The Only Pilot Known To Survive Parachuting Through a Thunderstorm

Cumulonimbus clouds — which often have a shape similar to a mushroom or an anvil — tend to form in regions where there are extreme updrafts of air, which can form a dense vertical tower of cloud. It’s not uncommon for them to form during thunderstorms and other severe weather patterns. They can range from a few hundred feet at the base to 75,000 feet at the top. The taller the cloud, the higher the amount of updraft will be experienced. That’s what Lt. Col. William Rank found himself in on July 26, 1959 when he was forced to eject from his F-8 Crusader at 47,000 feet at a speed of 624mph. Within seconds he was met with severe winds, lightning, hail, rain, and dense, black clouds all around him. The sudden decompression was caused swelling in his abdomen and bleeding from his eyes, nose, ears and mouth. He did, however, manage to make use of his emergency oxygen supply. After 5 minutes of falling, his parachute prematurely opened, and after 10 minutes, Rankin was still aloft and getting pummeled by hailstones. Conditions finally calmed and he descended into a forest, but a gust of wind caused him to slam head first into a tree trunk. Fortunately, he was wearing a helmet. He checked his watch and realized that he had been trapped in the cumulonimbus cloud for 40 minutes. Despite his injuries, he managed to free himself from the tree and hike along the road until someone picked him up and called an ambulance. Rankin spent the next few weeks in a hospital recovering from frostbite, severe decompression, and numerous welts and bruises all over his body. He was able to make a full recovery and suffered no long-term damage from the ordeal.