It's a well worn expression that people joke about; cats have nine lives. But in real life, we all know, felines don't really have special powers that allow them to cheat death... do they?
Keri Hoestler was just another single, young professional living in New York. In May 2009, she was busy tidying her upper storey, lower Manhattan apartment, doing chores in advance of some friends visiting. While she did her laundry, she opened the window of her home office a small amount, to let in some fresh air. But she was careful to close the door to the office, behind her.
Hosetler was careful with the door as she also had a cat; a 3 year old, grey and white striped male named 'Lucky.' As she lived on a high level, Hoestler was always careful to keep her cat away from any open windows.
As Hosetler worked, largely preoccupied, Lucky wandered around the apartment.
Sometime later, as Hoestler walked down the corridor carrying a load of washing back from the machine, she suddenly noticed that the door to her office, was open.
On the outside of the building directly opposite, a window washing crew was working from their mobile platform, suspended high above the pavement below:
'I looked up and I saw there was a cat out on the ledge. It was walking along, and it tried to turn the corner, only there was no ledge there for him to step onto. We started waving at the apartment, trying to get their attention.'
- John Hayes, window washer
As the window crew watched, horrified, Lucky lost his balance and tumbled off the ledge.
Hosetler ran to her office window, and could immediately see Hayes signalling to her. He was waving and pointing, directing her attention to where the cat had fallen. Hosetler saw immediately what had happened and charged downstairs. She quickly found her cat on a sixth floor balcony, curled up on a metal grill.
Incredibly, Lucky was alive.
Stunned, thankful, Hosetler rushed him to a nearby veterinary hospital, where he was found to have a broken toe and broken jaw. Relatively minor injuries, considering the cat had just fallen 26 stories, or about 100 metres, and landed on concrete. Lucky did seem lucky, almost miraculously so.
Cat and owner celebrated with an appearance on 'Good Morning America' (watch it here).
But while Lucky's fall seemed to defy what we know about physics and falling off things, amazingly there is a precedent. In fact, there are a number of documented cases of cats surviving falls from similar heights, and higher, and even research to suggest that cats are more likely to survive a higher fall than a lower one.
From falls higher than seven storeys, cat reach their 'terminal velocity' before reaching the ground. This means that the pull of gravity and the resistance of the air below them equalise, and they stop accelerating.
Once terminal velocity is reached, the cat no longer feels like it is falling and so relaxes. It rights itself, paws towards the ground, and spreads its legs, which provides the kind of parachute effect seen in flying foxes. Their speed decreases, and their more relaxed state means they are less likely to injure themselves when landing.
According to the British TV show 'QI', a case study of 132 New York cats that had fallen from windows 7 storeys or higher, showed that 90% had survived the fall. They also cited an example of a cat that had fallen from a low flying Cesna, several hundred metres above the ground, and landed without a scratch.