Thursday, May 16, 2019

The WWII Airman Who Fell 18,000 Feet And Survived

From: Doug T.
Sent: May 16, 2019
To: undisclosed recipients
Subject: Fw: The WWII Airman Who Fell 18,000 Feet And Survived

Nicholas Alkemade

There are so many things that can go wrong with aerial combat, especially when you consider that the pilot is operating in uncharted territory. The fact that you are so far away from your natural element exposes you to risk posed not only by the enemy arsenal but also by the possibility of plunging to the ground or sea.

While it is true that plummeting from the sky to the ground without a parachute can only result in certain death, history has always proven that there is an exception to every rule. And this can be said for one lucky guy who somehow survived a free-fall from a burning aircraft in World War II, Nicholas Alkemade.

Avro Lancaster B Mk II

Born in Norfolk, England in 1992, Alkemade started out as a gardener before joining the Royal Air Force when the war broke out. His crew flew the Avro Lancaster MK II bomber, responsible for carrying out night missions. Alkemade managed to complete 14 successful missions with his crew, nicknamed Werewolf, until the night of March 24th in 1944. After delivering their payload, they had to fly over the Ruhr region, notorious for anti-aircraft defenses.

Alkemade’s crew was ambushed by a German night-fighter from below resulting in the aircraft fire, which meant that the only way out was to abandon the flight. Unfortunately, Alkemade was late to locate his parachute to make an emergency exit. And by the time he managed to do this, the flames had already got to him at the back of the plane.

Crew members inspect the tail of a 115 Squadron Bomber.

Alkemade was in panic mode, faced with the worst of both worlds; burn to death or fall to his demise. The latter seemed like the better option at the time and Alkemade had the audacity to jump without his parachute. The 18,000-foot fall from the sky at speeds of almost 120mph rendered him unconscious.

Astonishingly, Alkemade regained consciousness three hours later, only to find himself in deep snow; he was still alive! Apparently, his fall was broken by the flexible young pines and further cushioned by the blanket of snow. He was still in one piece (no broken bones) except for a sprained ankle and the burn wounds he suffered in the aircraft fire. However, Alkemade’s predicament wasn’t over yet, he still had to survive the remainder of the night in the freezing cold.

Lancaster pilot at the controls, left, flight engineer at right.

He started blowing his distress whistle, attracting German civilians who managed to take him to Meschede Hospital. His wounds were treated and he managed to make a full recovery. When the Gestapo interrogated him, they could not believe his claim to have survived a fall from the sky without a parachute. Insisting that Alkemade was coining the story to conceal his true identity as a spy, they sent men to investigate the crash site and Werewolf wreckage. Indeed, they found the remains of Alkemade’s parachute still intact in the wreckage.

A model of one compound of the huge Stalag Luft III Photo by Wikigraphists CC BY SA 3.0.

Alkemade became an overnight sensation, with Luftwaffe officers lining to hear his narration about the miraculous jump. Despite this newfound fame, he was sent to the notorious Stalag Luft III, an incarceration facility housing captured allied airmen. Lady luck continued winking at Alkemade even when the inmates were forced to trek miles through a blizzard to northern Germany. He survived temperatures as low as -22 degrees Celsius and was finally rescued. Alkemade went on to work in the chemical industry in the UK, where he died in June 1987, aged 64.

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