You just can’t make up these kinds of stories. These survival stories are so captivating that many have been made into movies and tons can be read in books. The Revenant and 127 Hours are just a few cinematic accounts of real stories that happened to real people.
Yet many stories, no less fascinating, have not been made into famous publications, leaving them widely unheard of. We want to do a little bit of storytelling. Real storytelling, that is. These are the most incredible survival stories know to humans. Some famous, some less known. All mesmerizing.
US Airways Flight 1549 – The Story of Sully
If you saw the movie Sully, then you’re familiar with the story of Flight 1549. On January 15, 2009, the plane took off from LaGuardia airport in New York and headed towards Charlotte, North Carolina. But after a few minutes, the plane struck a flock of geese, and it caused both engines to fail.
Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images
The pilot, “Sully” Sullenberger, had to act fast. He alerted air traffic control that he was going to land the plane on the Hudson River. And amazingly, he did just that and saved the lives of the entire crew and all 150 passengers on the plane.
Hugh Glass – The Story Behind The Revenant
Another movie based on a real-life survival story is The Revenant. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Hugh Glass, was a real person who went through the unimaginable. This is how the real story took place.
He was a mountain man on a fur trapping expedition in August of 1823. The expedition was to go from the Missouri River, up the valley of the Grand River in South Dakota. Glass disturbed a mother grizzly bear with her two cubs and he was violently attacked by the giant bear.
And how he managed to survive is unbelievable.
Surviving the Bear Attack
In real life, Hugh Glass killed the bear with help from his trapping partners, Fitzgerald and Bridger. Unlike the movie scene in which DiCaprio’s character killed the bear by himself. In reality, Glass was left badly injured and unconscious.
The expedition leader, Henry, was convinced that Glass wouldn’t survive. He got two volunteers to stay with Glass until he died and were then supposed to bury him. Bridger and Fitzgerald agreed to do it and started digging his grave.
But He Didn’t Die
Bridger and Fitzgerald reported to Henry that Glass died, even though he didn’t. Glass regained consciousness and found himself abandoned with no weapons or equipment of any kind.
He had a broken leg and cuts on his back, exposing his ribs. He was more than 200 miles away from the closest settlement. He had to reset his broken leg, wrapped himself in the bear hide that they placed over him, and started to crawl.
He survived for six weeks in the forest. Do you know how?
Found by Natives and Returned Home
Glass survived eating wild berries and roots. After six weeks, he finally reached the Cheyenne River, made a makeshift raft and floated down the river.
He eventually found natives who were friendly and sewed a bear hide to his back to cover his wounds. Glass eventually got to the safety of Fort Kiowa, where his crew were.
Ricky Megee – Stranded in the Outback
In 2006, in one of Australia’s most remote areas, workers in a cattle station found a man named Ricky Megee who claimed that he had been stranded in the outback for 70 days. Megee said the last thing he remembered was that his car broke down during his drive across the country.
Some said that he was the victim of a violent attack and was drugged. And so when he regained consciousness, he saw that he was stranded. For a long 70 days, over two months, Megee survived by eating frogs, snakes, lizards, and the water he found in a dam. He lost over half his body weight before ultimately being rescued.
The next story involves the lone survivors of a plane crash in the 1940s.
The ‘Gremlin Special’ Crash of 1945
On May 13, 1945, a U.S. Army Air Force C-47 named the “Gremlin Special” crashed into the side of a mountain in the then Dutch New Guinea. On the plane were 24 officers and enlisted women.
Sadly, only three survived. Lt. John McCollom was basically unharmed, but WAC Cpl. Margaret Hastings and Sgt. Kenneth Decker were badly injured. The three found themselves in a country that looked like it was in the middle of a modern Stone Age, untouched by the outside world.
The Natives Were Known Cannibals
The natives of the land were known cannibals, but luckily for the survivors, the natives only ate their enemy tribes. On July 2, 1945, after forty-two days stranded in the jungle, they were found
The three were brought back to health by the natives, and then rescued and brought back to safety.
