Could you Parachute into a Hurricane and Survive?

Yes, says a man who did it. But it’s not the fall that’ll kill you.

Image for post
Image for post
The eye of Super Typhoon Maysak as seen from the International Space Station on March 31, 2015. Category 5 Maysak was similar in size, intensity and location as Super Typhoon Dinah some 50 years earlier. Could a person survive a parachute drop into such a monster storm? Maj. Don Harten and three of his B-52 crew mates did just that following a midair collision at 30,000 feet over the South China Sea between two bombers at the outset of the Vietnam War on June 18, 1965. (Photo: Tim Virts, NASA/ISS)
Image for post
Image for post
The Tragedy of Arc Light One, a rendering by military aviation artist Dan Zoernig of the collision between two B-52s at 30,000 feet over the S. China Sea, June 18, 1965, above category 5 super typhoon Dinah, which had winds of 185 mph and waves of up to 70 feet. Maj. Don Harten’s remarkable survival of this crash is the subject of the book Midair. Maj. Harten was co-pilot of the plane whose right wing was shorn by the four-story tail of an oncoming B-52 during an ill-fated refueling maneuver on the venerable B-52’s first-ever combat mission at the outset of the Vietnam War. Maj. Harten and three navigators survived the collision, while eight of their fellow crew members, including the other three pilots, perished. Maj. Harten is perhaps the only pilot to have ejected and survived a head-on-collision by two jets at 30,000 feet, as well as the only pilot to have survived a parachute drop into a category 5 storm. (Credit: Dan Zoernig)
Image for post
Image for post
The track of Super Typhoon Dinah as depicted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency. Dinah began in the western Pacific before spinning north of the Luzon Peninsula, Philippines, on its way to Taiwan. Maj. Don Harten collided in a B-52 at 30,000 feet with another B-52 from his squadron during an ill-fated refueling maneuver on June 18, 1965, the day Dinah achieved its maximum strength. Maj. Harten ejected and then parachuted into the southwest quadrant of the monster storm where winds blew at 185 mph and waves towered up to 70 feet. His remarkable tale of survival is recounted in Midair (Lyons Press). He is the only pilot to have survived a parachute drop into a category 5 storm. (Credit: NOAA)

Midair: Chapter 4

Image for post
Image for post
The June 18, 1965, edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, trumpeting the first-ever B-52 bombing mission to Vietnam, with a mention of then-Lt. Harten’s B-52 midair collision.
Image for post
Image for post
Midair (Lyons Press) is a true account of one of the most remarkable tales of survival in the history of aviation — a midair collision at 30,000 feet by two bomb-laden B-52s over a category 5 super typhoon above the South China Sea during the outset of the Vietnam War.
Image for post
Image for post
The four survivors of a midair collision between two B-52s at 30,000 feet above the South China Sea on June 18, 1965. They are likely the only people ever to have parachuted into a category 5 storm. Photo taken at Andersen AFB, Guam, June 21, 1968. From left: Lt. James Erbes, Lt. Don Harten, Lt. Jay Collier, Lt. Col. Chuck Andermann. (Official USAF photo.)
Image for post
Image for post
Lt. Don Harten arriving at Andersen AFB, Guam, June 21, 1965, after his rescue from the South China Sea, following his midair B-52 collision three days earlier. (Official USAF photo.)
Image for post
Image for post
Author Craig K. Collins, right, and his uncle Maj. Don Harten, a retired combat pilot who’s remarkable survival story and experiences in Vietnam are told in the book Midair. Collins is the author of two books of literary non-fiction: Thunder in the Mountains (Lyons Press, 2014) and Midair (Lyons Press, 2016). He is currently finishing the manuscript of his first novel due out in 2021. (Photo: Sacramento Bee)

Author of Midair (Lyons Press, 2016) and Thunder in the Mountains (Lyons Press, 2014). At work on a novel, as well as a book of historical non-fiction.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store