We all know human beings can survive some pretty harrowing things. There are plenty of gunshot, car accident and cancer survivors, after all. But some stories of resilience and luck take things to an entirely new level. From surviving two atomic bombs to falling 6 miles from an exploded plane without a parachute and living to tell the tale, these are some of the craziest things human beings have actually survived.
10. Two Nukes
In 1945, Tsotomu Yamaguchi, a Japanese naval engineer, was in Hiroshima for a business assignment. On the morning of August 6, the city was rocked by the detonation of the first atomic bomb. Being a mere 3 kilometers from the epicenter, the sheer force of the explosion knocked him off his feet, leaving him with burns and temporary blindness. But, astonishingly, he survived.
Determined to get back to his family, Yamaguchi made the journey to his hometown the following day. And as if scripted by a dramatic twist of fate, said hometown was none other than the target of the second bomb – Nagasaki. On August 9, while Yamaguchi was explaining the horrors of Hiroshima to his disbelieving employer, the skies above them lit up once more as the second atomic bomb was deployed, killing tens of thousands in an instant. But once again, Yamaguchi survived. Living until the ripe age of 93, he remains the only officially recognized individual to have lived through both atomic bombings.
9. Seven lightning strikes
Ever have one of those days where you feel like the universe is out to get you? Well, you’ve got nothing on Roy “Human Lightning Rod” Sullivan, a park ranger in Virginia. His claim to misfortune: being struck by lightning not once, not twice, but seven times between 1942 and 1977. In case you’re wondering, the odds of getting struck once in the US are 1 in 15,300. The odds of getting struck seven times? Try 4.5 in 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Yes, you read that right. Now, of course, being a park ranger means these figures don’t quite apply like they would for, say, an accountant. But it’s not like every park ranger is getting fried like a mozzarella stick on the regular, so Sullivan is still quite an anomaly.
Each strike came with its own wild tale. There was that time lightning set his hair on fire, prompting him to start carrying a pitcher of water around. Another time, it hit him while he was inside his truck, badly injuring his ankle. Yet, like a character straight out of a comic book, Roy always managed to bounce back.
8. A crude self-amputation after being trapped in a canyon
An avid outdoorsman, Aron Ralston was on one of his solo canyoning trips in Utah in 2003 when the unthinkable happened: a boulder shifted and trapped his right arm, pinning him against a rock wall. With minimal supplies, no one around, and no means to communicate for help, he was in nightmarish straits.
Days went by as he rationed his food and water, recording video messages for his family, believing he might not make it out alive. But five days into his ordeal, Ralston had an epiphany. If he wanted to survive, he’d need to take matters, quite literally, into his own hands. With a dull multitool and sheer determination, he amputated his trapped arm, rappelled down a 65-foot wall, and hiked out until he found help. His story of unwavering grit became the inspiration for the movie 127 Hours, and though it’s a cringe-worthy tale, it’s also a remarkable testament to the lengths one will go to in the fight for survival. Oh, and a nice reminder to never go canyoning alone.
7. Falling out of an exploded plane with no parachute
In 1972, Vesna Vulovi?, a Yugoslavian flight attendant, was working aboard JAT Flight 367 when the plane exploded mid-air due to what we suspect today was a terrorist bomb. Plunging from an altitude of 33,330 feet (about 6.3 miles), she found herself in the middle of an unintentional free-fall, nestled amid the wreckage. So just to recap here: Vesna was inside a planet that exploded more than six miles above ground, and was thrown onto a mountain without a parachute. As evidenced by her inclusion on this list, she survived, thanks to the wreckage cushioning her impact when it struck the snow-covered side of a mountain. Most comic book characters couldn’t pull that off.
Although she did suffer multiple injuries, including broken bones and a temporary coma, Vesna made an almost full recovery and even continued to fly. She also holds the Guinness World Record for the highest fall survived without a parachute.
6. Being trapped underwater for three days
Imagine being trapped underwater, in the suffocating confines of a sunken ship. This was the terrifying reality for Harrison Okene in 2013. Working as a cook on the tugboat Jascon-4, disaster struck when heavy swells capsized the vessel off the Nigerian coast, plunging it to the ocean’s floor, 100 feet below the surface. The majority of the crew didn’t make it, but Harrison, through a twist of fate, found himself inside a small bubble of air, one of the ship’s few remaining dry pockets.
For roughly 72 hours, Harrison survived with no food and little drinkable water. Encased in total darkness, he could hear marine life, including the distant sounds of large predators, outside the sunken ship. Every moment was a battle against despair, creeping cold, dehydration, and the gradual buildup of harmful nitrogen in the tiny air pocket that was keeping him alive. His situation seemed utterly hopeless, but a dive team sent to recover bodies in the wreckage found him before it was too late and brought him safely to the surface. There’s even some incredible video footage of the moment they find him alive.
