Ever since the invention of the first piloted airplane, designed by Orville and Wilbur Wright, using airplanes as a method of transportation has become very popular. These two men, on May 14, 1908, were the first to successfully pilot a fixed two-wing airplane. However, the first fatal airplane crash was also that same year. Thomas Selfridge was killed when Orville unsuccessfully flew the plane during a demonstration for the US Army Signal Corps. Selfridge had opted to be a passenger while Orville piloted. The right propeller broke which eventually caused the plane to nose-dive, even though Orville had glided the plane for about 70 feet.
Because of greatly improved methods of utilizing, flying, and running airplanes, the odds of one dying is not very high. For instance, when flying on a single airline flight, your chances of dying are 1 in 10.87 million. However, the odds of surviving a plane crash are even lower. While some may consider it to be a miracle to survive such a crash, there are people who have been the only survivor of a fatal crash. Studies have shown that those who sit more towards the tail-end of the plane are more likely to survive a crash, but of course that depends on the cause of the crash. Below are ten people who somehow survived a plane that was downed either due to pilot failure or some other problem. While ten may seem like a small number, since 1970, there have only been 12 lone survivors of a plane crash.
10. Annette Herfkens – 30 Fatalities
On November 14, 1991, Annette Herfkens would make history as the only suvivor of a Vietnam Airlines plane carrying 25 passengers and 6 crew members. The plane was fine during takeoff, but sometime during the flight, the plane was flying too low and hit a mountain in Vietnam. Herfkens was the only surviving passengar, who lie in the wreckage area for eight days until rescue teams were able to reach her. She was 31 at the time and suffered from numerous injuries, but kept herself alive by drinking rainwater.
While Herfkens has stated that after the crash, she heard voices from other passengers and crew members on the plane, by the time rescue workers were able to reach her, all of them had died from their injuries. Years later, many families worried whether or not the body given to them claiming to be their loved one was actually the right body. Apparently three of the bodies had been sent to the wrong country and a mix-up could have occurred. These means that families have those who died may have paid for transportation of the wrong body. Those who have studied the crash also indicated that if rescuers were sent out on foot, more survivors may have been found and saved
9. First Lieutenant Martin Farkas – 43 Fatalities
The only military aircraft crash featured on this list, the Antonov An-24 eventually met its demise on January 19, 2006. The airplane was boarded by 44 Slovak peacekeepers, but only 1 of them would make it out alive. The aircraft was downed after it hit tree tops which then caused it to catch fire. It crashed in a heavily forested terrain that was covered by snow, known as Borso Hill, which is about 2,300 feet high. His survival is deemed a miracle, but his swift and smart actions definitely helped to save his life. After the plane crashed, he located his cell phone and contacted his wife and alerted her to contact rescue services so that he could be found and those who died in the crash could be located as well. Soon after he was rescued from the cold and taken to a hospital with lung injuries and brain swelling. To allow his body to heal, he was put into a medically induced coma, but soon after was deemed to be in stable condition.
During the time of the crash, Farkas was found in the plane’s bathroom, which may have saved his life, as this part of the plane had very little damage. It may be due to the fact that the bathroom is at the end of the plane, but no one will ever really now. This crash is ultimately blamed on the pilot who made a quick turn much too early.
8. James Polehinke – 49 Fatalities
Delta Connection Flight 5191, headed from Lexington, KY to Atlanta GA, carrying 47 passengers and 3 crew members, is another miracle plane crash. On August 27, 2006, the plane was scheduled to leave Blue Grass Airport. The plane was first set to use Runway22 for takeoff but somehow found itself on Runway26, which was much shorter than the one planned; 4,000 feet shorter. Because of this, before the plane could even lift off the runway, it ran out of room, running off the runway and eventually crashing. All of the passengers died, but one crew member lived, his name, James Polehinke. Polehinke was the first officer of the plane and suffered very serious injuries including a collapsed lung, numerous broken bones, and heavy bleeding. His left leg was amputated and because of brain damage from the plane, Polehinke does not remember the event or anything leading up to it.
