Humanity has endured so much pain over our short time on this rock hurtling through space, that it is often taken for granted just how much our species can overcome. We have survived global wars, pandemics and climactic change; this is a testament to our indefatigable spirit. Whether it’s our innate nature or survival of the fittest, the human race has overcome some of the mightiest obstacles.
When an Australian surfer fought off an inquisitive shark during a surf competition recently, he instantly became an internet celebrity. He is the latest of many stories that exemplify just how far a person is willing to go in order to survive horrific incidents against huge odds. In this article, we shall explore ten occasions which saw ordinary people placed in extraordinary situations which they really shouldn’t have been able to walk away from – but did.
From a man who was torn apart by a grizzly bear and lived to tell the tale, to adventurers who survived unbelievable lengths of time stranded in a living hell – and a woman whose two-mile plunge to earth was only the beginning of her problems – fill a glass and raise it to the people who refused to give in to their circumstances.
10. Hugh Glass Survives Grizzly Mauling
Hugh Glass was a fur-trapper who was famed for his exploits throughout his native American West in the nineteenth century. Though he was known for his daredevil nature and dedication to his profession, he took one risk too many in August 1823. While scouting solo along the Grand River, he surprised a grizzly who was caring for her two cubs. The enraged bear attacked Glass before he could respond and tore him open, leaving him with multiple lacerations, a broken leg and stomach wounds so severe that his ribs were exposed.
He was found unconscious by his companions who assumed he was dead and left him in hostile Native American territory. Miraculously, Glass not only survived his injuries but managed to drag himself through the unforgiving terrain to safety over the next two months, with his horrific injuries. He survived by eating berries and roots and drinking rain water.
9. Alexander Selkirk’s Castaway Adventure
The Tom Hanks film Castaway, is a brilliant tale of how much one man, his basketball and a pesky FedEx package are prepared to endure to survive being stranded upon a deserted island. However, it is not the most impressive tale of man conquering solitude – that honor belongs to the 18th century Scotsman, Alexander Selkirk.
Selkirk was jettisoned from an expedition ship in 1704, for being a troublemaker and left upon an uninhabited island in the South Pacific for his sins. His only possessions were a bible, musket, gunpowder, knife and a little clothing. He utilized his possessions to an incredible degree; by the time Selkirk was picked up by a passing English ship, he had been marooned on the island in complete isolation for an astonishing four years and four months. That’s a lot of time to think about his bad behaviour.
8. James Scott’s Nepalese Trek
James Scott, a 22-year old Australian medical student, travelled to Nepal to work in local hospitals just before Christmas, 1991. While waiting for a placement, he decided to follow the popular Helambu trail and spend the time trekking with a fellow med student. After a blizzard suddenly sprung up and covered the trail path, Scott was separated from his trek partner, who had the pair’s only map and wondered off in the opposite direction. It would be February before he was seen again.
Scott’s elder sister, Joanne Robertson refused to give up on finding him alive and pleaded with the Australian Embassy to launch a search, which covered a 50 km range. Miraculously, Scott was found in his sleeping bag at the beginning of spring. 1992. Filthy and emaciated, he had survived for 42 days in sub-zero temperatures with supplies consisting of just 2 chocolate bars, a pair of jogging pants and a spare sweater.
7. Michael Benson Crashes Into A Volcanic Crater
We’ve all been on a flight that is rocked by turbulence. As heart-stopping as a sudden rocking can be, few of us have ever plunged out of the sky. Even fewer have crash-landed into the mouth of one of the most active volcanos in the world – and lived to tell the tale. This is exactly what happened to camera crew Michael Benson and Chris Duddy, in November, 1992. The chopper they were shooting footage for a film in malfunctioned and crashed into the live crater of Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano. Duddy, obscured from rescue crews by dense, toxic volcanic gasses, managed to climb to safety after a day spent near the bubbling lava, but Benson was left behind.
Benson spent two days perched precariously by the lava, unaware that Duddy had survived. With no sleep or food, he spent his time praying, reciting the alphabet backwards to keep focused and drank rainwater. He finally escaped when a break in the steam allowed rescue helicopters to fish him out with a net. Benson commented as he was lifted out, “I turned to Madame Pele (the God of Fire) and said ‘You didn’t beat me, you didn’t get me'”. Both men suffered only minor cuts and scrapes.
6. Juliane Koepcke’s 2-Mile Plunge
If it were a work of fiction, the story of teenager Juliane Koepcke would be dismissed as ridiculously far-fetched. In 1971, the German 17-year old was aboard a flight above the Peruvian Amazon when it was struck by lightning. Koepcke plummeted 2 miles to earth, still strapped into her seat – and survived the fall. This, however, was only the start of her remarkable ordeal.
