In many parts of the world today, a lot of people are living relatively sheltered lives. But that safety and comfort can disappear at a moment’s notice. Compared to what nature can throw at us, the human body is a fragile thing. But in some fortunate cases, where people were faced with some truly grueling odds, they nevertheless managed to survive. Here are 10 such cases where survival was thought to be next to impossible.
10. Adrift on the Indian Ocean
On Christmas Day 2017, the Sainte-Marie rescue station in La Reunion received a call about a yacht being dead in the water several miles away from the island. When the coast guard arrived at the scene, they realized that the yacht was no yacht at all, but a cruise ship lifeboat, repurposed into a floating shelter of sorts. The man onboard, a 54-year-old Polish sailor, had been adrift on the Indian Ocean for seven months. Together with his cat, the man survived on a half a packet of dried noodle soup a day, plus the fish he was able to catch.
He began his journey back in 2014, when he left the US for India. Here, he bought a covered lifeboat to which he added a mast, rudder and engine, and planned to sail it back home to Poland. But on his way, his mast broke and the wind blew him to the Comoros Islands. He spent two years there, after which he departed for South Africa. But while sailing south through Mozambique Channel, his boat suffered an engine failure and a storm broke his mast and radio. He was then left to drift aimlessly for seven months on the open sea, coming close to the Somali coast, then towards the Maldives, then finally back towards the French island of La Reunion – east of Madagascar. “I sighted land several times but I never managed to steer towards it. I spotted several ships but the battery on my radio was dead,” he said in an interview.
9. Killing to Escape Captivity
Thanks to its vertical cliffs and mountainous terrain, the Karavashin region in Kyrgyzstan is a favored destination for rock climbers. Wanting to take their own share of rock climbing glory, four American climbers, three men and a woman between the ages of 20 and 25, ventured there back in 2000. But after several days of climbing, and while preparing to go to sleep on an aluminum platform they bolted straight into the rock face, the worst kind of nightmare scenario was beginning to unfold. Three armed Uzbek militias began shooting at them and they had little choice but to climb down.
For six long days, the four American climbers, as well as a Kyrgyz soldier who was also captured earlier, were being held against their will by the three armed guerillas. By night, they were constantly on the move, while by day they were hiding from Kyrgyz army helicopters underneath rocks and bushes. At one point, they encountered a military patrol and a fierce battle broke out. During the fight, the captured Kyrgyz soldier was executed by the rebels in retaliation. Nevertheless, the group was not overrun by the Army and they were again on the move.
The following day, two of the guerillas left, probably to get supplies, while the rock climbers remained behind with the third. In a moment of negligence, the rebel turned his back and one of the rock climbers managed to push him over the edge of the high cliff. They then began running, covering over 18 miles to the safety of a Kyrgyz army outpost. They later found out that the man they pushed over the cliff had somehow survived, but was captured by the army and executed.
8. Living on Borrowed Air
Early one morning in 2013, Harrison Okene, a 29-year-old cook working on a tugboat 12 miles off the Nigerian coast, was sitting comfortably on the toilet, getting ready for the day. But that morning was like no other and the tugboat was hit by a series of sudden heavy swells. In the blink of an eye, the boat capsized and eleven other crew members died in the chaos. Okene was scrambling to get out of the bathroom and reach an emergency exit, only to be swept back in by the gushing water and into another toilet as the boat began to sink roughly 100 feet below the waves. Miraculously, he managed to survive by reaching an air pocket no larger than four square feet.
Two and a half days later, a South African diver team reached the scene for a body-recovery operation. As the divers began swimming in and out of the capsized tugboat on the bottom of the ocean, Okene, who had been trapped inside for over 60 hours at this point, still had the clarity of mind not to swim outside of the air pocket, startling the divers who would have probably mistaken him for a shark and used a knife on him. Anyway, once located, he was strapped into diving gear and led by a diving bell to the surface, where he spent two days in a decompression chamber. The doctors were amazed that he was able to survive for so long, given that a normal dive at those depths lasts for only 20 minutes at a time.
In a later interview, Okene said that “all around me was just black, and noisy. I was crying and calling on Jesus to rescue me, I prayed so hard. I was so hungry and thirsty and cold and I was just praying to see some kind of light.”
