


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