5. Rabies without a vaccine
One of the internet’s favorite facts is that rabies is universally fatal once symptoms appear. Well, almost universal. Jeanna Giese, a teenager from Wisconsin, managed to rewrite medical history books with her unbelievable survival story. In 2004, at the age of 15, Jeanna was bitten by a bat at her church but thought little of the small wound and didn’t seek immediate medical treatment.
It was only a month later, after developing severe symptoms, that she was diagnosed with rabies. By then, conventional medicine offered little hope. But Dr. Rodney Willoughby Jr. devised an experimental treatment, sometimes referred to as the “Milwaukee Protocol.” This involved placing Jeanna into a medically-induced coma and administering a cocktail of antiviral drugs. The hope was that by slowing down her metabolic rate, her immune system would have a fighting chance against the rabies virus. Against all odds, the gamble paid off. Jeanna emerged as the first person known to have survived rabies without receiving the vaccine immediately after exposure.
4. 133 days at sea without supplies
In 1942, Poon Lim, a Chinese sailor aboard the British merchant ship SS Ben Lomond, found himself in just about the worst imaginable scenario when his ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat, plunging him into the vast South Atlantic with just a life jacket and a life raft. Alone and miles away from any land, Poon Lim had to muster every ounce of his survival instinct.
Instead of panicking, he demonstrated resourcefulness that few could match. Using his watch strap, he fashioned a makeshift fishing hook, and over time, he managed to catch fish and even birds as sustenance. To ensure he had fresh water, he devised a method to collect rainwater. On more than one occasion, Poon Lim had to fend off sharks, once even using the water from his makeshift reservoir to survive an encounter. For 133 long days, he survived the elements, hunger, and isolation. His extraordinary tale of survival came to an end when Brazilian fishermen spotted him, having drifted more than 3,000 miles from his ship’s original route. Poon Lim’s story stands as a testament to human resilience and the ability to innovate even in the direst of circumstances.
3. Multiple plane crashes
Before he even reached adulthood, Austin Hatch faced not one, but two deadly plane crashes, both of which claimed the lives of multiple family members. In 2003, the first crash took the lives of his mother, brother, and sister. Miraculously, Austin and his father survived. The pair leaned on each other for support, working together to rebuild their lives.
But fate would deal another cruel hand. In 2011, just days after Austin had secured a promising basketball scholarship with the University of Michigan, he and his father were involved in a second plane crash. This time, Austin lost his father and stepmother. He himself was left in a coma for eight weeks, with injuries that cast doubt on his ever walking again, let alone playing basketball. But Austin, driven by an unyielding spirit, defied the odds. With rigorous therapy and sheer determination, he not only walked again but made his way back to the basketball court, fulfilling his dream of playing for Michigan. Today, miraculously, Austin has a family of his own.
2. Falling off a mountain
Few survival stories in the realm of mountaineering are as harrowing and legendary as Joe Simpson’s ordeal in the Peruvian Andes. The misadventure began in 1985 when Simpson, alongside fellow climber Simon Yates, embarked on a mission to climb the previously unconquered West Face of Siula Grande. The ascent was successful, but disaster struck on the way down. Joe broke his leg, a nightmare scenario in such a treacherous environment.
Given their situation, the pair made the agonizing decision to attempt a controlled lower with the help of ropes. But during the process, Joe ended up hanging over a deep crevasse. With the weight threatening to pull both men down and no way to communicate, Yates made a heart-wrenching decision straight out of a disaster movie, severing the rope to save himself, believing he was sending Joe to his death. Miraculously, Joe survived the fall, landing on a narrow ice shelf inside the crevasse. Severely injured and without food or water, he embarked on a three-day crawl back to base camp. His eventual rescue was nothing short of miraculous.
1. Three deadly maritime disasters
We’re not sure if she’s absurdly lucky or absurdly unlucky. We suppose it depends on how you look at it. All we know is that ocean liner stewardess and nurse Violet Jessup didn’t just survive one major shipwreck; she lived through three of the most famous maritime disasters of the 20th century.
In 1911, Jessup was aboard the RMS Olympic when it collided with the HMS Hawke. Though the Olympic suffered damage, there were no fatalities and the ship managed to return to port safely. But she wasn’t out of the woods yet. In 1912, she was a crew member on the ill-fated RMS Titanic. We all know how that voyage ended, but Jessup survived the sinking by securing a spot in Lifeboat 16. A few years later, during World War I, she served on the HMHS Britannic, which, after striking a nautical mine, sank in the Aegean Sea. Once again, Jessup escaped in a lifeboat.
Remarkably, these harrowing experiences didn’t deter her. She continued to work on ships and later penned her memoirs, offering a perspective on these maritime tragedies that, thankfully, no one else in history can really relate to.