“Death waits for no man”. That’s an undeniably morbid idea and can make many of us paranoid. Some of us never really entertain the idea of our own mortality – until we’re placed in life-threatening situations – while some of us think about it every day and constantly think of ways to ‘cheat death’ in a Final Destination-style manner. Either way, death is eventually unavoidable; but some people have found ways to put off the inevitable by surviving in the face of extraordinarily trying and even seemingly hopeless circumstances. Some of the most harrowing survival stories sometimes depicted in literature or on the silver screen often start off innocuously; a vacation, a road trip, travelling from a major event. Then, disaster strikes. There may be casualties involved and an ensuing desperate fight for survival.
We may never know why one person survives a fall that would’ve killed others – it’s a bit of a mystery, and if you’re religious it could be proof that there’s a higher power at work. Or it could be that these people just got extremely lucky, knew how to use their wits or were particularly physically or mentally capable in a crisis. Some of the most incredible survivors, whose stories we’re about to tell, have something from all of the above categories. Most of us have seen or heard of the movie 127 Hours, which tracks the frankly unbelievable – but true – survival of Aron Ralston who cut off his own arm to escape from a boulder which trapped him. This is just one of many fantastical stories about people young and old who survived seemingly impossibly dire situations. Whatever it is that marks these people out as survivors against these odds, the stories give us a glimmer of hope for the tenacity and resilience of the human spirit.
10. Bethany Hamilton
The nature of the ocean is notoriously both beautiful and menacing, with obscure secrets below its obscure surface. So we can all imagine the profound fear of swimming through the ocean, minding your own business, catching a few waves with your surfboard, and having a shark swim by and rip off your arm. Just the trauma from the loss of blood alone is enough to send anyone to an early grave, even if the shark doesn’t come back for the other three limbs. Well, that’s what happened in 2003 to 13-year old Bethany Hamilton while she was lying down on her board with her left arm dangling in the water. But what’s more incredible is that after the shark ripped off her left arm just below the shoulder, Hamilton swam back to shore with the help of her best friend – not before warning fellow surfers and swimmers that there was a shark in the water. Her story inspired many documentaries and published books. After a short break, the incredibly brave Hamilton eventually even returned to surfing.
9. 1972 Andes Flight Disaster
In October 1972, a Uruguayan plane carrying 45 people including rugby players and students crashed in the Andes Mountains. The temperature was 30 degrees below zero at night time and 12 people had died in the initial crash. The survivors had very little in terms of food and water and eventually had to turn to cannibalism in order to stay alive. The survivors lost almost all hope when they heard on the plane’s radio that the search for their plane had ended. A number of survivors, however, banded together to form an expedition party which would search for help. After a number of failed attempts to cross the treacherous terrain and 72 days of being stranded, the group who had left the crash site had managed to make themselves known to civilians and the 16 survivors were eventually found. The ordeal still haunts the remaining survivors over 40 years later.
8. Sophie Tucker
This is the heartwarming story of an Australian cattle dog, Sophie Tucker. Okay, it’s not a human survival story, but bear with us here: In November of 2008, Sophie fell overboard during her family’s yacht trip. Jan Griffith thought for sure her dog had drowned. But Sophie Tucker swam through 5-6 miles of dangerous, shark infested waters to an island where the dog survived by hunting and killing wild goats and koalas. Residents of the island reported seeing a dog, and wildlife rangers caught her. When the Griffith family caught wind of the story it was 4 months since they’d seen their beloved pet but they went to check out the situation. Much to their shock and joy, it was indeed Sophie Tucker. The little dog who could.
7. Tsutomu Yamaguchi
Imagine surviving not one, but two blasts from an atomic bomb. That’s exactly what happened to 29-year old Tsutomu Yamaguchi in 1945. He was an employee of Mitsubishi in the midst of World War II, and on a business trip to Hiroshima when the United States dropped the atomic bomb on the city. Yamaguchi was luckily just far enough away from the blast to avoid being killed. When he returned home to Nagasaki, however, the US dropped yet another atomic bomb while he was at work. Incredibly, he survived the second blast as well. He went on to become an advocate for the anti-nuclear weapons cause and demanded their abolition in 2006. Yamaguchi passed away in 2010, at the age of 93.
