06/07/2010 12:39 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Miracle Boy: How a 4-Year-Old Boy Survives Falling from a Miami High-Rise

In Miami, a 4-year-old boy is in the hospital after falling from the 17th floor of a downtown high-rise, according to news reports.

The pre-schooler -- Joey Williams -- jumped over the railing of his apartment and fell seven stories to a pool area on the 10th floor. The boy caromed off palm trees and landed on a soft patch of landscaping, according to officials. Joey survived without a scratch while his mother fainted at the scene. Within hours, Joey was eating french fries at the hospital while rescuers marveled at his survival.

"We called him a miracle child," said Lt. Ignatius Carroll of Miami Fire Rescue.

No doubt, a disturbing number of children are seriously injured or killed every year in falls, but in the world of free-falling, it turns out that small children, especially babies, are surprisingly well-equipped to survive and escape without a scrape.

Dr. Richard Snyder knows more than anyone in the world about free falling and "human impact tolerances," the technical phrase for how much the body can withstand. Over a fifty-year career, he researched more than thirty-three thousand falls of every height and variety. As a crash injury expert at the FAA in 1963, he published a classic study of 137 falls, including a sixty-nine-year-old woman who toppled from a tree while chasing her pet parakeet and an eloper who tumbled from a tall ladder. Snyder's subjects ranged in age from eighteen months to ninety-one years old.

Humans, he concluded, are able to survive impact forces "considerably greater than those previously believed tolerable."

Consider the case of a two-year-old boy in Providence, Rhode Island who survived falling from a third-floor window in March 2006. He landed on a concrete sidewalk and sustained serious injuries, but he lived. "I have seen dozens of these cases over the years and I've never seen a child die," said Deputy Police Chief Paul J. Kennedy. "It's really incredible."

In fact, it's actually not so incredible when you consider a baby's body, according to Dr. Snyder. Infant bones are "relatively flexible (and not rigid or brittle)," he wrote in his classic study of free falling, and their higher percentage of body fat offers "greater protection to internal injuries."

Still, some falls from great heights remain a mystery. In October 1993, for instance, five-year-old Paul Rosen was reaching for a toy when he fell out the seventh-story window of his family's New York apartment onto a concrete courtyard below. In the ambulance on the way to New York Hospital, Paul asked emergency workers if he would get a Band-Aid. "Paul is a strong, brave child who thought he could fly," his mother Christine told reporters at a hospital news conference. Doctors were baffled how he survived without any injuries or broken bones. They suspected that he landed on his bottom and back, cushioning the fall. But paramedic Raymond Bonner offered a different perspective: "It's like the angels caught him."