Man Survives 15-Story Fall from New Zealand Tower

A Brit on vacation in Auckland learned the perils of urban rappelling when he attempted to scale a balcony to get into his locked apartment.

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Correction appended: June 18, 2013

Here’s a lesson in what not to do if you lock yourself out of your high-rise apartment: Don’t try to climb down from the balcony above, especially if you’re 150 feet above terra firma. Gravity is completely unforgiving.

A British man learned the perils of this sort of urban rappelling when he attempted to climb down the balcony to get into his locked apartment. Tom Stilwell, a British man on a working vacation in New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland, was attempting to get back into his 14th-floor apartment in the Volt Towers at 2 a.m. Sunday. But the 20-year-old had evidently forgotten his key.

Fortunately, his upstairs neighbor was still up. Geraldine Bautista, who lives on the 15th floor, agreed to help lower Stilwell down to his apartment. Bautista recounted to the New Zealand Herald that the late-night arrival was “a little bit tipsy” but otherwise polite in his request. “I will not bother you, just let me use your balcony,” he reportedly said, before hopping over the balcony. Bautista noted that she was so shocked, she couldn’t even scream for help: “I thought I was dreaming,” she told the Herald, after attempting to grab his hand to pull him back.

His plunge was about 13 stories straight down, onto a roof of a neighboring building. Emergency services arrived so quickly, the Herald reports, that his roommates arrived just 10 minutes later to find police searching their apartment for details about the man. In a statement, New Zealand police noted there were “no suspicious circumstances surrounding the fall.”

Stilwell’s fall was thought to be broken by the adjacent building’s roof. He was taken to a local hospital in critical condition, but by Monday morning he was “awake and laughing,” the BBC reported.

Roommate Dave Thomas said his injuries were shockingly minor given the height of the fall, sustaining a neck and back fractures, a broken wrist and other internal injuries. He was upgraded to “satisfactory” condition Monday. “From that sort of height you can have injuries to everything and anything,” said Dr. Tony Smith of New Zealand health care charity St. John. “Survival from falls of that height are extraordinarily unusual.”

Few are as lucky as Stilwell, though. Statistics show that only half of people survive a four-story fall. While it’s not yet known if the British national will have any long-term injuries, he certainly has good company in his survival. In 2008, window-washer Alcides Moreno accidentally fell 47 stories from the top of a New York City apartment building and survived (tragically, his brother did not). After surgeries to repair nearly every bone in his body, Moreno’s recovery was called “miraculous” – he was even able to walk again. Stilwell, likewise, is expected to make a full recovery. Though we wouldn’t count on him to go BASE jumping or skydiving anytime soon.

The original version of this article misidentified Auckland as the capital of New Zealand.