50 Fascinating Real-Life Survival Stories

1Phineas Gage

Phineas Gage

In 1848, Phineas Gage, a railroad foreman, had a tamping iron, which was 43 inches long and weighed 13 pounds, shoot through his skull. Although it destroyed his brain’s left lobe, he miraculously survived. After he recovered though, his friends said he was “no longer Gage.” He could not stick to plans, uttered “the grossest profanity” and showed “little deference for his fellows.”

2. A woman named Sue Aikens survived a brutal bear attack that left her with both hips pulled out of their sockets and bite marks in her skull. She was forced to treat her own wounds, go back out to kill the bear, then lie in her cabin for 10 days until medical help arrived.

3. In 1969, 17-year-old Cuban, Armando Socarras Ramirez survived hiding in the right wheel well of a Douglas DC-8 on an 8-hour flight from Havana to Madrid. Upon landing, he was found on the ground covered in ice and not breathing. Dubbed as “the popsicle” by Spanish doctors, he recovered fully.

4. U.S. Air Force pilot Brian Udell once survived an ejection from an F-15 that was flying faster than the speed of sound. The extreme forces he endured tore his gloves, shredded his G suit, took his helmet off, broke his limbs, and dislocated his joints. He fully recovered, continued flying, and retired as a Southwest captain.

5. In 2011, a 54-year-old man named Howard Snitzer became the first known person to survive a sudden cardiac arrest and remain neurologically intact after spending 96 minutes without a heartbeat. After he collapsed on a sidewalk suffering from a heart attack, more than 20 people took turns doing CPR and gave what could be the longest, successful out-of-hospital resuscitation ever.

6Alexander Yuvochenko

Alexander Yuvochenko

Alexander Yuvochenko was a survivor of the Chernobyl disaster. Most will recognize him as the man who holds the reactor door open in Episode 1 of the HBO show. Many assumed he had died, but he in fact survived his exposure to the radiation, living for another 22 years after the accident.

7. In 1966, SR-71 Blackbird pilot Bill Weaver survived his aircraft disintegrating at Mach 3.2 at 78,000 feet. He sustained only minor injuries due mostly to his pressure suit acting as an escape capsule. His co-pilot in the back seat died instantly of a broken neck.

8. During World War 2, US airman Alan Magee fell 22,000 feet without a parachute from a damaged B-17 bomber and survived after crashing through a railroad station’s glass roof. Magee was taken as a prisoner of war and was given medical treatment. Two years later, he was liberated and received the Purple Heart.

9. Vesna Vulovic holds the Guinness world record for surviving the highest fall without a parachute. She was a Serbian flight attendant who was the sole survivor after her aircraft broke up at 33,000 feet (10,000 meters). She suffered many broken bones and was in a coma for 10 days but eventually made a near-full recovery.

10. In 1945, Empire State Building elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver was thrown from her elevator after a B-25 bomber crashed into the building. She was placed into another elevator only for that elevator to fall 75 stories. She survived the fall, making it the highest elevator fall ever survived.

11José Salvador Alvarenga

José Salvador Alvarenga

A Salvadoran fisherman named José Salvador Alvarenga became stranded at sea in 2012 and survived until he was rescued in 2014. He survived mainly on a diet of raw fish, turtles, small birds, sharks, and rainwater.

12. During the 2017 London Bridge Terror Attack, a man named Roy Larner fought all three attackers with his fists shouting “Fu*k you, I’m Millwall.” He was stabbed eight times and survived.

13. There is a world record for “Greatest Distance Thrown in a Car Accident” which is held by Matthew Mcknight, who was working as a paramedic at a crash site in 2001 and was hit by a car going 112.6 km/h (70 mph) and thrown 35.9 m (118 ft). Amazingly, he survived.

14. In 2000, a woman named Inés Ramírez Pérez became the only woman documented to have performed a cesarean section on herself and survive, alongside her newborn.

15. During a debate in 1843, an assassination attempt was made on Kentucky abolitionist politician Cassius Marcellus Clay due to his political views. Despite being shot in the chest, Clay not only survived but he drew his Bowie knife, tackled his would-be assassin, cut out his eyes, and threw him over an embankment.

16Juliane Koepcke

Juliane Koepcke

In 1971, after LANSA flight 508 was struck by lightning above Peru, 17-year-old Juliane Koepcke fell from the sky for two miles but survived. Despite extensive wounds, she walked for 11 days in the rainforest before finding a group of fishermen who helped transport her to a hospital.

17. During World War 2, a Finnish soldier named Aimo Koivunen overdosed on methamphetamine, stepped on a land mine, survived for a week in a ditch by eating pine cones, skied 250 miles, and was found weighing 94lb with a heart rate of 200bpm. He survived the ordeal and went on to live for another 45 years.

18. During the 1835 assassination plot on the French King Louis Philippe I, Giuseppe Fieschi, a Corsican ex-soldier, built a “machine infernale” that unleashed a simultaneous volley of 25 guns strapped on a wooden frame. Once fired, it killed 18 and wounded 22, but it also exploded severely injuring Fieschi. King Louis Philippe I however survived this assassination attempt.

19. Hustler Magazine owner, Larry Flynt, survived an attack by a serial killer, which is why he was paralyzed from the waist down. He pleaded for his attacker to not be executed, saying “A government that forbids killing among its citizens should not be in the business of killing people itself.”

20. Captain Samuel Whittemore was an American farmer who at the age of 78 was shot in the face by a musket and repeatedly stabbed with a bayonet by British soldiers in 1775 during their march to Lexington & Concord. He survived and went on to live another 18 years.

21Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

In 1954, Ernest Hemingway survived two plane crashes in two days. He was presumed dead for almost 24 hours later until he was spotted coming out of the jungle carrying bananas and a bottle of gin.

22. In 1971, Dougal Robertson, his wife, and four children survived a shipwreck by taking enemas of turtle blood and rainwater that collected in the bottom of their lifeboat. Drinking the mixture orally would have been poisonous and led to their deaths. They were rescued after 37 days.

23. In 1989, 4 sailors survived at sea off the coast of New Zealand for 118 days after their trimaran, the Rose-Noelle, was upturned by a rogue wave. They cut holes in the hull, collected rainwater, and eventually caught and cooked fish. They were in such good shape upon return that many doubted their story.

24. Richard Norris Williams survived the Titanic sinking but spent too much time in freezing water and the rescue doctor recommended amputation of both his legs. He refused and proceeded to win his first tennis tournament a few months later and became Wimbledon doubles champion in 1920.

25. A German paraglider named Ewa Wiśnierska got surprised by a thunderstorm and got sucked up by a cumulonimbus cloud to an altitude of 10,000 m (33.000 ft). She managed to survive temperatures of -50 degrees Celsius and extreme oxygen deprivation at a height higher than Mt. Everest.