Death can come at any time and mostly anywhere. Spike TV has the popular show 1001 Ways to Die that showcases people falling to fates that are mostly due to freak accidents and thousand to one chances. It’s not pleasant but it happens. Which is all the more remarkable when someone is able to escape a death that seems certain. It’s not just pure “almost there” circumstances like someone not being on a plane that crashes. It’s people who are involved in circumstances that should have been fatal but by chance, their strengths and just pure blind luck, somehow manage to get out of it alive. It’s not just soldiers who can survive wild stuff but civilians, often folks with no survival training but are able to endure events that professionals would succumb to.
Plane crashes, boats sinking, natural disasters and more– people have managed to walk away from events in amazing ways. A few are able to do it not just once but a few times to make it more impressive. Some do bear the physical scars but are still able to maintain normal lives, which is more remarkable given what they endured. A few are from past times but some modern events are amazing for just how much a human body can withstand. Here are fifteen people who looked death in the eye and not just spat at it but overcame it to survive and prove a human being can get through most anything.
15. Ludger Sylbaris Survived A Volcano By Being In Jail
Born in Martinique, Ludger Sylbaris was a dock worker in St. Pierre in the shadow of Mount Pelee. On May 7th, 1902, Sylbaris got into a fight at a bar after work and was arrested and tossed into a tiny cell without windows and a grate away from the mountain. He naturally was upset but had no idea this was the break of a lifetime. That morning, Mt. Pelee exploded with one of the most devastating volcanic eruptions ever recorded. It ripped through St. Pierre like a nuclear blast, the combination of huge heat and deadly fumes wiping the town off the map, killing nearly 30,000 people almost instantly. However, because of the strength of the walls of his cell and the lack of ventilation, Sylbaris managed to survive the horror.
Four days later, rescue crews heard his cries and managed to dig him out. Badly burned and dehydrated, Sylbaris still was alive, one of only three people to survive the devastation. He spent the next few years with Barnum and Bailey Circus as “the man Who Lived Through Doomsday” before passing on in 1929. While St. Pierre has been rebuilt into a tourist spot since, the town makes sure the cell Sylbaris was in still remains standing as a reminder of the stunning tale of survival.
14. Charles John Joughin Drank His Way To Salvation
It’s well known that the Titanic is one of the most well known disasters of all time. Many of the 1500 who died didn’t die from drowning or being trapped on the ship. Rather, when the ship finally went down, hundreds of survivors found themselves in the freezing cold water of the North Atlantic and succumbed to the cold conditions. It was reported how boats had to row through a field of floating corpses to look for survivors. Even the strongest of men could only last ten minutes in that water…unless they had some help.
When the Carpathia came by after four hours, the survivors were eager to be rescued. The liner began picking up the people from the Titanic lifeboats, thinking only those on the boats were all that were left of the ship’s passengers. Without warning, swimming up to the ship came Chief Baker Charles Joughin. Incredibly, he had been paddling in the water for four hours in the freezing cold without any ill effects. The apparent reason for his survival came from how Joughin had downed a massive amount of alcohol before the ship sank which, combined with his paddling, created a natural antifreeze within his system. All he got out of things was a swollen foot as Joughin proved that hard drinking really can save your life sometimes.
13. Ewa Wisnerska The Human Popsicle
It’s well known that Australia is a very nasty and dangerous land. Between the wildlife and the deserts, it’s a place that can easily take its toll on people. However, the atmosphere is also prone to some of the most brutal storms imaginable that make and Oklahoma tornado look like a light breeze. In early 2007, German Ewa Wisnerska was preparing for a popular paragliding competition and getting some practise in. Wisnerska’s plane actually flew under the storm so she had no idea how bad it was when she leaped out of the plane. Like something out of a cartoon, she was yanked upward 32,000 feet in just a few minutes, the same altitude as passenger aircraft.
A human being is not meant to be up there, especially in a storm which pelted her hard with rain. It also dropped the temperature around Wisnerska to minus 58 degrees. Still awake, Wisnerska felt her entire body freeze over and was blown 40 miles off course. Unable to move, she kept on falling before finally making a landing. At the very least, Wisnerska set a record for the highest height survived by a paraglider and yes, she did take part in the competition.