You might know about the next survival story, which was also made into a movie.
Aron Ralston – The Man from 127 Hours
Another jaw-dropping story of survival was made into a Hollywood film, called 127 Hours. In 2003, the then 28 year old climber, Aron Ralston, went out to master the Bluejohn Canyon in Utah.
9 Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images
While in a cave, an 800-pound boulder shifted and he was suddenly trapped against the canyon wall, his hand crushed under the massive rock. He then went through six days of what he called “sleep-deprived, meandering thoughts.”
A Life-Saving Yet Difficult Decision
Ralston had to make a decision. Was he going to die in there or find a way out? He decided to use his Swiss Army knife to amputate his own arm and free himself.
127 hours is the amount of time he spent in the cave, surviving somehow. He later walked out alive, missing half an arm, but able to tell his story. He wrote an autobiography called Between a Rock and a Hard Place.
Next, one of the youngest survivors to do the unthinkable.
Abby Sunderland – The Youngest Survivor
Abby Sunderland wanted to be the youngest person to sail around the world alone. She set sail in 2010, at the age of 16. She was well on her way when a strong storm snapped the mast of her 40-foot yacht, which she named Wild Eyes.
Photo by IMAZ PRESS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Abby was stranded in the Indian Ocean, 2,000 miles away from land. She was hit by strong winds and freezing temperatures and she sent a distress signal. Luckily, she was rescued by fishermen two days after her signal was heard.
The Chilean Mining Accident – The 33
2010, the Copiapó mining accident, also referred to as the “Chilean mining accident” happened. The 121-year-old San José copper-gold mine collapsed and buried a whole crew of miners.
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
The men trapped inside became known as “Los 33” (“The 33”). They were trapped 2,300 feet below the earth and 3 miles from the mine’s entrance. The crew included experienced miners and technical support personnel, who had less experience working underground. Incredibly, they survived for a record 69 days before their rescue.
The next story is dramatic and one in which a member was seriously criticized.
Joe Simpson and Simon Yates – A Climbing Accident
Joe Simpson and Simon Yates climbed Siula Grande in 1985. On the way down, Simpson fell through a mass of hardened snow, breaking his right leg and foot. To continue going down, Yates had to use ropes to lower Simpson down the mountain in stages.
Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
It was night and the weather was bad, but Yates lowered Simpson over a cliff edge, which wasn’t seen at first. So Simpson was hanging over a deep cliff with only his hold on the rope to prevent him from falling.
He Cut the Rope
Yates cut the rope so that he wouldn’t be pulled off the mountain himself. Simpson fell about 50 feet down. He survived the fall, but Yates assumed that he died. Simpson managed to climb out and got to the base camp four days later.
(Photo by Prince Williams/Wireimage
Yates was criticized for his decision to cut the rope on his partner. Yates defended himself by saying that he couldn’t rely on people coming to help since they were cut off from the world on the mountain with a huge storm on its way. Simpson defended Yates and said that he would have done it himself if the roles were reversed.
Next, a whole family who survived together.
The Robertson Family – Shipwrecked by Whales
Dougal and Lyn Robertson along with their three children and a friend were on a ship in June of 1972, 200 miles off the Galapagos Islands. Suddenly, a pod of killer whales rammed the ship, destroying it. The Robertsons got into a small lifeboat and survived for 36 days in the ocean.
For 36 days, the group of six had to stay alive in an ocean with wild weather. They eventually found rescue with a Japanese fishing boat on its way to the Panama Canal. The father kept a journal and can be read in his book “Survive the Savage Sea.”
Lt. David Steeves – A Dramatic Reappearance
David Steeves was a U.S. Air Force lieutenant who was unjustly accused of giving a Lockheed T-33A trainer jet to the USSR during the Cold War in the 1950s. He was ordered to fly the jet from an Air Force Base near San Francisco to Selma, Alabama on May 9, 1957.
