Not many of us can understand what it must be like to be a sole survivor. To be someone who survives an accident or incident while everyone around them is killed. But thankfully only a small percentage of people will ever have to find out exactly what it’s like. For example; an American’s risk of dying in a plane crash is 1 in 11 million and the chance of being the sole survivor is even tinier.
Being the only person to survive a mass fatality accident is a slippery double-edged sword; a mix of both good and bad. Initially, they may feel euphoria about surviving against the odds, but over time, long after the physical injuries have healed, the emotional toil begins to drag them down.
Many sole survivors suffer from what psychologists refer to as “survivor’s guilt”. They experience intrusive thoughts about the incident and constantly ask themselves an impossible question – why did I survive when everyone else died? They may feel enormous pressure to do something “meaningful” with their lives because they feel that they must have been saved for a reason.
While this is the sad reality for sole survivors, their stories are inspiring. They offer us hope and show us that even when everything feels lost you can still make it through, just like these people did.
15 When I Fell From The Sky
This story sounds like it comes straight out of a scary movie. A plane gets hit by lightning during a severe storm and breaks up in mid-air, sending wreckage and passengers tumbling down into a vast rain forest. Of the 92 passengers on board, only one survives the fall. But the struggle isn’t over yet for the lone survivor – she has to get help and it takes her days to find a village. During that time she had no food and suffered from infected insect bites and maggots in her open wounds. But she was finally rescued.
This is the true story of LANSA Flight 508 which crashed into the Peruvian rainforest on December 24, 1971. The survivor was Juliane Koepcke (17) who had been traveling with her mother. In her autobiography, “When I Fell From The Sky”, she credits her survival to her father who taught her basic survival skills from a young age.
14 Surviving A Mass Shooting And 18 Bullets
Northern Ireland was a dangerous place in the 1970s. There was serious tension between the Protestants and the Catholics and this led to a spree of tit for tat murders on both sides. People were being dragged from their homes or vehicles into the street and executed right then and there.
On January 5th, 1976 a vanload of IRA gunmen stopped a van carrying 11 Protestant workmen. They forced the men out of the van and lined them up in the street. The gunmen then fired on the men using automatic rifles. The attack was in response to the murder of six Catholics the night before.
Unbelievably there was one survivor of this attack which became known as The Kingsmill Massacre. His name was Alan Black and despite being shot eighteen times, he managed to make a full recovery in the hospital.
13 133 Days On A Life Raft
During WWII Poon Lim was a steward aboard a British merchant ship called the SS Ben Lomond. The ship departed from Cape Town heading to Surinam but on November 23, 1942, they were intercepted by a German U-boat who fired two torpedoes at the vessel. The ship sank in under two minutes carrying 53 of the crew members to a watery grave.
But Poon Lim managed to grab a life jacket and jumped overboard. He was able to get into a life raft that had some supplies, but no one came to rescue him. When his rations ran out he collected rainwater and fished, sometimes even drinking the blood of birds to survive. After an astounding 133 days in the life raft on the open ocean, he reached a river inlet and was rescued by Brazilian villagers. His record has never been broken and let's hope no one ever has to.
12 Man Literally Walks Away From Plane Crash
On January 21, 1985, George Lamson Jr. (17) and his father boarded Galaxy Airlines Flight 203 departing from Reno, Nevada, heading to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Just minutes after takeoff the pilot reported a severe shudder. The plane then broke in half and crashed 2.4 km from the end of the runway.
George Lamson was thrown from the plane, still strapped into his seat, and landed in a street in Reno with only minor injuries. He was even able to release his seatbelt and get up and walk before emergency services arrived. Initially, there were two other survivors, including Lamson’s father, but sadly they both died in hospital from their injuries. This brought the total amount of deaths to 71 and left George as the sole survivor of the plane crash.
The moral of this story – don’t forget your seatbelt!