12. Matthew Lowe Was Crushed Like Play-Do
Measure out five inches. It’s small, right? Exceptionally small, a space most people could never hope to fit any measure of themselves into. Now imagine when you were a kid and used Play-Do to crush stuff into a very small space and watch it come out the other side. Now try to imagine what it must have been like for Matthew Lowe to experience that. In December of 2008, Lowe was working at a factory when his clothing got snagged on a conveyer belt. He couldn’t stop it so, as he put it “I just relaxed and waited for the inevitable.” That meant being crammed into a space roughly the size of a CD case (thankfully his head managed to get through a slightly larger space) and out the other side. It took a moment for him to realize he was alive and then start howling in agony.
He broke his back in two places, shattered both hips, his pelvis, several ribs and ruptured his stomach and bowels. It took six surgeries and enough metal in his body to blow out an airport detector but Lowe is able to walk today and live a normal life. Just don’t bring up Play-Do in front of him.
11. Roy C. Sullivan Was A Human Lightning Rod
The odds of being hit by a bolt of lightning are anywhere from 300,000 to 960,000 to 1 depending on where you live. Pretty big odds, right? The odds of being hit twice are naturally higher. The odds of being hit seven times in a single lifetime? Twenty-two septillion to one (that’s 24 zeroes). Meet Roy C. Sullivan, the man who somehow managed to achieve that impossible feat. A park ranger in Virginia’s Shenandoah Park, Sullivan was a veteran used to helping out people affected by the storms in the area. He was first hit in 1942 while at a lookout tower. Over the next thirty years he was struck while driving, while hiking and even while inside a ranger station.
It got to the point where his hair was catching on fire so Sullivan took a pitcher of water with him whenever storms were present. One famous case had him and his wife hanging up clothes when a bolt of lightning hit both of them. He was soon nicknamed “the Spark Ranger” for his constant clashes. As it turned out, lightning didn’t do him in as Sullivan shot himself in 1971 over a woman who didn’t return his love. Yep, seven lightning strikes couldn’t do him in but unrequited love did. Just goes to show how bizarre life can be.
10. Truman Duncan Is Literally Half A Man
A few people have survived being hit by a train and losing, say a leg or an arm. Losing half of your entire body is something else altogether. In 2006, Truman Duncan was a switchman working at the Gunderson Southwest train yard in Cleburne, Texas. He misjudged a jump and ended up falling off a cargo train and onto the tracks. He tried to get back up but failed and thus his legs were severed by twenty tons of train wheels and load. Incredibly, the man remained conscious and aware enough to call 911 and tell them “I think I’m cut in two.”
Paramedics responded 45 minutes later and it took hours to get Duncan out from under the train. His legs were utterly mangled beyond repair and the surgeons spent nearly four hours cleaning dirt and gravel out of his wounds while making amputations. Duncan spent three weeks in a coma and endured 23 more surgeries over several months before being released. At first keeping to himself, Duncan soon did interviews to note how lucky he was and living his life in a wheelchair and proving you can live a full life even without half your body.
9. Charles Lightoller Survived Literally Everything The Seas Could Throw At Him
You would think surviving the Titanic would be enough to make this list. But incredibly, Charles Lightoller’s entire life was getting out of events at sea that would have killed anyone else. He started sailing at the age of 13 when his ship hit a storm and had to settle for repairs in Rio at the same time as both a rebellion and a smallpox epidemic. He then hit another storm which caused the ship to crash and maroon Lightoller on an island for eight days. Another ship had a coal fire break out when he was a crewmember and a tropical storm struck another.
Then, Lightoller became Second Mate on the Titanic. He did his best to handle the brutal crash and evacuate as many people as he could. He went down with the ship, yanked by the suction into one of the smokestacks. However, the pressure caused the boilers to explode to spit Lightoller out and to a lifeboat. Believe it or not, he survived two more shipwrecks and earned a medal in World War I by ramming his boat into a German submarine, sinking it. To top it all off, in 1940, Lightoller took his personal yacht out to rescue 140 soldiers at Dunkirk. He died in 1952 at the age of 78 of cancer of all things and astounding how the seas couldn’t kill this guy with so many tries.
