The tragedies that shake the world these days are constantly staring us in the face. It’s impossible to go even a few days without reading a news story about a major earthquake, a plane crash, or some other catastrophe that killed tens or hundreds or even thousands. But in each scenario, one holds onto the hope that somehow, people are able to survive whatever the tragedy may be.
In many cases, there are stories of people surviving against all odds which give us hope. Sometimes, those stories are even more exceptional – when the survivors happen to be children.
Children are precious, and often adults are in charge of protecting them. But of course, in a time of crisis, it’s not always possible for mom and dad to be present, and sometimes they’re not even alive. What happens then? Well in these 15 cases, children and babies managed to pull through against the odds, and survived scenarios most of us can’t even begin to imagine.
15. Sailor Gutzler
One of the most recents example of a child surviving against all odds is the story of Sailor Gutzler, a 7-year old girl who survived a plane crash that killed her family. The Gutzler’s were vacationing in Florida and flying home when the plane had some engine trouble.
They were re-routed to the nearest airport, but the plane never arrived. Sailor pulled herself from the wreckage with a broken wrist and walked over a mile in the darkness until she found a house.
She knocked upon the door and proceeded to ask for help, telling the man her parents were dead. She was covered in scrapes and bruises, but was somehow miraculously still alive. In the plane were both her parents, her sister and her young cousin, all of them now deceased.
14. Musa Dayib
Many parents will sometimes step into another room briefly while their kids are playing, and generally, things turn out okay. In the case of Musa Dayib, his parents stepping into another room almost cost his life.
One day in May 2014, Dayib’s father left him and his 3-year old sister while he stepped into the kitchen. Less then a minute later, his sister ran into the kitchen saying, “the baby fell.” But little Musa hadn’t fallen from a bed or the couch – in fact, his sister had opened the door to the balcony, and Musa fell 11 stories to the ground.
The father rushed downstairs to find his son lying on the ground. While a fall like that might have killed anyone else, Musa’s small size is credited for being the only reason he survived. Doctor’s said that little kids are more flexible than adults, and they are less likely to break as adults would. He also miraculously happened to fall into a very small patch of soft ground that cushioned the blow.
13. Cecelia Cichan
On August 16, 1987, just after takeoff, a McDonnell Douglas MD-80 crashed right outside the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. It ended up killing all six crew members and 148 of the passengers on board. At the time, it was the second deadliest airplane crash in American history, and remains the fourth-deadliest to this day.
However, amongst the grisly wreckage, there was one sole survivor – a 4-year old girl named Cecelia Cichan. Today, Cecilia is married and healthy, but she says she thinks about the crash every day of her life. She’s left with visual scars, and tattooed a plane on her wrist to always remember those who were killed in the crash, including her family.
To this day, this flight is the deadliest sole-survivor incident in aviation history.
12. Lin Hao
Lin Hao was just an ordinary second grader until a 7.9 earthquake hit the Sichuan province in China on May 12, 2008. Over 70,000 people perished in the quake.
Little Lin not only survived, but he’s credited with saving the life of two of his classmates. When the earthquake hit, the entire school collapsed on Lin and his classmates, and Lin is said to have been the first child to escape the building. But even though he escaped, he went back into the rubble and removed two of his classmates, both of them unconscious.
When asked why he did it, he said it was because he was the hall monitor and it was his job to look after his classmates. Only ten students survived, and while they were waiting for help to arrive, it’s reported that Lin encouraged his fellow students to sing songs in order to keep their spirits up.
11. Azra Karaduman
Azra Karaduman was only days old when a 7.2 earthquake devastated southeastern Turkey. Little Azra was with her mother and grandmother when the quake hit. All three were trapped beneath the rubble and spent the next 48 hours there. Semiha, the mother of the infant, kept giving the baby her own saliva in order to keep it hydrated as they waited for help to arrive.
