Once a man was stuck in a cloud for 40 horrible minutes

Clouds are one of nature’s most beautiful phenomena, but they can also be extremely dangerous. Cumulonimbus clouds, which create thunder, lightning, and hail, are the real villains of the cloud world. Although most clouds do not reach more than 2,000 meters, cumulonimbus clouds can rise up to 20,000 meters, creating the shape of a huge anvil.

Only two people have ever been caught in a cumulonimbus rain cloud and survived. One of them is Lieutenant Colonel William Rankin. His story is a remarkable but horrifying example of what happens when you get stuck in a cloud.

On July 26, 1959, Rankin and his wingman Herbert Nolan were flying their F-8 Crusader fighters toward South Carolina. They were aware of thunderstorm clouds ahead and took the precaution of climbing 14,300 feet above them, giving themselves a little leeway over the peak of the clouds.

However, while above the storm, Rankin’s engine suddenly detected an unexplained malfunction and stopped. Not having a spacesuit, Rankin was not too eager to eject in -50° C temperatures and in air so low in oxygen that he could not breathe. But at 6 p.m., he realized he had no other choice. He pulled the ejection handle at an altitude of 14,300 meters and braced himself for the terrible outside conditions.

Immediately blood gushed from his eyes and ears as the momentary decompression from the protected capsule gave way to external pressure and his stomach began to swell. He had lost his glove during the ejection and his hand began to freeze in the cold, which only added to his list of life-threatening problems.

Rankin found himself in a cumulonimbus cloud with only emergency oxygen and a parachute that was not precisely designed for the height of the storm. He had not yet pulled the parachute cord, for Rankin had the presence of mind to know it would be a death sentence. He deployed a barometer that would automatically release the parachute when his altitude reached about 3048 meters, and hoped he would get out of the storm before he suffocated or froze to death.

Rankin remained in the cloud for ages, scattered by the raging upwelling currents that form such extreme weather. Scientists know very little about the inner workings of these fierce thunderclouds, but the rising hot air is more than strong enough to hurl it, while hail and lightning threatened to end it all.

Rankin eventually emerged from the cloud alive, but severely frostbitten and with lightning burns. He was rescued and taken to the hospital, where it took him several months to make a full recovery.

Rankin’s story is a true miracle of survival that shows just how dangerous clouds can be. But it also reminds us of the miracles the human body can perform when faced with extreme conditions.

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