The human spirit is one of the most impressive things about our entire existence. The idea that, despite everything the world has done to kill us, we’ve been able to not just survive, but thrive, is nothing short of inspiring—and that’s just every day life. So, on the rare occasion we hear about stories from people who survived in spite of astounding odds, with the deck stacked impossibly high against them, looking death directly in the face, we can’t help but give them the respect and acknowledgment they deserve. Here are the craziest survival stories of all time.
1. The Man Who Survived 100 Feet Under Water in the Dark for Three Days: Far and away the most insane story of survival we’ve ever heard, Harrison Okene survived for over 60 hours after his tugboat capsized and sunk 100 feet below the surface—all while frigid cold water was slowly consuming the entire ship, and sharks were consuming the bodies of his fellow shipmates. Okene had just woken up and was in the bathroom when the boat was capsized by a massive rogue wave. While his crew mates drowned, Okene was able to find his way to the engineer’s office, where he caught a pocket of air. Stacking mattresses to keep himself from being submerged under the water, and without any food or fresh water to hold him over (and in complete fucking darkness, by the way), Okene managed to hang on long enough for rescue divers to get to him.
2. The Men Who Got an A-Bomb Dropped on Them—on Purpose: The U.S. had a very weird habit in the ’40s and ’50s of testing nuclear bombs on American soil. We didn’t really understand we were turning that land into uninhabitable toxic waste, but we did understand those shits looked dope when we blew ’em up in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, in 1957, five Air Force men and one really bummed out camera man—Colonel Sidney Bruce, Major Norman Bodinger, Major John Hughes, Lieutenant Colonel Frank P. Balls, Corporal Don Lutrel and George Yoshitake—literally stood at ground zero as two planes dropped an atom bomb on them from above. There’s a video of the entire experience, as one of the men narrates every moment. The bomb was launched and detonated 10,000 feet directly above them, close enough to feel not just the intense flash heat wave, but also a massive percussion blast. Yet, all six men were cool as cucumbers the entire time, and all six survived the blast without issue.
3. The Boy Who Survived a Plane Crash into a Mountain: At 11 years old, it’s safe to say that Norman Ollestad Jr. had bigger balls than most fully grown men. On February 19, 1979, Norman, his father, his girlfriend and a pilot hopped into a four-seater Cessna and took off for Big Bear Mountain to retrieve a ski trophy that Norman had won. But their plane was caught in a blizzard and wrecked right into the side of the mountain. While Norman’s father and the captain were killed instantly, Norman and his father’s girlfriend, Sandra, were forced to scale down the frozen, treacherous mountain—in the middle of a Goddamn blizzard, with zero climbing or cold weather gear. To make it worse, Sandra had been badly injured in the wreck. As they were going down the mountain, Sandra lost her grip and toppled over and into the fog. Norman found her body an hour or so later, and proceeded carefully down the mountain. He finally made it to base nine hours later, frost bitten and nearing hypothermia.
4. The Family Who Survived 38 Days on the Open Sea: When we think “family vacation,” we think of weekend camping trips, a weekend at Disney, some sightseeing in the nation’s capital, etc. What we don’t think of is buying a 43-foot wooden schooner and sailing it around the world, from port to port, for over a year in a half. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what Dougal Robertson and his family of did. In January of 1971, the Robertson’s departed from Falmouth, England on their boat, Lucette, and they sailed across the Atlantic for 18 months, spending significant time in the Caribbean. That is, until June 15, 1972, when their ship was attacked by a pod of dickhead killer wales. The ship sunk and the family was able to escape on a life raft and 10-foot dinghy. For 38 days, they sailed adrift, using a makeshift sail on the dinghy to guide them towards Central America. They survived on the rainwater they were able to collect, along with the turtle, flying fish and dorado they were able to hunt. Every member of the family and crew survived, and Dougal even continued sailing until his death.
5. The Woman Who Got a Plane Crash For Christmas: It was Christmas Eve, 1971, and Juliane Koepcke was flying from Lima to Peru when her plane hit a massive thunderstorm. The plane was struck by lightning, which ignited a fuel tank in the right wing, causing the wing to fail and fall off. The plane basically ripped itself to shreds mid-air, and fell 21,000 feet into the fucking Amazon rainforest. The only survivor was 17-year-old Juliane Koepcke, who not only survived the fall with a concussion, a broken collarbone, a bad gash to her right arm and an injured eye, but then survived in the Amazon for 10 whole days until she found help. Her wounds were so bad that they eventually became infested with maggots.