Confined to a wheel-chair, Polehinke wanted some sort of case for negligence, as did 45 of the 47 families of those on the plane. The cause of the crash is heavily blamed on those in the cockpit, as the National Transportation Safety Board stated that the pilots did not use the provided cues to properly identify where the plane was on the runway. Others blame it on conversations within the cockpit as well as outdated runway maps.
7. Neuba Tessoh – 50 Fatalities
On a plane leaving Abidjan, Ivory Coast on January 3, 1987 were 39 passengers and a 12-man crew. While the plane was able to successfully get off of the ground and into the air, the normalcy of the flight would be very short-lived. Only 11 miles from the airport it took off from, the Varig Airlines Boeing 707 crashed, killing all of the passengers and crew members except for one. Neuba Tessoh stands as the only survivor of the crash. The plane was headed for Rio de Janeiro but was cut short after attempting to fly back to the airport due to a mechanical issue with the plane.
According to reports the plane had a severe issue with its left engine, which prompted those in the cockpit to turn the plane around and head back to the airport. While many of the passengers were pulled out alive from the wreckage, only Tessoh was able to survive his injuries.
6. Erika Delgado – 51 Fatalities
On January 11, 1995, Erika Delgado, 10 years-old at the time, and her parents boarded Intercontinental Airlines Flight 256 which was leaving Bogotá, Colombia in order to reach Cartagena. It is said that the pilot was attempting an emergency landing at a nearby swamp, but somehow the plane hit a grassy field, exploded, and then went into a lagoon. Those who saw the crash on the ground say that the plane went down without any lights and slammed hard into the ground. Everyone but Erika Delgado, including her parents, died in the plane crash. She was thrown from the plane and landed on a mound of seaweed which kept her from hitting the ground at a fatal impact. Farmers eventually heard her cries and came to her rescue. During her rescue, she told the farmers that her mother had pushed her out of the plane before it exploded.
Only 32 of the 51 dead were found. Other bodies may have been brought downstream. After the crash, Delgado spoke about looters and how one of them took her gold necklace from around her neck, the only thing she had left of her father. She also explained how looters took other items from other passengers as well. However, at the end of it all, Delgado went to the hospital with a few bumps and bruises, the most serious injury being a broken arm.
5. George Lamson, Jr. – 70 Fatalities
Just like many others on this list, George Lamson, Jr. was young when he had to experience the horror of a fatal plane accident. A day after Super Bowl XIX, when the San Francisco 49ers beat the Miami Dolphins, Lamson and his father were in Nevada celebrating, but had to go back home to Minnesota. Besides these two, 68 others boarded the small plane. Galaxy Flight 203 was a four engine plane and because of its size, an air cart was often used to start each engine; however, somehow communication between those in the cockpit and those on the ground didn’t occur, and the air start access door was left open after disconnecting the hose. The plane, unknowing of this mistake, took off, but about a few minutes later, the first officer requested that the plane be returned to the runway because of vibration and took a right turn. Less than a minute after this signal, the plane crashed.
George Lamson, Jr. was ejected from the plane, still buckled into his seat but quickly unbuckled himself and ran for an empty field before the plane would explode. Though his father did make it out alive after the plane crashed, he eventually succumbed to his head injuries as well as massive burns. Today, Lamson has been very quiet and private about the crash, and has wished to avoid media talks about his experience.
4. Juliane Koepcke – 91 Fatalities
On December 24, 1971, Juliane Koepcke along with 90 other people boarded, 6 of them crew members, a LANSA Flight 508 leaving Lima, Peru and headed for Pucallpa, Peru, the first and only stop, the final destination being Iquitos, Peru. At the age of 17, Koepcke was in Peru studying zoology and was hoping to follow the footsteps of her parents who also had similar career paths. While the short ride would seem like a breeze, it was anything but. Takeoff was fine on the plane but once it hit about 21,000 feet, the plane was caught in thunderstorms and hit a lot of turbulence. The pilot decided to continue to fly through, despite the hazardous weather, and because of this ultimately downed the plane. A strike of lightening crashed through the fuel tank in the right wing and the plane quickly disintegrated. However, Koepcke was fine after all was said and done.