8. Harrison Okene Survived Three Days Underwater In A Sunken Ship
There are a lot of folks who managed to survive shipwrecks. But few can boast to being able to last while underwater for more than a day. In 2013, the Jacson-4 tugboat was doing some fishing 12 miles off the coast of Nigeria when a massive storm suddenly hit. The ship was battered and unable to get to safety before it was capsized by a wave. Ship’s cook Harrison Okene was actually on the toilet when the ship turned over and watched three of his crewmates sucked out into the ocean. He was then knocked into another toilet as the ship sank under the waves, clad only in his underwear.
For 60 hours, Okene waded in the tight four-foot wide room with just a pocket of air keeping him from drowning. A salvage group came to the ship, expecting to find corpses and were stunned when someone started hammering on the deck. Okene had to spend two days in a decompression chamber to make sure he didn’t suffer bad effects coming back to the surface after being underwater for so long. The sole survivor of the wreck, the man is back on the fishing route and shows that a bathroom break can sometimes be a lucky one.
7. Michael Holmes Survived A Fall That Would Kill Even Wile E Coyote
It’s generally accepted that if you fall out of an airplane without a working parachute, it’s automatically death. Michael Holmes is proof that’s not always true. In December of 2006, New Zealand native Michael Holmes did one of his usual skydiving trips, taking a jump out of a plane at 15,000 feet over Taupo. An experienced skydiver, Holmes had already made 7000 jumps without incident and figured this was just another one. He’d already made two jumps but the third time was not the charm as at 2000 feet, his chute opened but twisted violently in the wind. He had been through this before and tried to disconnect the parachute but was caught in a wind that spun him around.
At 700 feet, unable to free the main chute, Holmes yanked on his reserve chute…and it failed to open. He was filming the whole thing and, realizing nothing else could be done, just gave what he figured would be a final wave before hitting the ground. The few people who survive such a fall landed on water or in trees but Holmes smashed into a blackberry bush just a foot high. Instead of turning into a human pancake, he “merely” shattered his left leg and foot and the ambulance crew was astounded to see him still alive. Just a few weeks after getting his cast off, Holmes was jumping once more as if to prove someone really can withstand a cartoon fall.
6. Paul Templer Was Hippo Chow
There are a lot of stories of people surviving attacks by animals. But very few can boast to being eaten by an animal and living to tell the tale. Paul Templer belongs to that elite club. In 1996, then 27-year-old Templar was a river guide for tour groups at Victoria Falls near the border of Zimbabwe. Hippos were a common sight and Templar was used to luring a few over so the tourists could take pictures. However, hippos are far faster than most people think and are credited with killing roughly 300 people every year. As Templer brought her group around a pack of hippos, one rookie guide was attacked and knocked out of his boat. Templer moved fast to help him but without warning a hippo lunged out of the water and swallowed Templer whole.
Templer recounts in videos how it felt being upside down and then yanked underwater by the hippo. The teeth tore into Templer’s chest and rendered his left arm useless. Thankfully, his fellow guides were quick to be able to get the hippo to open its mouth then yank Templer away and to shore. His left arm was amputated above the elbow but his leg was saved. After a bout of self-pity, Templer was back on the river just months later, using a special paddle to continue his work. Today, Templer has turned the experience into a popular motivational speaker career and can even joke about the whole thing being “a bad day at the office.”
5. Linda Morgan “The Miracle Girl”
Born in Mexico City, Linda Morgan was 14 years old when her mother took her onto the famed ocean liner the Andrea Doria on July 25th, 1956. In the middle of night, in one of the more famous ocean disasters of the 20th century, the ship was struck by a smaller ship, the Stockholm due to heavy fog. The Stockholm smashed deep into the Doria, creating a huge blow that would sink the ship in hours. Morgan was sharing a room with her half-sister when the Stockholm’s bow smashed into it, killing her sister instantly. Morgan was lifted right out of her bed and landed onto the Stockholm’s deck. She ended up next to a bulkhead as the ship pulled its way out of the Doria.
A crewmember found her, baffled at a child speaking Spanish before realizing where she came from. Her father, noted ABC broadcaster Edward P. Morgan, was busy telling listeners about the crash without stating his daughter was among the passengers. Morgan ended up with just a broken arm as the newspapers took to calling her “the miracle girl” of the amazing affair. Morgan herself had survivor’s guilt, her half-sister and stepfather killed and her mother badly injured while she was mostly intact. Today married in San Antonio, Morgan still amazes with her tale of survival.
