In August, 1959 US Marin Lt. Col. William Rankin was flying at 46,000
feet (14,000m) above the Carolina coast in his F-8U Crusader single
seater jet fighter when his engine failed and he was forced to bail
out. Unfortunately he jumped into a thunderstorm, and by the time his
pre-set parachute opened at 10,000 feet (3000m) he was tossed around
in ferocious winds in the thundercloud. "It hit me like a tidal wave
of air, a massive blast, as though forged under tremendous
compression, aimed and fired at me with the savagery of a cannon," Lt
Col. Ranklin later described. "I was buffeted in all directions - up,
down, sideways, clockwise, counterclockwise, over and over...I was
rattled violently, as though a monstrous cat had caught me by the neck
and was determined to shake me until I had gasped my last breath."
Lt Col. Rankin was showered with hail, snow, and rain and was
tossed around for 45 minutes - a decent three times longer than
normal. But miraculously, his parachute remained intact and he
eventually was spit out of the cloud, fell safely onto a field, and
got to a hospital suffering from
shock, frostbite and bruising.
Lt Col. Ranklin's astonishing escape was marked
contrast to five German glider pilots caught in a thunderstorm over
the Rhon mountains in the late 1930s. They were forced to bail out
when the gliders were violently tossed around in a thunderstorm. They
were caught in winds which threw them up to the top of the cloud where
they were coated with ice and froze to death.