Once rescuers found them, the baby was the first to be freed as the mother held her out toward them. Azra became a beacon of hope for others who survived the tragedy, as they waited for their loved ones to be found. Both mother and grandmother were rescued later, and reunited at a nearby hospital.
10. Isaac Allal
Young Isaac Allal had a rough start in life. Coming from a poor Tunisian family, he grew up in poor health. His parents were told that a glorious opportunity arose for their frail little boy, assured that he could go to a convalescent home in Norway. From there he would travel to Israel to reunite with their families.
On December 5th, 1949, Isaac and 27 other poor children were loaded into an airplane heading for Norway. There were two planes, but sadly, one plane never reached its final destination.
Thousands of civilians helped search for the missing plane, and it wasn’t until two days after the crash that the wreckage was discovered. There was no official list of names, so identifying the children was a complicated task, and many parents weren’t sure if their children were on the plane that made it. But once the wreckage was surveyed and all bodies were found, there was one miracle: One little boy, an 11-year named Yitzchak Allal had survived two days in the wreckage that killed the other 27 children, four crew members and three adult escorts.
9. Peter Link
On September 5, 1946, a Trans-Luxury airliner flying from New York to San Francisco was preparing to stop in Elko, Nevada to refuel. However, the plane never landed, and at 2:04 AM, a United Airlines pilot reported a large fire west of the airport.
When emergency personnel arrived, they said bodies were scattered far and wide, some as far as a hundred yards from the crash site. They pulled one woman alive from the crash, but she later died at the hospital.
There would be a sole survivor of the crash, a 3-year old boy named Peter Link. The rescuers heard his cries coming from a clump of sagebrush and were able to save him. His parents and baby sister were killed in the crash, however. The little boy went to live with his grandmother in Brooklyn, and he grew up to become a successful attorney.
8. Keston Wachenheim
Suicide in and of itself is a tragedy, but what would compel a mother to not only take her own life, but that of her child as well? We may never know exactly what prompted Cynthia Wachenheim to take that fateful plunge in 2013, nor why she strapped her 10-month old son, Keston, to her chest.
The woman jumped 8-stories and died from her injuries, but her baby is believed to have survived the impact by bouncing off her body. There was a suicide note in the apartment that she shared with her husband that stated that she knew what she was doing was evil, but that she was concerned for her son’s development.
7. Philippe Benseniot
There are some stories that are almost too coincidental to believe. Either Philippe Benseniot is one lucky child, or there’s someone watching over this kid. The 18-month old was said to be playing with a little girl in his Parisian home, when somehow, the infant fell from the sixth story window.
But not only did he hit the awning on his way down, thus cushioning his fall – he fell right into the arms of a doctor who just happened to be walking below. The doctor was walking with his wife when he noticed the child falling, and he somehow managed to position himself underneath the awning just in time. At first, little Philippe is said to have cried, but eventually calmed down in the doctor’s arms. The doctor didn’t find any injuries on the child, but nonetheless, he was transported to a nearby hospital to verify that he’d managed to stay healthy despite the fall.
6. Bahia Bakari
There are some stories of child survivors that not just defy the odds, but also demonstrate a will to live like no other.
Young Bahia Bakari was only 14-years old when she survived a plane crash out at sea. The teen couldn’t swim, and didn’t have a life preserver, yet managed to stay afloat between 9-12 hours by merely holding onto the wreckage.
Bahia survived what is known as the deadliest ocean crash and the second deadliest plane crash in history, and was touted to be a “miracle child”. She lost her mother in the crash, but her father has spoken to the media about his daughter, saying that she was a shy, fragile girl and that even he is surprised she could survive the plane crash. In total, over 150 people died, and Bahia was the sole survivor.
5. Kyson Stowell
In 2008, a deadly tornado ravaged a small town in Tennessee. While the town worked to clean up after the tragedy, with the ground strewn with devastation and bodies, the rescuers found a tiny miracle amid lumber and other pieces of debris and carnage.
