Nicholas Alkemade was a World War II gunner in the Royal Air Force. In March of 1944, his squad flew to Berlin on a raid in an Avro Lancaster II aircraft named Werewolf. Alkemade was in the rear gun turret. On the return flight, the plane was hit by machine gun and cannon fire, and burst into flames. The crew had parachutes, but the rear gunner didn't wear his due to space limitations. When Alkemade opened the turret door, he saw his parachute on fire. The flames were nearing his turret, so he slammed the door shut. He told the story of what happened then.
“I had the choice of staying with the aircraft or jumping out. If I stayed I would be burned to death – my clothes were already well alight and my face and hands burnt, though at the time I scarcely noticed the pain owing to my high state of excitement...I decided to jump and end it all as quick and clean as I could. I rotated the turret to starboard, and, not even bothering to take off my helmet and intercom, did a back flip out into the night. It was very quiet, the only sound being the drumming of aircraft engines in the distance, and no sensation of falling at all. I felt suspended in space. Regrets at not getting home were my chief thoughts, and I did think once that it didn’t seem very strange to be going to die in a few seconds – none of the parade of my past or anything else like that.”
Falling head-first, looking back towards the stars twinkling in the night sky, FS Alkemade, serenity itself, hurtled towards the ground at 120 mph. At some point in the descent, Alkemade lost consciousness, possibly his body’s reaction to the pain where the flames had licked around his skin. Above him, Werewolf exploded.
Alkemade survived the 18,000-foot fall and was captured by Germans. He survived that, too, plus three horrific industrial accidents after the war. Read Nicholas Alkemade's story at the RAF Museum. -via Metafilter
(Image credit: Bennett Ley Kenyon)