Both Steeves and the jet disappeared, and he was declared dead after not finding him in a search. But Steeves appeared the following July. He parachuted out of the jet after something blew up. He hadn’t eaten for two weeks until he found a ranger’s cabin in Kings Canyon National Park.
Next, the result of a balloon crash!
Balloon Crash – Lost in the Canadian Wilderness
On December 13, 1920, US Navy lieutenants Kloor, Hinton, and Farrell crashed in a hydrogen balloon, deep in the Canadian wilderness. They were 20 miles from the nearest town, which was Moose Factory, Ontario.
For a week they traveled through the forest in the dead of winter with hardly any gear or food. The key to their survival was that they forced each other to keep going and refused to leave any man behind. They finally reached a Hudson Bay trading post and were saved.
Steven Callahan – Lost at Sea
On the night of January 29, 1982, Steven Callahan started sailing alone in his small sailboat from the Canary Islands heading towards the Caribbean. Six days later, the boat sank in a storm, and Callahan was left in the Atlantic in a five-and-a-half-foot inflatable rubber raft.
With only a t-shirt on and with three pounds of food, a few pieces of gear and eight pints of water, Callahan was adrift in the ocean for 76 days. He drifted over 1,800 miles of ocean before he reached land in the Bahamas. His autobiographical account is in his book, “Adrift.”
The next story is pretty recent about a runner in the desert.
Mauro Prosperi – Caught in a Sandstorm
In 2014, Italian runner Mauro Prosperi wanted to complete the Marathon des Sables − a six-day run in the Sahara desert. By the fourth day, he was in fourth place and started to fall in love with the desert.
But soon, Prosperi found himself in the middle of an eight-hour sandstorm. He was disoriented, lost, and completely alone. He had only a few supplies and MREs, trying but failing to catch the attention of two passing planes. In the end, Prosperi survived for 10 days by drinking his own distilled urine and eating bats.
The Whaleship Essex – A Call for Desperate Measures
In November of 1820, a whaling ship named Essex was rammed and sunk by a Sperm whale in the Pacific Ocean. Twenty-one sailors were left floating in three small whaleboats with little to no food or water.
A sperm whale brought ashore in the ’50s, photo preserved in the Whalers Museum, Lajes do Pico, Pico island, Azores Archipelago, Portugal, 20th century
The boats eventually reached a small island. The men separated to look for help, some going back to the ocean in one of their boats. Only eight of the sailors survived. Owen Chase, one of the eight, kept a journal of the events. He was rescued 93 days after the Essex went down.
Next, a story of the luckiest plane crash survivor ever.
Juliane Koepcke – A Sole Survivor
Juliane was the sole survivor of 93 passengers and crew of the crash of LANSA Flight 508 in the Peruvian rainforest on December 24, 1971. The airplane was struck by lightning during in a thunderstorm and exploded in mid-air. Juliane, 17 years old at the time, fell thousands of feet in the air while still strapped into her seat.
Photo credit should read ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP/Getty Images
Luckily, the jungle cushioned her fall and she survived with only a broken collarbone, a cut on her right arm and a swollen eye. She had no training or equipment, but was able to find a small stream, and followed it for 9 days. She then found a canoe and a shelter, where she waited and was rescued by two loggers.
Debbie Kiley – Left in Shark-Filled Waters
In October 1982, Deborah and four others left Maine on a 58-foot yacht, heading to Florida. Strong winds and high seas sank the yacht, and they had to use a rubber dinghy in shark-filled waters with no food or water.
Deborah and the others had to drink seawater, which caused their mental state to decline. One man jumped in the water and was eaten by sharks right under the raft. Another person swam off and was never seen again. Deborah and one other person were able to stay alive, hanging on for 4 days until rescued.
The next story is about someone who is considered an Australian hero.