7. Surviving Antarctica
Beginning at the end of the 19th century and ending after WWI, the so-called Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration saw the last push by mankind to discover the last great piece of land left unexplored on the planet. With that being said, a group of explorers set off in an effort to map out the portion of Antarctica directly south of Australia. After establishing a base of operations, a team of three men, including Douglas Mawson, the leader of the expedition, left on a 300-mile-long exploration of the coast. After five weeks of excellent progress, one of the three men fell into a deep crevasse in the ice, taking with him one of the sledges, most of the supplies, and six of the dogs.
At that moment, the two remaining explorers decided to head back, having with them only one week’s supplies. After those were gone, they had to turn to their dogs for sustenance. But unbeknownst at the time was the fact that husky liver has extremely high levels of vitamin A, and the other man died of a condition known as Hypervitaminosis A. Mawson was then left to make the last 100 miles on his own, and rumor had it that he may have been forced to resort to cannibalism in order to survive. He denied the allegations in a later interview.
6. Left for Dead in the Outback
In April 2006, a group of ranchers in Northern Australia came across a ghoulish-looking man wandering the Outback. The 35-year-old man, Ricky Megee, had been living in the remote and arid region of Australia for over 70 days, surviving mostly on raw frogs, lizards, grasshoppers, leeches, and drinking water from an abandoned dam in the area. When he was found, he weighed only about 100 pounds, less than half his usual weight. His grueling story began when he was driving down a road and a group of hitchhikers asked him for help, saying that they ran out of gas. On their way to the nearest gas station, the other men slipped some drugs in his water and then overpowered him. He woke up some time later in the middle of nowhere and with a dingo pawing at his back.
During his time in the Australian Outback, he managed to build himself a rudimentary shelter and somehow managed to survive until he was found by the ranchers. As one of the men who found him said, Megee was a bit fortunate, given the circumstances, since it was the wet season and water could be found with relative ease. Anyway, many were skeptical about his story as to how he got into that situation in the first place. Nevertheless, his car was found two months later, with its windows broken and many things missing, corroborating (at least in part) his story.
5. Flight 571
Also known as the Miracle of the Andes, Uruguayan Flight 571 was a charter plane carrying 45 people, including a rugby team, their family, and friends. The plane crashed high up in the Andes Mountains, at an altitude of 11,800 feet, on October 13, 1972. Eighteen people died on impact. Several others also died over the following days, because of the cold and injuries suffered in the crash. Several days after that, eight more people were killed after an avalanche swept through their makeshift camp. With little to no food and without anything to keep themselves warm, the survivors’ situation was becoming dire – as if it wasn’t already.
To make things even worse, they heard over the radio that the search for the wreckage was abandoned. Two of the passengers then decided to attempt the dangerous trek down the mountain in search for help. In the meantime, the remaining survivors were forced to resort to cannibalism in order to stay alive. After 10 days, the two men stumbled upon a Chilean local who then alerted the authorities about the survivors. In total, the remaining survivors spent 72 days up the mountain.
4. Running through the Sahara
Marathon des Sables, or Marathon of the Sands, is an annual, six-day, 156 mile-long ultra-marathon taking place in southern Morocco, in the Sahara Desert. In 1994 Mauro Prosperi, an Italian police officer, took part in the event. Partway through the race, a freak sandstorm caused Prosperi to become disoriented and lose his way between the dunes. He ended up running 186 miles in the wrong direction and into Algeria. After only 24 hours, he ran out of food and water but survived by drinking his own urine. He came across a Muslim shrine, but only found a coffin holding the remains of a holy man inside. He also found several dozen bats hanging from the ceiling, which he proceeded to eat raw.
After several more days and with no signs of rescue on the way, Prosperi decided to take his own life by slitting his wrists. But because he was so dehydrated by that point, his blood was too thick and nothing happened. Not wanting to wait and die of thirst, he then took the advice given to the participants by a Tuareg (semi-nomadic people living in the Sahara). It said something along the lines of, “if you’re lost, head for the clouds that you can see on the horizon at dawn, that’s where you will find life. During the day they will disappear but set your compass and carry on in that direction.” He did just that, and after several more days in the Sahara, he made it to an oasis and to safety. Luckily for him he had anti-diarrhea medicine, which he kept taking. He spent a total of 10 days wandering the desert.
