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In my childhood days there was this proposition/myth that claimed there is a big chance that you'd die from a shock induced heart failure (hart attack/cardiac arrest) before hitting the ground, when jumping off a building (for suicide or for escaping a fire for instance).

Is there any validity to this claim?

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Hey, I also remember to got this story told from another kid when I was little. I'm from Germany, so dependent from where the OP is this might be actually quite wide spread. –  Martin Scharrer Apr 28 '11 at 6:37
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This really depends on what you consider dead. People have been without a heartbeat for many minutes and been revived with no ill-effects. –  DampeS8N Apr 28 '11 at 11:09
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I think there is a more likely chance you would faint, then die as you hit the ground. –  Craig Apr 28 '11 at 12:23
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A query - why do skydivers not die? They fall an awfully long way. Or if it is a proximity thing, why do bungee jumpers or cliff divers survive? –  Rory Alsop Apr 28 '11 at 13:55
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@Rory Alsop: Yes, I considered this too. Although those people have a reasonable expectation to survive the 'ordeal'. :) People with no safety net, can reasonably expect to die from it, which might lead to a shock. –  fireeyedboy Apr 28 '11 at 14:08
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There are a handfull of instances of people surviving much higher falls from plane crashes. Vesna Vulović is one such person. The Straight Dope also mentions a case were someone survived a jump from the Golden Gate Bridge.

From this we can safely conclude that that if it was indeed the shock that kills, It definitely doesn't occur 100% of the time, so it is at best plausible. Going further than that to definitively prove the claim false in most or all cases is exceedingly difficult since the trauma caused by impact would overshadow evidence of cardiac arrest during an autopsy.

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