After falling about two miles, still strapped into her seat, Koepcke landed somewhere within the Amazon rainforest and was there for 10 days. She was able to make her way downstream where she came upon a canoe and shelter. She decided to stay there and wait, and eventually a lumberman came to her rescue and took care of her injuries. She had a broken collarbone, a wound to her right arm that was infested with bugs, and an injury to her eye that left it swollen shut. While she wanted to locate her mother, who was on the flight with her, her search was unsuccessful, and she eventually learned of her death. Koepcke was able to obtain her zoology degree, and two movies have been made, depicting her experience: Wings of Hope and Miracles Still Happen.
3. Mohammed el-Fateh Osman – 115 Fatalities
Mohammed el-Fateh Osman stands as the youngest person to ever survive a plane crash. On July 8, 2003, a Boeing 737 run by Sudan Airways was leaving Port Sudan and was headed to Khartoum. However, the pilot noticed that one of the engines was not functioning properly, so it was turned off and he radioed that he was headed back to the airport. However, about 10 minutes after this signaling to the towers, the plane crashed after the pilot attempting to complete an emergency landing. Carrying 116 people including crew members, 2-year old Mohammed el-Fateh Osman somehow survived the crash, while the others, including his mother, were killed. He was found near a tree and was sent to the hospital where he was treated for burns.
While Osman did survive, he did lose part of his leg because of the crash. Specialists in aviation safety have long-studied this crash, and have concluded that children are more likely to survive due to the fact that they have a lighter mass, and that a tree or some other object could easily break the fall. Those bodies that were left after the crash were burned in a massive grave due to the condition of them. Today a marking stands at the exact location of the wreck.
2. Bahia Bakari – 152 Fatalities
Yemenia Flight 626 stands as the second deadliest plane crash ever, and the most deadly ocean crash in aviation history. The plane left Sana’a, Yemen and was headed to Moroni, Comoros on June 30, 2009. The plane carried 153, 11 of them crew members. On the plane was French schoolgirl Bahia Bakari along with her mother. The two were headed to Comoros for a summer vacation, which would never happen. A few minutes before the plane was to arrive in Comoros, it suddenly crashed into the Indian Ocean, which split the plane in many pieces, and everyone but the 14 year-old girl was killed, which everyone considers a miracle, especially after looking at the statistics of one surviving a crash in the ocean. For about 13 hours, Bakari floated in the water, most of the time it was dark outside, but she was able to hold onto wreckage debris that kept her above the waves.
After the crash, all boats in the vicinity of the crash were asked to support a search and rescue mission. Sima Com 2, a privately owned ship, spotted Bakari and a sailor jumped off the ship to rescue her, as she was much too weak to swim to grab onto the floatation device on her own. While everyone else on the ship died, Bakari was sent to the hospital to be treated for cuts, bruises, burns on her knees, a broken collarbone, and exhaustion. Soon after the crash, French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet flew Bakari back to France in a private plane and called her “la miraculée.”
1. Cecelia Cichan – 156 Fatalities
On August 16, 1987, a flight leaving MBS International Airport in Saginaw, Michigan headed to John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, California. The plane, Northwest Airlines Flight 255, carried Cecelia Cichan and her family, including her parents Paula and Michael and brother, David on August 16, 1987. Carrying 149 passengers and 6 crew members, the plane was able to make its way down the runway, but trouble arose when it was time for liftoff. During this time, as the plane was attempting to make its way off the ground, it rolled 40 degrees to left, causing the left wing to hit a light-pole located at the end of the runway and then struck the roof of a rental car and finally crashed on the I-94 express way.
Everyone on the plane died with the exception of Cecelia Cichan, who was 4 years old at the time, and her survival is seen as a true miracle. Two motorists on I-94 were also killed, bringing the death toll to 156. After the crash, investigations ensued, and the National Transportation Safety Board determined that the crash was caused by pilot error, as those in the cockpit failed to make sure that the plane’s slats and flaps were extended for proper takeoff. There was also an absence of full electrical power, which caused a failure in the system to warn the crew that the plane was not ready for takeoff.