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?
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?