I had always been under the impression that the forces of air rushing out a broken window or hole in an airplane would be pretty limited and nothing near the levels necessary to carry a body through to the outside. The scene in Goldfinger has always been scoffed at by other pilots I have known.

However, recently I discovered that allegedly the pilot of an airliner was sucked out of a cockpit window in 1990 (re-enactment photo below):

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Seems fishy to me. Is this for real? Can you really be sucked out of an aircraft window? Remind me to buckle up. Gives a whole new meaning to the word "deplaning".

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    $\begingroup$ That's like answering your own question. You can be sucked out of the plane because it is pressurized. $\endgroup$ – kepler22b May 12 '16 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ If the hole is big enough, why not? But better think of it as being blown out of the aircraft. That is what really happens. The most unrealistic part of the scene in "Goldfinger" is the duration of the incident - normally, a depressurisation is a very short but violent event. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf May 12 '16 at 19:48
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    $\begingroup$ If the difference between the cabin pressure and the external pressure is say 8 psi (which is the right order of magnitude for cruising at 40,000 ft) it is simple arithmetic to show that is equivalent to a pressure of about half a ton per square foot. That's more than enough to move a human out of his/her seat! $\endgroup$ – alephzero May 12 '16 at 21:21
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    $\begingroup$ @alephzero: That's the pressure difference you'd experience if you were to wedge yourself into a man-shaped hole in the wall. Otherwise, the air would rapidly move around you, equalising the pressure on both sides of your body. Simple arithmetic gives an upper bound, but the forces acting on someone in his seat can be much smaller. $\endgroup$ – Marcks Thomas May 13 '16 at 12:25
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    $\begingroup$ Big difference here, in that the hole that pilot is being sucked (blown) out through is the entire front windshield of the plane. In Goldfinger, the guy gets sucked out through a bullet-hole. I feel like the latter case is somewhat unlikely. In fact, the Mythbusters tried this in their first season and ruled it "busted". Not exactly 100% scientific proof, but worth a note at least. $\endgroup$ – Darrel Hoffman May 13 '16 at 15:29

Yes, it's real. Here's the official accident report on BA5390, which says:

The commander had been partially sucked out of his windscreen aperture


The two men tried to pull the commander back within the aircraft [but] the effect of the slipstream frustrated their efforts

There's also Aloha 243 where one cabin crew member was ejected, although that was a really extreme case.

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    $\begingroup$ The amazing part of BA5390 is they were sure he was dead and were going to let him go but didn't want to because his body may have damaged the aircraft. Little did they know until after landing that he survived the entire ordeal. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer May 12 '16 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer There's some nice British understatement in the report where it says the crew were "considerably reassured" when the pilot started kicking his legs :-) $\endgroup$ – Pondlife May 12 '16 at 19:05
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    $\begingroup$ It appears something similar happened on Daallo 159. $\endgroup$ – Nate Eldredge May 12 '16 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ This also happened to a few people in some of the accidents where cargo doors blew out on the DC-10 and 747 a few decades back. Also, the idiot who tried to bomb an airliner in Somalia a few months ago was blown out of the aircraft. $\endgroup$ – reirab May 12 '16 at 21:35
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    $\begingroup$ @JS The Venturi effect refers to a reduction in pressure of a fluid passing through a constriction in a tube. The effect described is due to Bernoulli's principle. ICBW. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Morton May 13 '16 at 17:41

At cruising altitude (say 35,000 feet), the difference in air pressure between the inside and outside of a comfortably pressurized aircraft is about 7 psi. If you imagine a hole just large enough for a person to squeeze through - perhaps 10 inches x 14 inches, that's 140 square inches; multiply that by 7 psi and you get 980 pounds of force - close to half a ton. If a hole that size suddenly opened up in an airplane, a lot of air would rush out very quickly and the pressure would quickly drop, but in the first few moments at least, there would surely be more than enough force to eject a person. For a small aircraft, a person would probably have to be right at the location that opened up to be "sucked out"; the pressure would fall off very rapidly with only a small volume available. For a large airliner like a 747, it could take some time for a significant amount of the air in the cabin to escape through such a hole, and there would be some pretty violent air movement near it, so an unsecured person could be ejected even from some distance away.

Two incidents (BA 5390 and Aloha 243) attest to the phenomenon, although the Aloha case was a more complex sequence of events. The investigation produced a theory that a cabin window blew out; the resulting depressurization effects caused a flight attendant to be blown into the aperture, momentarily obstructing the airflow; this produced a "fluid hammer" effect - an overpressure in excess of the structural limits of a corrosion-weakened airframe. This resulted in the "unzippering" of a large section of the upper fuselage. Despite the end result of the Aloha incident, it involved a person being effectively "sucked out" of a sudden opening in the cabin.


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