11 The Only Known Survivor Of The Grim Sleeper
Obviously, not many victims of serial killers live to tell the tale and that makes the story of Enietra "Margette" Washington quite unique. Enietra is the only known survivor of serial killer Lonnie David Franklin Jr. AKA The Grim Sleeper. He was dubbed the "Grim Sleeper" because he took a 14-year break from his crimes, from 1988 to 2002.
Franklin targeted black women and he shot all his victims with a .25 caliber gun. He picked up Enietra on November 20, 1988, and sexually assaulted her in his car. He then shot her in the chest and threw her body out of the moving vehicle. But she survived. And almost three decades later her testimony in court helped to convict Franklin and send him to Death Row.
10 Surviving A Torture Camp
Inês Etienne Romeu is believed to be the only prisoner to survive detention in a Brazilian torture camp known as the Casa da Morte AKA The House of Death. The purpose of the camp was to detain political prisoners and “pressure” them to become informants. The way the pressure was applied was with torture.
In the early 1970s Romeu was taken to the camp in Petropolis, which lies about 40 miles outside Rio de Janeiro. There she was imprisoned for 96 days before she managed to convince her captors that she would act as a double agent. During that time she was beaten, raped, electrocuted, hung upside down, and forced to perform manual labor naked. She tried to commit suicide three times.
In her later years, she wrote a memoir about her experiences and was honored by the Brazilian president in 2009. She passed away in Brazil in 2015 at the age of 72.
9 Waking Up To Find Your House Has Exploded
Imagine going to bed one night and waking up the next morning to find yourself covered in rubble; your house in ruins around you. Sounds like a horror movie right? But it really did happen to an American teen named Elianna Vazquez and somehow she was the only one who managed to survive.
During the night of December 14, 2016, the house that Vazquez was living in along with her mother and step-father suddenly exploded. To date, investigators have not been able to determine the cause of the explosion. Her mother and step-father both perished when the house collapsed, but Elianna (17) miraculously survived. She was injured and needed to undergo back surgery. Thankfully for her, the house exploded but did not catch fire, which almost certainly would have taken her life as well.
8 Baby Girl Is Lone Survivor In Mass Shooting
On April 15, 1984, a man named Christopher Thomas went on a jealous rampage and murdered ten people in Brooklyn, New York. Seven of his victims were children. This mass murder became known as The Palm Sunday Massacre. He shot all the victims at close range with one of the two handguns he carried with him. The jury found him guilty on ten counts of manslaughter and agreed that he acted under extreme emotional disturbance. He received a sentence of 83 to 250 years in prison.
There was one sole survivor of this mass shooting; a 13-month-old baby girl called Christina Rivera. The policewoman, Joanna Jaffe, who found her kept in contact with Christina. When Christina’s grandmother died, she went to live with Jaffe, who eventually adopted her.
7 The Boy Who Lived
Most of the passengers who boarded Afriqiyah Airways Flight 771 on May 12, 2010 were Dutch citizens who were returning from holidays in South Africa. The plane took off from South Africa bound for Tripoli International in Libya. It carried 92 passengers and 11 crew members, but only one would ever make it home.
Among those passengers was Ruben van Assouw, a 9-year-old boy traveling with his family. The flight was without incident and no problems were reported, but while on approach to Tripoli International the plane crashed just short of the runway. All the passengers and crew perished except for little Ruben, who survived with only minor injuries. An investigation cited pilot error and fatigue as the factors which led to the disaster.
6 Falling Out Of The Sky And Living To Tell The Tale
So what’s the Guinness World Record for surviving a fall from a height with a parachute? Although it may sound completely unbelievable it’s 33,333 feet. That record was set by Vesna Vulovic back in 1972. But Vesna didn’t set out to break a record; she was the sole survivor of a plane crash that was caused when a bomb exploded in the cargo hold.
