Why No Parachutes On 9/11?

The 20th anniversary of 9/11, when about 3000 people died trapped in the World Trade Centre, prompts a question that I’ve never heard asked or answered:

Why didn’t they use parachutes to escape?

Were they high enough above the ground to use parachutes? Yes they were.

While soldiers of the parachute regiment balk at exiting a plane below 250ft, those involved in an extreme form of parachuting called “base jumping” regularly leap from further down. In 1999 a base jumper (base stands for building, antennae, span and earth) parachuted from the 100ft statue of Christ that overlooks Rio de Janeiro.

The WTC North tower was 1368 feet high: they had plenty of height.

Could they get out of the windows? Yes, they could: many were standing on the window ledges. And many jumped to their deaths.

Could they have had enough time to don a parachute? I don’t know the answer to this, but if the parachute is already packed it can’t take more than a couple of minutes to strap one on. And anyway, in principle, people could have worn them all the time. The South Tower stood for 56 minutes, and the North Tower for 102 minutes.

Two main dangers come to mind. First, parachutes (35 foot diameter) may have collided with the building as they opened. It would probably have been best to jump 20 feet out on the downwind side of the buildings to prevent his happening. Second,  parachutes may have collided with other buildings or cables in New York City. But parachutes can be steered, and so, in principle, safe landings could be achieved.

What if unskilled parachutists jumped? Assuming their parachutes opened, they would have drifted on the wind, slowly descending, landing wherever they might.. In Manhattan you’d have about one chance in three to land in a street rather than than on top of a building.

It would have helped a lot if it had all been pre-planned, with parachute drills in which people put on parachutes and simulated jumping out in rapid succession. They had regular fire drills for using the stairs.

So, assuming that only about 10% of 3000 occupants were killed by plane impacts, and the rest parachuted out, some 2500 people could have been saved. And there would have been no need for firefighters (343 killed) to climb the buildings to try to save people. 9/11 movies would show a cascade of parachutes falling from the towers, and several parachutes hanging from street lamp posts.

But none of this happened. Nobody jumped out of the WTC with a parachute. Why not? Did nobody ever think of doing this?

Perhaps they thought that they could easily escape down the stairs. But at about 10 seconds per floor it would have taken 18 minutes to descend 110 floors. And the 44-inch-wide stairs soon got crowded, and a lot of people were still on the stairs when the buildings fell, It would have taken less than a minute to descend 110 floors by parachute.

Perhaps it was simply unthinkable to jump out of a 110 storey tower. And it still seems to be unthinkable. But some people have thought about it:

Having been a skydiver in the past, I can tell you that perhaps some people might have been saved but many more would probably have been killed horribly in accidents resulting from putting the thing on improperly; chutes that didn’t open (chutes aren’t supposed to sit indefinitely for months of years and then be expected to open), the inability of the untrained to actually pull the rip cord; the inability of some people to actually jump; the lack of a reserve chute or the time to deploy it; the possibility of a parachute malfunction; the minimum height requirements for using them might have driven more people upwards to get the chutes, only to die using them; the possibility of being driven into other buildings by wind and currents, or wires, or other obstructions.

These are all good objections. But I’ve answered some already. They had plenty of height. Sure, some would have hit other buildings, but many would have survived. If pre-planned, chutes could have been opened by fixed wires, with no need to pull the rip cord. Regular rehearsals would have obviated other problems,

The best objection seems to be that parachutes aren’t supposed to sit indefinitely for months of years and then be expected to open. But if they were regularly replaced or repacked? Or designed to open easily? Why store them in folded packs, if they’re not going to be carried anywhere?

Others are more positive:

I realise this seems to be an easy target for naysayers, but you certainly wouldn’t be in a position to naysay this idea if you were in such a position yourself. Even something that MIGHT save your life would be welcomed with extreme positivity at this point. I therefore think that this idea is very viable.

What servicing is needed?

The parachute has a combined service life of 16.5 years; service life is 12 years and shelf life is 4.5 years. The T-10D Parachute must be repacked every 120 days.

If parachutes are kept ready-opened in 60 foot lengths, they could be slid out from tubes and deployed with fixed cables.

Other ideas. Why not stairs like helter-skelters to slide down at 2 seconds per floor?



About Frank Davis

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17 Responses to Why No Parachutes On 9/11?

  1. Stephen Helfer says:

    Did you read that Spike Lee, after saying in the NYT he was including an interview with a 9/11 skeptic in his new movie, deleted the segment at the last minute? Amazing act of cowaqrdice on Spike Lee’s part.

  2. Ben Dhonau says:

    There is a good Ulster for you. It iuid “head the ball” You can woirk it ouy.

  3. Clicky says:

  4. Chris Sorochin says:

    There probably weren’t any parachutes on hand.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Hindsight is such an easy thing! Who on earth goes to work with a parachute? What building stores parachutes ‘in case’. Not realistic…..

  6. https://www.skydivestore.com/30-foot-conical-canopy/
    $1,650 just for the canopy, w/toggles and lines.
    x 2500 = $4,125,000

    Now you need a container and harness, and those ain’t cheap either.