Juliane was the only survivor of the crash. She sustained only moderate injuries and spent the next 10 days searching for help as she navigated the crocodile and piranha-infested waters of the jungle. This is all the more remarkable considering she had lost her glasses and had ruptured a knee ligament. After searching through corpses for her mother and surviving on a mere bag of sweets, she was found in a hut by Peruvian lumberjacks, pulling maggots out of her infected lacerations and cleaning the wounds with kerosene.
5. Aron Ralston’s 127 Hours Of Hell
The story of Aron Ralston has been made famous by his best-selling book and the subsequent film adaptation, 127 Hours. However, the tale of endurance is so remarkable that it worth revisiting. Ralston was rock-climbing in Utah when he dislodged a boulder in the Blue John Canyon, and ended up pinned to the rock-wall by his forearm. It was 2003 and Ralston was about to begin six days of hell in complete solitude.
Battling dehydration and hypothermia, Ralston survived by rationing his water supplies and eventually drinking his own urine. After coming to terms with the fact that nobody knew his whereabouts and rescue was unlikely, Ralston took matters into his own hands. He broke his own arm and sawed through the skin, tendons and muscle with a blunt multi-tool knife. After successfully amputating his own arm, Ralston climbed to safety and vowed never again to go climbing without letting somebody know his exact location.
4. Howard Ulrich Rides Largest Ever Wave
In 1958, an earthquake measuring 8.0 on the Richter Scale created a mega-Tsunami in Alaska, that caused untold damage to the Lituya Bay region. A rock face crumbled into the bay, causing a wave that, at 1,720 feet tall, was the largest wave ever recorded. As terrifying as it would be to such a monstrous tide hurtling towards you, imagine what it would be like to be perched on top of it. Howard Ulrich is the only person on the planet who could tell you exactly what that feels like.
Ulrich was on board his fishing vessel in the bay, along with his 8-year old son, when the wave hit. As the 100 mph wall of water hit his vessel, the boat was carried along the top of the trees on the very top of the wave, nearly 200 feet high, before the waves receded and he was deposited back in the bay. Father and son escaped unscathed, but with an incredible dinner party tale to tell.
3. Lincoln Hall Beats Everest
In 2006, mountaineer Lincoln Hall achieved what is regarded as the pinnacle of his profession and reached the summit of Mount Everest. However, what happened to him next is what separates him from others that have attained the same achievement – he survived a night stranded alone at the peak of the planet’s highest mountain.
As he began his descent, Hall began to show signs of distress. Seemingly overcome by severe altitude sickness, his body began to shut down. As he stopped breathing, his guides attempted to resuscitate him before realizing that they couldn’t find any signs of life. They abandoned him, thinking he was dead. Remarkably, a group of climbers happened upon him 12 hours later. After spending a night in the most hostile weather conditions known to man on top of Earth’s physical peak, Hall was found frostbitten, weak, cross-legged and fully conscious. He had survived conditions that no man has the right to expect to live through.
2. Hiroo Odona’s 30-Year Exile
During the Second World War, the Emperor Hirohito could command unswerving loyalty from the Japanese army. They favored suicide over surrender and were conditioned to fight until the very death for Emperor and country. Intelligence officer Hiroo Odona was arguably the most loyal of all Hirohito’s troops – he survived 30 years alone in the jungles of the Philippines before finally becoming the last soldier to surrender in 1974.
Odona had fled into the jungle after hearing of the Emperor’s surrender, assuming it to be a ruse in order to capture Japanese prisoners of war. He was initially joined by two other soldiers, both of whom had either surrendered or were shot by Philippine troops by 1950. Odona lived off berries and animals that he killed for meat in the jungle and carried on fighting for the next two decades. He killed an estimated 30 soldiers before his former commanding officer visited Odona in his jungle hideaway to convince him that the war had been over for almost 30 years.
1. Steven Callahan’s 1800-Mile Drift
Though there are countless stories about people who’ve been adrift at sea, covering thousands of miles, it has always been hard to verify many of their accounts. This is not the case with Steven Callahan, a sailor who became adrift from his boat in the Atlantic in 1982. Callahan kept detailed logs of his 76-day ordeal, during which he floated 1800 miles, ending up in the Bahamas where he was rescued by fishermen.
Callahan had been crossing the Atlantic solo when a gale blew up around him. A large shark or whale crashed into and holed his boat, leading to him escaping the sinking vessel in a rubber dinghy. Carrying only 8 pints of water and 3 lb of food, he began to fish with his spear gun and used a solar still to make a pint of drinkable water a day. After 50 days of drifting, he entered tropical waters, leading to salt-water sores and dehydration as the temperatures in his 6 ft circular raft increased.
After 72 days, the last ten of which he had been hand-pumping out water from a tear in the raft, fishermen spotted seagulls feeding off the fish guts he had been throwing overboard and his 11-week ordeal was finally at an end.