Miscalibrated Internet Receptor Stalks

8 minutes or so into Pocahontas (because the first seven minutes are exclusively about how awesome John Smith is), the title character takes a dramatic dive off a cliff.

And she falls . . .

. . . and falls . . .

. . . and falls.

Using my Casio Wave Ceptor digital watch, I measured a total fall time (from leap to splash) of 9.1 seconds.


9.1 seconds is an incredibly long time to spend falling. The longest recorded hang-time for a hit-over-the-fence baseball is only 7.25 seconds (Juan Francisco, June 19, 2013 at Miller Park). A skydiver takes around 12-14 seconds to reach terminal velocity.

9.1 seconds means you're falling very fast, and very far.

But would it be survivable?

Assuming a mass for Pocahontas of 50kg (thanks Dr. Emilio Lizardo, for coming up with a better estimate than my initial 65kg) and assuming a skydiver's spread-eagle drag coefficient of 0.24 kg/m, and plugging this (and the 9.1 seconds) into an online free fall calculator, we get an estimate splashdown speed of ninety seven miles per hour.

(And an estimated cliff-height of 888 feet. That's 271 meters, if meters are your thing.)

That's incredibly high. But just how bad would that fall have been?

In 1984, Dana Kunze set a world record by diving 172 feet into open water. There have been three higher dives recorded since then: 174 feet in 1984, 177 feet in 1987, and 191 feet in 1997 . . . but all three of those divers sustained significant injury (multiple fractures to the leg, a broken spine, and another broken spine, respectively).


People do occasionally survive higher falls . . . roughly 2% of Golden Gate bridge-jumpers survive the 200+ foot fall (although usually with severe injury). Young people survive more often than middle-aged or elderly fallers (a point in Pocahontas' favor) and position likely has a lot to do with it . . . although Pocahontas' "swan dive" pose is certainly more likely to result in spinal injury than the safer "feet first" position.

In conclusion:

  • Pocahontas was irresponsible in jumping off a nine-hundred-foot cliff just to get home a little faster.
  • Having jumped, she almost certainly would have died on hitting the water.
  • In the extremely unlikely event that she miraculously survived, she would still have shattered her spine thanks to her swan dive, likely resulting in permanent paralysis.
  • Either way, it would have been a very different movie.
  • (Also the raccoon would have died too.)

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