3. The Female Robinson Crusoe
In 1921, an ill-fated Arctic expedition was hurriedly put together in an attempt to claim Wrangel Island (now part of Russia) for the British Crown – despite the fact that the British didn’t show any particular interest in it. Anyway, four men and a young Inuit woman by the name of Ada Blackjack were chosen to be its first colonists. And even though the expedition was set to last one year, they only had six months-worth of supplies with them, while the rest was set to be provided by the Arctic in the form of fish and wild game. That year passed by pretty uneventfully, with the exception of the fact that winter set in early; the sea had frozen over and the ship that was scheduled to retrieve them was unable to reach the island. What’s more, the once plentiful game had all but disappeared and fishing was now impossible.
By January, the party was on the edge of starvation and three of the men decided to cross the ice into Siberia proper, in search of help. Blackjack and the fourth man, who had fallen ill with scurvy, remained behind. Up until that point, her duties were mainly cooking and sewing, while the men went out hunting, gathered and chopped wood, and did pretty much everything else that kept the camp going. But after the three others left, Ada was left with everything, including taking care of the sick man. And even though she was an Inuit, she was raised without any knowledge of wilderness survival.
Five months went by like this before her ill companion died. Roughly three months after that, on August 20, 1923, a ship was finally spotted on the horizon. The rescue crew noted that “Blackjack mastered her environment so far that it seems likely she could have lived there another year, although the isolation would have been a dreadful experience.” The news about her survival made it in the press and she was nicknamed The Female Robinson Crusoe. The three men who went out on the ice were never to be seen again.
2. 127 Hours
One great survival tip is to always let someone know when and where you’re going a hike. If by any chance you fail to return, that person can call the proper authorities to go looking for you. Aron Ralston did not follow this advice and went hiking alone in Blue John Canyon, Utah, back in 2003, despite being an experienced outdoorsman. After descending into a canyon, a huge, 800-pound boulder fell on him and trapped his right arm. Unable to move, he spent five days there, surviving on the provisions he brought with him, and hoping that someone would stumble upon him, or would hear his cries for help. But because the location was so remote, this didn’t happen and Ralston had to resort to the unthinkable.
Using a multi-tool he had on him, he amputated his own arm, cutting straight through the bone. After he freed himself, he somehow managed to climb out of the canyon and made the seven-mile-long trek back to his truck. Probably because of dehydration, he didn’t bleed out and managed to reach safety. If this story sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because it was the inspiration for the 2010 movie called 127 Hours.
1. Falling from the Sky
17-year-old Juliane Koepcke, alongside her mother and 90 other people were flying from Lima, Peru, on their way to Pucallpa, on Christmas Day 1971. After crossing the Andes, the plane went through a severe thunderstorm and one of the engines was struck by lightning. The wing broke off; the plane entered a nosedive and began breaking apart soon after. The only thing Juliane remembered was being in a free fall while still strapped to the row of seats, and headed straight for the Amazonian rainforest below. She woke up the next day, with a broken collarbone, a torn ligament in her knee, a swollen eye, and several deep cuts on her arms and legs. At the crash, she found a bag of sweets, but nothing else worthwhile. She spent the first day looking for her mother or any other survivors, but to no avail.
Juliane then decided to look for help. Luckily, she had spent a year and a half with her parents on a research station some 30 miles away from the crash site, and had some knowledge about life in the rainforest. Constantly on the lookout for snakes, the 17-year-old made her way through the dense vegetation, by following the water downstream. After four days, she came across the bodies of several other passengers, who were also still strapped to their seats, but who were not as fortunate as she was. By day 10, Juliane reached a larger river and a boat tied to the bank. A small path was leading away from the boat to a small hut a short distance away.
Even though there wasn’t anyone inside, she found some gasoline which she poured on her maggot-infested wounds. At first, these half-inch maggots tried to dig themselves deeper into her flesh, but finally, she was able to pull them out – roughly 30 of them. She spent the night in the hut, and by daybreak she was found by a group of loggers who gave her food, tended to her injuries, and took her back to civilization. The following day, Juliane was reunited with her father, but found out that her mother and all the other people in the crash had died. Her mother actually did manage to survive the plane crash, but was too severely wounded and couldn’t move. She died several days later while still in her plane seat.