Paratroopers make a big deal about jumping out of planes from 800 feet, but U.S. Army Air Force Staff Sgt. Alan Magee fell out of a plane at 22,000 feet without a parachute while the plane was on fire.
And he lived.
Magee was a ball turret gunner in a B-17 named "Snap! Crackle! Pop!" after the three mascots for Rice Krispies cereal. That plane, along with others from the 360th Squadron, was sent to bomb German torpedo stores in St. Nazaire, France on Jan. 3, 1943.
During the mission, the plane was shot by anti-aircraft guns and became a ball of flames. Magee climbed into the fuselage to get his chute and bail out, but it had been shredded by the flak. As Magee was trying to figure out a new plan, a second flak burst tore through the aircraft and then a fighter blasted it with machine gun fire.
Magee was knocked unconscious and thrown from the aircraft. When he woke up, he was falling through the air with nothing but a prayer.
Magee told God, "I don't wish to die because I know nothing of life," according to reports from the 303rd Bomb Group.
Magee, struggling with a shortage of oxygen and likely in shock from the events of the past few minutes, passed out again and God seemingly answered his prayer. The young noncommissioned officer fell into the town of St. Nazaire and through the glass roof of the train station. He was later found dangling on the steel girders that supported the ceiling.
The glass had slowed his fall and he regained consciousness as German soldiers took him to medical care. Magee's right leg and ankle were broken, he had 28 wounds from shrapnel and glass, and his right arm was cut nearly the whole way off. He had also suffered numerous internal injuries.
"I owe the German military doctor who treated me a debt of gratitude," Magee said. "He told me, 'we are enemies, but I am first a doctor and I will do my best to save your arm.'"
Magee was able to keep his arm and eventually made a full recovery. He spent most of the rest of the war as a POW.
In 1995, Magee was invited back to France as part of a ceremony sponsored by French citizens to thank Allied service members for their efforts in the war. Magee was able to see monuments to the crew of Snap! Crackle! Pop!, including the nose art which had been used as a Nazi trophy until after the war when a French man recovered it. It was restored in 1989.
Magee died in 2003.
(h/t War History Online)