Vesna was a Serbian flight attendant and on January 26, 1972, she was working aboard a flight going from Stockholm to Belgrade. During the flight, a bomb suddenly exploded, which caused the plane to break into two pieces and fall to the ground. Vesna was in the back of the tail end section and although she was in a coma for 27 days after the crash, she was the sole survivor. The other 28 people on board were all killed on impact.
The best part of this incredible story? She went back to work for the airline!
5 Left To Die On A Deserted Island
In 1542 19-year-old Marguerite de la Rocque was traveling with her uncle Jean-François Roberval (who was both a pirate and a Lieutenant General) on a voyage to Newfoundland. The expedition was led by French explorer Jacques Cartier. During the trip Marguerite and one of the young men on board became lovers and when her uncle found out, he was furious. He was so angry that he marooned her on Harrington Island, which was then known as the “Isle of Demons”. Her lover and maid-servant were left on the deserted island with her.
Marguerite survived on the island for more than two years during which the young man and maid servant both died. She gave birth to a baby who also perished. She managed to hunt wild animals and live in a cave until she was rescued by traveling fishermen.
4 Only Known Survivor Of The Green River Killer
Gary Ridgeway is an American serial killer known as The Green River Killer. In 2003 he was convicted for the murders of 49 women, but police believe that his true body count may be as high as 90. He was active during the 80s and 90s in the Washington State area and the majority of his victims were prostitutes or women in vulnerable situations.
Only one woman is reported to have survived a run-in with Ridgeway. Her name was Rebecca Garde. Garde was picked up by Ridgeway in 1982. He drove her to a deserted area, forced her out the car and attempted to strangle her as he had done with his other victims. Somehow she managed to push him against a tree and in the seconds that he was left stunned she took off through the woods.
3 14-Year-Old Survives A Plane Crash Into The Ocean
On June 30, 2009, Yemenia Airlines Flight 626 crashed into the ocean on approach to Prince Said Ibrahim International Airport. The plane completely disintegrated on impact, spreading the debris over a large area. The search and rescue mission was initially hampered because the Comoros nation has no search and rescue capabilities. Two French aircraft and a boat were sent to hunt through the wreckage and local fishermen joined in the search.
Thirteen hours after the crash these local fishermen made an incredible discovery. All 153 passengers were initially believed to be dead, but they found the sole survivor, 14-year-old Bahia Bakari, who had been traveling with her mother. She had been able to cling to the wreckage and after spending three weeks in the hospital she made a full recovery from her terrifying ordeal.
2 Sole Survivor Of Horrific Mining Disaster
The Sago Mine Disaster is considered to be one of the worst mining disasters in US history. In 2006 an explosion rocked the mine located in Upshur County, West Virginia leaving 13 miners trapped inside. A rescue team was assembled, but it took them over 40 hours to reach the men.
Sadly by the time the rescuers got to them 12 of the men had already perished from deadly methane gas which had filled the mine following the explosion. But there was one survivor; a man named Randal McCloy Jr. who had managed to barricade himself away from the fumes. He was unconscious and was quickly taken to hospital where he was eventually able to recover after months of treatment.
Investigators believe that the explosion could have been caused by a lightning strike in the area. They also ruled that all the deaths should have been preventable.
1 Meeting The Happy Face Killer
On April 12, 1990, Daun Richert-Slagle met a personable man in a shopping mall parking lot. They began chatting and he seemed so friendly and non-threatening that even though she had her baby with her she agreed to go on a short drive with him to a nearby park.
Once there a nightmare ensued. The man tried to sexually assault and strangle her, but she fought back and begged for her life while her baby screamed relentlessly. Daun was stunned when, after hours of struggling, he agreed to let her go on the condition that she not report the incident.
The man Daun had encountered was none other than Keith Hunter Jesperson AKA The Happy Face Killer. He went on to kill at least another seven women after this attack, although after his capture he claimed to have had more than 150 victims.
Sources: oddee.com, bismarcktribune.com, cnn.com