It's usually a bad thing to land in a mound of fire ants at 80 mph. But not if you're Joan Murray.
You have a 50% chance of surviving a fall of 48 feet, roughly equaling a 4-story building. The mortality rate rushes all the way up to 90% when you fall 84 feet, the distance of a 7-story building.
So if you’re falling from a whopping 14,500 feet, just over two-and-a-half miles, you can safely bet that you’re most definitely not getting out alive.But one woman did. And that’s not even the wildest part of her story.
In 1999, a woman and skydiving enthusiast named Joan Murray, 47, had traveled to North Carolina to embark upon her 37th free-fall, with the purpose of testing out new equipment.
In 1999, skydiver Joan Murray's parachute malfunctioned, causing her to fall 14,500 feet.— Morbid Knowledge (@Morbidful) November 29, 2023
Her backup parachute opened at 700 feet, but it quickly deflated and she continued to plummet towards the ground at 80 miles per hour.
Miraculously, Murray survived the fall thanks to the… pic.twitter.com/C5zCSIt0DA
After carefully packing and prepping, Murray made her jump. Only when she pulled the cord for her parachute, nothing happened. There she was, hurtling towards the Earth at 80 mph.
According to a Star News article reporting the incident, Murray was finally able to release her emergency chute at 700 feet, but that only “swung her out of control.”
In a display of cosmic irony, Murray eventually slammed into the ground onto a live mound of fire ants. You can’t make this stuff up.
But incredibly, Murray survived the fall. Most of her bones were shattered, her teeth fillings flew out, her face was severely bitten by ants and she fell into a coma for two weeks…but she survived. As for how she survived such a harrowing fall, her doctor simply wrote “miracle” on her file.
And while Murray’s survival is no doubt miraculous, evidence suggests that those fire ants were the little angels behind it.
TIL: On Sept 25, 1999, American skydiver Joan Murray fell 4400 m when her chute failed and landed on a mound of fire ants. Doctors said the >200 stings she received caused an adrenaline surge that kept her heart beating. She survived after 20 surgeries and 17 blood transfusions. pic.twitter.com/0V63ePZyOg— Legends Of Surgery (@SurgeryLegends) March 21, 2020
Murray had remained conscious after her fall (yikes) and reported that she could feel the burning sensation of the army of ants stinging her. Eventually, it was the unbearable pain of the stings, not the insane fall, that made her pass out.
When paramedics arrived on the scene, they saw Murray completely covered in hundreds of thousands of fire ants—and around 200 stings on her body. It was believed that the venom from their stings not only shocked her heart (thus keeping it beating) but caused her body to produce more adrenaline until help came.
Perhaps the most unbelievable part of this story is that Murray actually skydived again only two years after this disaster. She also turned down an offer to retire with disability from her job and Bank of America and continued her banking career that extended over 20 years.
Though Murray passed away in May of 2022, she is still remembered not only for her amazing survival, but her optimistic outlook on life.
As she shared with “People” following the accident, "Sometimes we take life for granted. I truly have fun putting my shoes on in the morning."
May we all find a way to find the same positivity…perhaps without the fire ants.