    But we already know how many people died, and the reality is that there could be upwards of 50,000 people working in both buildings, plus no telling how many visitors, guests, etc. on a given day and you’d want to be able to reasonably accommodate them too. So now you gotta figure out at which level of a building do you say “if you’re here or above, you get a parachute, or if you’re here or below, you don’t”. Highly unlikely that people are going to be climbing from the 35th floor to the 110th just to jump. Possible, sure, but unlikely.

    Quick reference here to demonstrate that…average people, under duress and/or in emergency type situations, tend to make a lot of really bad decisions if for no other reason than “the rules” tend to change in emergencies. (very quantum mechanics-esque) Everything that is logical or reasonable or that which makes sense, is usually the very things that will get you or others killed. Many times it is the counterintuitive stuff that’ll usually save you. Thoughts about panic aside, one can be cool as a cucumber and still make really stupid decisions.

    Kaprun Disaster – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaprun_disaster

    So let’s take the easy route and say if you are at level 55 or above, you get a chute, if not, you’re just gonna have to find your way to ground level another way, which half of the buildings which means 25,000 parachutes plus say, and extra 1.5% to accommodate guests, visitors and the like.
    25,000 parachutes for workers @ $1,650 ea = $41,250,000
    375 “reserve” chutes for guests/visitors @ $1,650 ea = $618,750
    Grand Total = $41,868,750
    Again, this is just for the chute, the lines and toggles…no container, no harness. This number is likely to almost double.

    Granted these prices are retail, but it still gives a good idea of at least one reason why high-rise buildings aren’t real excited about the idea of providing parachutes to occupants.

    And there’s the psychological factor. It’s gotta be similar to the reason commercial aircraft passengers aren’t provided with parachutes. If people had to wear, or even think about parachutes on a commercial flight, most people would likely never fly. Too much of the focus would be on just how unsafe these flying machines are, and all passengers would likely be thinking about during a flight is, 1) when are we gonna crash, and 2) where is my parachute and how do I get to it and how do I operate it and so on. Plus, passengers constantly thinking about potentially having to jump out of the aircraft at any given moment gives them cause to open doors on airplanes that should not be opened, and it also gives them pretty much the right to open a door and jump the fuck out at any time should they feel the need to do so. Hell, lolz, first time the plane hits some turbulence, some white-knuckle flyer might decide it’s “this is it!, it’s time to bail”, open an exit door, depressurize the cabin, they jump out of a perfectly good airplane whilst jeopardizing the airplane and everyone on it in the process. Not good. Hundreds of people are now at risk and may all die, simply because the inclusion of a parachute provides each individual passenger with the right to decide when they are ready to deplane. The controlling authorities can’t have this. They gotta keep the power in the hands of the crew. The crew gets to make decisions, not the passengers. Plus, all that additional and totally unnecessary weight on the airplane? Gonna alter how much many passengers and how much cargo can be carried on commercial flights. Loads of lost revenues.

    200 passengers @ around 30lbs per chute (13.6kg) = 6,000lbs (2721.5kb)
    3 tons.
    Jet A fuel weighs an average of about 6.7 pounds (3kg) per gallon, so you could leave off around 900 gallons (3,407 litres) of fuel I guess.
    But if you have to leave off 6,000 lbs of cargo on every flight, just to accommodate the additional weight of the parachutes? Holy hell…the aggregate over time is gonna murder revenues.

    I only bring this up because if you start requiring parachutes in high-rise buildings, you can bet that someone is gonna start screaming for parachutes on all commercial aircraft. Anyone manufacturing “emergency parachutes” could potentially be one of the loudest voices screaming for them. ;-)

    In the case of high-rise buildings, similar concept. Might have a small electrical fire on the 89th floor, the fire is immediately extinguished, but people immediately start breaking windows and jumping the fuck out of the building anyway instead of heading for the fire exits/escapes. Or worse, some asshole starts spreading a rumor that terrorists have taken over the ground floor, they pull the fire alarm, and people start heading to the roof with their parachutes or maybe start breaking windows and jumping.

    The addition of parachutes to high-rise buildings (and commercial aircraft) is gonna create more problems than it solves, just way too dangerous/has the potential for creating way too many dangerous situations. And, it’s expensive as hell.

    Sometimes, safety itself, actually creates the danger.

    Just some thoughts. :-)

    • Mark Jarratt says:

      Ha, very comprehensive and quite amusing thank you C F Apollyon. How about using window cleaning scaffolding points to anchor fixed lines and abseiling harnesses…mmm, maybe not.

      Effective emergency evacuation is always an issue in high rise buildings, and even when the cause is less dire than the WTC attacks, going down many stairs is rough on the knees.

      Stay at levels 2, to 8 or 12. The second floor and above gives some protection from burglary, and most fire engine ladders can’t reach above floor 12. You still won’t be allowed to smoke.

  7. Frank Davis says:

    I’m still surprised that _absolutely nobody_ used their own parachute, which they kept under their desk.

  8. Richard Joyce says:

    I usually enjoy your posts – this is your most stupid – what exactly is the reason for high rise buildings? They are inhuman so let’s not build them.

  9. RdM says:

    On another tangent,


    You’re alive, want a new job?

    What are you good at?

  10. RdM says:

    Ah, missing a closing ”

    But anyway, a thought for young folk who are finding their way in the world.

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