Can you imagine falling 10,000 meters (33,000 ft) from a plane, being trapped underwater for days or surviving a massive radioactive discharge? All this seems like a death sentence, but today you’re going to meet five incredible people who survived these impossible scenarios. Were they just extremely lucky, or were there secrets to their survival?
Sometimes, the difference between life and death can be a matter of a few tiny details. If you had left for work one minute earlier, you wouldn’t have boarded the train that was about to crash, for example. But in some cases, it seems weirder than that. And those are the stories we’ll be focusing on today. How did one man survive 60 hours in a sunken ship? What could you do to survive falling from an airplane? And how can your body keep you alive when it’s frozen solid?
Number 5: Jean Hilliard, the Human Icicle.
It was a cold, snowy night in 1980 in Minnesota when Jean was driving home and her car went off the road. Not wanting to spend the night in a broken-down car with no heat while the temperature dropped, she decided to walk 3 km (2 mi) to a friend’s house. Fighting snowy, windy conditions, she collapsed a few meters from the front door and spent the night exposed to the freezing temperatures. Her friend found her the next morning, covered in snow and frozen solid.
Jean survived because her body reacted to the extreme cold as if she were hibernating. Her blood flow slowed, requiring less oxygen for metabolism and helping prevent brain damage as a result. Although under certain conditions the body can survive extreme situations like the one Hilliard found herself in, it is best to stay in the car to protect yourself from the elements. Also, Jean’s accident occurred in 1980, when cell phones weren’t around. Always keep your phone charged before you hit the road and a couple of extra blankets in the trunk.
Number 4: Aron Ralston, Stranded in the Desert Wilderness.
Aron’s story became world-famous with the 2010 movie “”127 Hours””, which showed him spending more than five days with his right arm trapped between a 360 kg (800 lb) boulder and a cliff face in Canyonlands National Park in the U.S. With little food or water and exposed to blistering heat, Aron decided to amputate his arm to free himself. So you have to be prepared to make drastic decisions to survive. In this case, the most important thing is making a tourniquet at the end of the amputated limb to prevent any blood loss. Also, avoid rock climbing alone, carry a radio in addition to your cell phone and let people know where you are going to be.
Number 3: Harrison Okene, Trapped Underwater.
Harrison was a cook on the Jascon-4 tugboat. When it capsized in 2013, he tried to reach an emergency exit, but the ship was sinking so fast that he was sucked into a bathroom cabin. More than 30 m (100 ft) underwater and with the rest of the tug’s crew dead, the space Harrison was enclosed in had a small air pocket form in it that provided him just enough oxygen to breathe. 60 hours later, when a rescue team was trying to recover his crewmates’ bodies, they found Harrison. You will have to find a sealed location that can create an air bubble, limit your movement and slow your breathing in order to stay alive until rescuers arrive.
Number 2: Anatoli Bugorski, Hit by a Radioactive Beam.
In 1978, Anatoli was a physicist at the Soviet Union’s largest particle accelerator. When a piece of equipment began to malfunction, he entered the machine to fix it. At the same time, several safety mechanisms failed and a beam of protons hit him at almost the speed of light. It penetrated his head with more than 400 times the normal lethal dose of radiation.
Within hours, his face swelled up beyond recognition. The skin was peeled away at the entry and exit wounds, allowing doctors to see the beam’s path through his skull and brain. His recovery was an odd process, to say the least. His face became partially paralyzed, and only one side of it aged. As time passed, he developed seizures and lost his hearing. Despite all this, he still managed to complete his Ph.D. Experts attribute his strange survival story to the fact that the particle beam was very narrow and concentrated, minimizing the amount of damage to his brain. The major lesson here? You’d better keep your head out of particle accelerators.
Number 1: Vesna Vulovic, the World’s Highest Free Fall.
In 1972, the passenger plane on which Vesna worked as a flight attendant was mistakenly shot down by the Czechoslovakia army. There were 28 people on board, but only Vesna survived. While the rest of the passengers and crew were sucked into the air, she was trapped in the fuselage by a food cart. She plummeted 10,000 m (33,000 ft) to the ground with the cart under her, the highest human free fall ever recorded. Trees and snow cushioned her fall, but among her many injuries Vesna suffered a fractured skull, two broken legs and three broken vertebrae. She even spent a month in a coma. But after a year and a half in the hospital, she managed to recover. If you find yourself in a fall of epic proportions, try to aim for something, anything, to buffer your landing.
Luckily for you, the odds of falling out of an airplane or getting your head blasted with radiation in a particle accelerator are pretty low. But there are things inside your home that could kill you at any moment. Do you know what household accident kills the most people?
- “13 People Who Survived Things That Sound Pretty Freaking Unsurvivable To Me“. 2022. Buzzfeed.
- “The Man Who Put His Head Inside A Particle Accelerator While It Was Switched On“. 2021. Iflscience.
- “The Science Behind Man Surviving Underwater For Three Days“. 2022. Adventure.
- “Vesna Vulovic, Flight Attendant Who Survived Jetliner Blast, Dies At 66 (Published 2016)“. 2016. Nytimes.Com.
- “The Incredible Story Of Woman Who Was Frozen Stiff For 6 Hours And Recovered“. 2021. Medium.
- “Aron Ralston’s Arm Was Stuck Under An 800-Pound Boulder. So He Amputated It To Survive.“. 2021. All That’s Interesting.