The infant was alive, only needing treatment for scrapes and a collapsed lung. The child, Kyson Stowell, was found less than 100 yards from his mother, who sadly perished in the tornado. The storms were part of a large system that hit five southern states, but Tennessee was the hardest hit with 22 counties damaged by tornadoes, and over 200 people injured.
Days after the tsunami hit the coast of Thailand, the parents of a three-year old boy named Diew had all but given up on his survival. The massive wave had killed nearly 2,000 people after hitting the western coastline of Thailand, and it appeared that Diew would be one of them.
The child was at a neighbor’s house when the wave hit, and his mother ran to get him. Just as they were reunited, however, the wave hit them and separated them. While she was frantically looking for her son, the second wave hit and she barely escaped, but couldn’t manage to find her son, and feared the worst.
When the parents got word that their son was found on December 28th, they were relieved to have found his body at last, but then even better news came – the boy was alive. He was found in the forest alone and covered in mosquito bites. He’d spent three days alone in the mangroves, and he says he cried for help, but no one had heard him. When he was discovered by rescuers, he seemed to be in good spirits, asking for food and a Coca-Cola. His injuries were all, incredibly, minor.
3. Austin Hatch
Austin Hatch’s story holds a distinction that many of the others incredible stories don’t. He survived not one, but two deadly plane crashes before his 16th birthday.
The first accident occurred when he was only 8 years old and the crash killed his mother, older sister and younger brother. As if one deadly crash wasn’t enough for a lifetime though, in 2011 tragedy struck again.
He survived a second plane crash, though this one killed his father. While he suffered from some severe injuries, including being placed in a medically-induced coma for eight weeks, he went on to recover and to play basketball for the University of Michigan.
2. Juliane Koepcke
Juliane Koepcke wanted nothing more than to be a zoologist like her parents.
She was only 17-years old and a high school student in Lima, Peru when she and her mother were involved in a deadly plane crash. But this wasn’t just any crash.
Their plane was struck by a bolt of lighting that literally disintegrated it in mid-air. Juliana fell to the earth still strapped to her seat, and the only explanation for her survival is the improbable theory that the seat must have turned and buffered the impact from the crash.
She suffered from a broken collarbone, a gash on her arm, and had one eye swollen shut. But she survived. Sadly, her mother did not. Even though she somehow managed to survive the crash, she was deep inside the rainforest and needed to get help.
She first found some sweets from the plane that would be her only food, and she waded through a small stream, relying on lessons her father had taught her about survival. She traveled for nine days, and was unable to sleep due to insect bites which were becoming infected.
Finally, she located a boat and relied on her father’s advice once more, using the gasoline to remove maggots from her arm. She then waited for the owner of the boat to return, and he was able to tend to her injuries. The next day they took a 7-hour canoe ride to a lumber station where they airlifted her to the hospital.
Koepcke went on to become a renowned biologist after her experiences in the rainforest.
1. Norman Ollestad Jr.
Norman Ollestad Jr. was raised to live without fear. As a baby his father, Norman Ollestad Sr., would take little Norman surfing with him, strapping the child to his back while he rode the waves.
Norman Jr. learned how to ski at the age of 3 and moved on to the black-diamond slopes by the age of 4. And while most kids were playing with Legos in elementary school, Norman was riding mammoth waves with little to no fear. While scary to most parents, these experiences are what’s being credited with keeping young Norman alive.
At the age of 11, he would go on to survive a plane crash that killed his father and the pilot. On a trip out to Big Bear, their tiny plane crashed into the mountains, 8,500 feet up. Only Norman and his father’s girlfriend managed to survive, and Norman was determined to stay alive. He half-carried the injured woman down the mountain until she fell off of a cliff – thousands of feet to her death.
But Norman continued on, climbing the rest of the way down a vertical stone gulch. He even fashioned some homemade skis out of his sneakers and tree branches, which he used to help him get down the mountain to safety. All of this at 11-years old.