Alan Magee's B-17 Freefall


Alan Eugene Magee (January 13, 1919 – December 20, 2003) was an American airman during World War II who survived a 22,000-foot fall from his damaged B-17 Flying Fortress. He was featured in Smithsonian Magazine as one of the 10 most amazing survival stories of World War II.

Alan Magee was born in Plainfield, New Jersey as the youngest of six children. Immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack Magee joined the United States Army Air Corps and was assigned as a ball turret gunner on a B-17 bomber nicknamed "Snap, Crackle, and Pop".


On 3 January 1943 Magee's B-17 was on a daylight bombing run over Saint-Nazaire, France when German fighters shot off a section of the right wing, causing the aircraft to enter a deadly spin. This was Magee's seventh mission.

Magee was wounded in the attack but managed to escape from the ball turret. Unfortunately, his parachute had been damaged and rendered useless by the attack, so having no choice, he leapt from the plane without a parachute, rapidly losing consciousness due to the altitude.

By some accounts, Magee fell over four miles before crashing through the glass roof of the St. Nazaire railroad station. Somehow the glass roof mitigated Magee's impact and rescuers found him still alive on the floor of the station.

Magee was taken as a prisoner of war and given medical treatment by his captors. He had 28 shrapnel wounds in addition to the damage from the fall. He had several broken bones, severe damage to his nose and eye, and lung and kidney damage, and his right arm was nearly severed.

Magee was liberated in May 1945 and received the Air Medal for meritorious conduct and the Purple Heart. After the war Magee earned his pilot's license and enjoyed flying. He worked in the airline industry in a variety of roles. He retired in 1979 and moved to northern New Mexico.

On 3 January 1993 the people of St. Nazaire honored Magee and the crew of his bomber by erecting a 6-foot-tall memorial to them.

Alan Magee died in San Angelo, Texas on 20 December 2003 from stroke and kidney failure at the age of 84.

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