The Story of the WW2 Gunner Who Fell 22,000 Feet Without a Parachute And Lived
U.S. Army Air Force Staff Sgt. Alan Magee fell out of a burning plane at 22,000 feet without a parachute.
And he lived.
Magee was a ball turret gunner in a B-17 named “Snap! Crackle! Pop!” sent to bomb German torpedo stores in St. Nazaire, France on January 3, 1943.
During the mission, Snap! Crackle! Pop! was shot by anti-aircraft guns and went into flames. Magee climbed into the fuselage to get his parachute and bail out. Unfortunately, it had been shredded by the flak.
As Magee was trying to figure out a new plan, a second round of flak 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 free falling through the air with nothing but a prayer.
Magee, struggling with a shortage of oxygen and still in shock, passed out again. God seemingly answered his prayer as he 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.
He regained consciousness as German soldiers took him to medical care. Magee suffered numerous internal injuries, his right leg and ankle were broken, he had 28 shrapnel wounds, and his right arm was cut nearly the whole way off.
"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.
After the war, he earned his pilot's license, worked in the airline industry doing different jobs, retired in 1979 and moved to northern New Mexico. He died in San Angelo, Texas, on December 20, 2003, from stroke and kidney failure, at the age of 84.