4. Shannon Malloy Is Technically Decapitated
Decapitation equals death. Logic and science tell us that. The human body can withstand a lot but severing the head from the rest of you is something impossible to survive. Yet there is living, walking a woman who, technically, is decapitated. On January 25th, 2007, Shannon Malloy was driving home from work in Nebraska when she smashed into another car and was crushed against the dashboard. The accident separated her skull from the rest of her spine which normally would mean instant death. Somehow, incredibly, Malloy not only survived but is still walking today.
According to doctors, this exceptionally rare condition is called “internal decapitation.” While her spinal cord is attached, Malloy’s skull is so off-balance that she needed several screws to make sure her head didn’t fall off. During the surgery, her head did slip off five times but Malloy kept on living. The doctors honestly thought it was a lost cause but the 30-year-old’s drive keeps her going. Today walking with crossed eyes and a HALO about her head, Malloy has difficulty swallowing but is proof some human beings can use will to survive literally anything.
3. Michael Benson Survived The Inside Of A Volcano
The inside of a volcano is as close to Hell on Earth as anyone wants to get. It’s not just the massive heat or the lava, it’s also the toxic fumes that can be lethal to anyone nearby. In 1992, Michael Benson was a cameraman part of a crew filming the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii for the movie Sliver. The helicopter suddenly had engine trouble and crashed, dumping Benson and Chris Duddy right into the volcano. They landed on a ledge away from the actual lava but surrounded by pockets breathing out noxious gas. They were still in a dangerous spot, catching a break from a pocket of fresh air but still far too close to the interior of the volcano.
They managed to get the radio working to call for help but attempts to climb out were difficult as it threatened to create a rock slide. Duddy finally managed to climb out but Benson remained on the ledge for almost a full day, terrified it would give way and dump him into the bubbling pool of lava below. The man claimed to have seen the goddess Pele in the fumes and yelled she “wasn’t going to take” him. After two days without sleep or food, Benson finally managed to get into a rescue net dropped by a helicopter to end his ordeal and his biggest annoyance? That after all that effort, Sliver ended up cutting the actual volcano scene.
2. Greg Rasmussen Lost Three Inches Of Height In Africa
Born in London, Greg Rasmussen moved to Zimbabwe with his parents when he was eleven. He was into adventure early, doing a stint in a mercenary navy before agreeing to a job as a ranger in the jungles. In 2003, Rasmussen was piloting a small personal plane over the plains when a wind sheared off one of his wings. He survived the crash with his leg broken in six places. Being a ranger, he knew full well he was surrounded by animal life ready to rip him to shreds. Lions, elephants, buffalo and more and as he hunkered under the wreck of his plane, Rasmussen tried to keep his wits about him. As he suspected, a hyena came close to the plane and he had to beat on the wing to drive it away.
Finally, after two days, a rescue crew found Rasmussen but the plane nearly crashed itself before getting him back to civilization. It turned out that his injuries were more extensive than Rasmussen realized as he nearly lost his feet due to both the crash and the elements. As it turned out, by the time surgeons were done, Rasmussen was three inches shorter than he had been before the crash. Still, the man has turned it into a teaching experience and how one can survive the wild.
1. Juliane Koepcke The Amazon Gal
Surviving a plane crash is one thing. Surviving on your own in the Amazon jungle is another. Now try surviving both at the same time. On Christmas Eve, 1971, a small passenger plane left Lima Airport in Peru and hit a major thunderstorm. A bolt of lightning struck a wing, igniting the fuel and the plane basically came apart in mid-air with 17-year-old Julian Koepcke sucked right out a hole, still buckled to her seat. The plane was lost and it was assumed by authorities that Koepcke was with the other 92 passengers and crew who were killed.
Instead, Koepcke, still in her seat, landed into some trees two miles below in the heart of the Amazon jungle. Besides a concussion and some gashes, she was mostly okay…except for being in the middle of the jungle without food, water or any idea where she was. She had to deal with jaguars, scorpions and poisonous snakes camouflaged as leaves, which she couldn’t see because she had lost her glasses. The rivers were filled with piranhas and alligators. She was eaten alive by bugs in the day and freezing cold and wet at night. All she had was one dress, a single sandal and a bag of sweets that ran out fast. But somehow, she managed to go ten days before stumbling onto a trio of forest workers. She was a media sensation and in 1998, worked with acclaimed director Werner Herzog for a documentary on her ordeal that puts any Hollywood drama to shame.