The Man Who Rode The Thunder

Moody Clouds

William Rankin ejected at 47,000ft, straight through a storm cloud. He didn’t die but he did do a lot of bleeding and puking.

Moody Clouds

Lovely big fluffy clouds meandering upwards into the great blue yonder. The gentle behemoths wandering the skies in majestic beauty. Wrong. They are potential killers. Sod terrorism and dirty protests, these beasts will fvck you up if you get inside of them. But one man has lived to tell the tale: William Henry Rankin.

William Rankin - Pilot

He was a World War II and Korean War veteran. Him and his buddy were flying two F-8 Crusader combat jets from Beaufort to North Carolina one sunny day in 1959. They were forced to rise to about 13,000m to avoid a fast rising cumulus, storm cloud. No problem there. Then it really goes tits up.

He hears a particularly unhealthy banging and clattering coming from the engines. That’s got to be a bit of a worry hasn’t it? You know, miles in the air and all that. Just a bit reliant on the old engines aren’t you. Then the engine stops and won’t restart. Consider my pants filled. Bearing in mind he is about eight miles above terra firma, he has little choice but to bail out. He ejects and almost immediately his eyes, nose, mouth and ears start bleeding from the decompression, and his belly distends to nearly twice it’s size. Uncomfortable to say the least.

The F8U Combat Jet

After 10 seconds free fall he hits the top of this monstrous cloud, the lights go out, it drops to -50 degrees and he gets almost instant frost bite on his left hand which had lost a glove in the violence of the ejection. The canopy of his parachute opened automatically but earlier than it should have, now he was at the mercy of the vicious updrafts in the cotton wool bastard. He was dragged up, then dropped again over and over. Sometimes thrown 6000ft up at a time, constantly battered by hail stones from every angle. At one point he puked from the sheer disorientation of being hurled around in a pitch black puff of water vapour.

Towering Cumulus Clouds

He said “I’d see lightning. Boy, do I remember that lightning. I never exactly heard the thunder; I felt it…” it doesn’t sound like any fun at all. At one point he was blown upwards so violently that he actually caught up with his soaking wet parachute and was terrified he would become entangled in it and fall to earth at terminal velocity. The air inside the cloud was so full of water he was also majorly concerned that he would literally drown… in the sky whilst being pelted by hailstones the size of fists.

William Rankin - The Man Who Rode The Thunder

After what seemed like an eternity he dropped from the bottom of the cloud into a delightful warm summer shower. But the storm hadn’t finished with him yet. As he approached land one final gust threw him head first in to a tree, just for good measure. Normally a parachute jump from 47,000 feet would take just a few minutes. He checked his watch after landing, and the cloud had been sucking on him for about 40 minutes!

He managed to find a road and eventually managed to find someone who was willing to pick up a bloke covered in blood and puke. He survived with surprisingly minor injuries and is the only human in history to survive such a fall, as far as we know. So next time you’re off your teeth in a field enjoying the lovely fluffy clouds…. remember they’re killers and try not to whitey.


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