The articles in the For Fact’s Sake columns are – according to Google and the Duck ’n Fiddle’s Explanation of Everything – based on facts. Occasionally though, names and places have been changed to protect innocent people involved.

Take a plunge

On a muggy summer’s day in 1945, twenty-year-old Betty Lou Oliver arrived promptly at work as an elevator operator in the world’s tallest sky-scraper back then – the Empire State Building in New York City. Lift-jockeys experience more ups and downs daily than we would in years, but little did she anticipate one of her downers would get her into the Guinness Book of World Records.

As fate (and a dollop of pilot error) would have it, a B-52 service plane smashed into the 80th floor, a couple of levels above where she was working, and dislodged a concrete slab which crashed through her lift’s ceiling. Only slightly injured, she managed to crawl out, thankful to be alive, and after some medical treatment, was deposited into another lift to the ambulances waiting below.

Well, that move didn’t go quite as smoothly as anticipated. The plane’s impact had severed most of that lift’s cables, and her extra weight was the last straw. Snap! She started free-falling. One can only wonder what goes through a lift-jockey’s mind – or anybody’s for that matter – on hearing the twang of the overhead cable, and starting to plummet inevitably towards death.

Before smashing into the basement, Betty Lou had the horror of free-falling for a full 75 floors and the instant flash-backs of the joys and regrets in her short life seemed to take forever.

Fourteen people died that day, but the fickle finger of fate favoured our Betty, and she wasn’t one of them. Although somewhat scuffed up – like a broken back, neck, pelvis, both legs and some fingernails – a couple of things miraculously saved her bacon.

As it fell, the lift cage acted like a downward-moving blockage in the lift- shaft, and the air pressure under it increased as it approached the ground, creating an air cushion and a slightly softer landing.

Secondly, the cable attached to the underside of her lift cage – all 75 floors of it – was busy coiling itself on the basement floor as she fell, and although not quite as effective as a spring, it also softened the impact somewhat.

After putting her together again, Betty Lou lived another 54 years and still holds the record for the longest surviving plummet down a lift shaft, mainly due to a dearth of challengers.

Poker Face

Over the years we’ve discussed some of the world’s more ridiculous sports, but this could only happen in America – inside a prison nogal.

In Louisiana, the popular Angola Prison Rodeo draws thousands of local red-necks into the specially-built stadium to watch and bet on various competitions between inmates and angry bulls. There is the regular ‘how long can you stay on’ stuff, and the crowds lap it up raucously, but they go hysterical during the somewhat unusual events, unique to this penitentiary.

One challenge involves the removal and presentation to the judges, of a casino chip glued onto the forehead of a raging Longhorn bull. Another event – which doesn’t involve a bull – is Wild Cow Milking. Inmates armed with tin mugs chase ‘undomesticated’ cows around the arena trying to extract milk from the highly mobile beasts. The first inmate to somehow fill his mug wins.

Then there’s Convict Poker. Four inmates sit at a table in the middle of the arena playing poker. An angry bull is released with the sole purpose of disrupting the game by violently unseating a gambler on each charge. The last man remaining seated is the winner. What an athlete.

These so-called ‘sports’ wallow in the same swamp occupied by similar contests like shin-kicking, bog-snorkelling, dwarf-throwing or toe-wrestling.

Fortunately, Virtual Sports have come to the rescue. Whether you log in and participate on your interactive Play-Station, or just watch on TV from your couch, there’s little chance of injury. Thumb cramps and obesity maybe, but no broken bones.

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