6. Juliane Koepcke
Being the daughter of adventuring scientists, Juliane Koepcke was no stranger to the jungle. So , in 1971 at the young age of 17, when Koepcke survived a horrific plane crash that killed her mother and everyone else on board she was ready for the challenge. She survived a 10,000-foot fall while still strapped to her seat and she landed in the Peruvian jungle all alone. Using the skills taught to her by her parents, Koepcke was able to survive 11 days in the jungle until she finally found civilization. In September of 2013, at the age of 58, Koepcke (who became a biologist like her parents) recounted her chilling experience to The Daily Mail.
5. Gerrit Blank
With movies like “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact” ingrained into our psyche, when there’s a meteorite heading towards the Earth we’re programmed to expect the world is going to end. But for 14-year old Gerrit Blank, it was no skin off his nose when a meteorite going 30,000 mph directly hit him. He claims that he saw a ball of light as the pea-sized hot rock hit his hand and landed on the ground, making a 1-foot crater. Besides leaving a 3-inch scar on his hand, Blank incredible survived. Scientists examined the rock and it was confirmed that the rock, whose impact was enough to shatter the earth below Gerrit, had come from space.
4. Matt Suter
Young Matt Suter made headlines across the United States when he survived a tornado in his hometown in Missouri. But this is more than just an ordinary tornado survival story. Suter actually rode a tornado wearing only his boxer shorts. He was at his grandmother’s trailer when the tornado tore through, sucking Matt into the whirlwind storm. He regained consciousness in a field about 1,307 feet away where a nearby family found him. Now, you would think that Suter was probably covered in blood, had broken bones, or some sort of life-threatening injury. Nope! He got a cut on his head from a lamp but that’s about it.
3. Aron Ralston
Aron Ralston’s story has been since immortalized on the big screen in the 2010 movie, “127 Hours”, starring James Franco. But it doesn’t make Ralston’s story any less incredible. In 2003, while hiking in the Blue Ridge Canyon in Utah, the boulder he had been climbing became dislodged and he (and the boulder) fell down the canyon, crushing his right hand and pinning him against the canyon wall. Ralston’s biggest mistake was that he hadn’t told anyone he was climbing so no one knew to look for him or even where to look for him. After 5 days of being trapped, he ran out of food and water and had to drink his own urine. Convinced he was going to die, he wrote out his name and birth date (plus presumed date of death) and fell asleep. He woke up the next morning delirious and dehydrated and started the hour-long process of amputating his hand at the mid-forearm. After he was freed, he climbed out of the canyon and was found by a family, who got him food, water, and medical assistance. Ralston’s arm was recovered after an extensive process involving 13 men, and then cremated with the ashes returned to Ralston. Ralston scattered the ashes in the canyon during an interview with Tom Brokaw saying it’s where they belong.
2. Harrison Okene
Harrison Okene, a Nigerian boat cook, made headlines in 2013 when he survived three days being buried alive under the sea. It all started at 4:30am on May 26th when he got up to use the bathroom. The tugboat he was working on was overturned (likely due to a swell), and water began flooding into the living quarters. Okene found himself trapped in the tugboat as it fell 100 feet below the ocean surface in complete darkness. Wearing only his boxers he waded through the corridors searching for supplies. He found a light source, Coca Cola and other tools. He knew he was running out of oxygen so he found a safe corner of the ship and used mattresses to block out water and created a 4-foot air pocket. All the while, Okene heard sharks and barracudas fighting over the remains of his shipmates. Okene ended up surviving for 62 hours, to the shock of the rescue divers. His skin was raw from the salt water and the cuts and bruises from the accident, but a number of factors – the air pockets amplifying the amount of oxygen in his survival space and the cold water absorbing the carbon dioxide he was breathing out – helped him survive the ordeal.
1. William Rankin
William Henry Rankin lived to the old age of 93 when he passed in 2009. But on July 26, 1959, he had a brush with death that he never forgot. He was flying an F-8 jet fighter from Massachusetts to South Carolina when he got caught in the midst of an aggressive thunderstorm. He pulled his plane over a thunderhead and reached the altitude of 45,000 feet. When the engine in his plane stopped, he tried to deploy the auxiliary power to no avail, so he had no choice but to eject his seat into air around -50 C. He was using his emergency oxygen supply to breathe and he was immediately experiencing frostbite as well as the decompression causing his mouth, eyes, ears, and nose to bleed. After 5 minutes his parachute didn’t deploy, so he was essentially floating and riding the wind during this lightning and thunderstorm. Because he was spinning so fast, he was also vomiting, as hailstorms were hitting him. Despite all this sheer horror, he survived when his parachute eventually opened, landing him safely in a forest.