Douglas Mawson – An Australian Hero
Douglas Mawson is thought of as an Australian hero because of his Antarctic exploration mission in the early 20th century. On December 14, 1912, Mawson and his two colleagues, Belgrave Ninnis and Xavier Mertz, were on their way back to their base camp.
Douglas Mawson (1882-1958), Alistair MacKay (1878-1914) and David Edgeworth (1858-1934) with the British flag at the south magnetic pole, January 16, 1909, Antarctica, Expedition Nimrod, also called the British Antarctic Expedition of 1907-1909 , from L’Illustrazione Italiana, Year XXXVI, No 44, October 31, 1909.
Ninnis fell into a crevasse and dragged their sledge, their supplies, and almost all of their dogs down with him. But they were 310 miles away from home.
An Ice Desert
In order to get back, Mawson and Mertz had to make it through an ice desert without any shelter and only a third of the food needed.
Inevitably, they ran out of food and even contemplated eating their dogs. But Mertz died from cold and exhaustion, leaving Mawson alone. Mawson’s sledge got stuck in the snow and he also fell into a crevasse, and he was “dangling helplessly above the abyss, with his sledge behind him edging towards the lip.”
A Matter of Hours
Mawson somehow survived 32 days in the toughest environment on the planet. Mawson finally got to his hut.
The poor guy was told that he would have to wait 10 more months in Antarctica because the ship that was supposed to take him home had already sailed off just a few hours earlier, believing he was dead.
Marina Chapman – Raised By Monkeys
Though there is some speculation about Marina’s story and whether or not it’s entirely factual, she claims that what happened to her is real. She claimed to have been kidnapped from her Colombian village when she was four years old and abandoned in the jungle.
She started to follow a group of capuchin monkeys who “raised” her until she was rescued by hunters when she was 10 years old. Marina took shelter in the trees and lived off of wild berries and bananas. She was later adopted at the age of 14.
Lewis and Clark Expedition – The Famous True Story
We’ve all heard of Lewis and Clark, but do you know the story? In 1804, Thomas Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark out to find a water route across America and explore the unexplored West.
They traveled for two years, getting help from friendly Native tribes. And if it wasn’t for their interpreter, Sacajawea, they would have starved to death or be completely lost in the Rocky Mountains. They were robbed, injured and almost starved many times. But they made it in the end.
Jan Baalsrud – A Lone Survivor, Chased by the Germans
This story was made into a book called “We Die Alone.” It tells the true story of how in March 1943, a team of Norwegian ex-pats, including Jan Baalsrud, sailed from England to Nazi-occupied Norway. They were going to organize and supply the Norwegian resistance.
But soon after landing, the crew was ambushed by the Germans, and Baalsrud was the lone survivor. He was poorly clothed, one foot completely bare, and missing one toe.
He Was Relentlessly Pursued
Baalsrud was relentlessly pursued by the Germans. He had the will to live, however, and pulled his way through. He survived an avalanche, dealing with frostbite and snow blindness.
He made his way over the Norwegian mountains to a small village. He was crippled and touching death when he got to the village of Mandal. The locals helped save him and assisted in his escape back home to Sweden.
Beck Weathers – Above All Odds
Jon Krakauer’s popular book, “Into Thin Air”, provided a detailed account of this fateful survival story. The ill-fated expedition of Mt. Everest left eight people dead in the deadliest season in history.
Beck Weathers, one of the survivors, was abandoned twice and thought to be dead. He spent 18 hours in below zero temperatures, almost dying until he regained consciousness and staggered into camp.
Hardly Human Conditions
He had severe frostbite, corneal lacerations, and hypothermia. His face was so badly frozen it hardly looked human.
The year after being rescued, Weathers had ten surgeries. His right hand and most of his left were amputated. His survival stood out among the rest of the others on that beast of a mountain.
Yossi Ghinsberg – Lost in the Jungle
In 1981, Yossi Ghinsberg and three friends went to Bolivian Amazon for a trip of a lifetime. They were not well prepared for the journey, and soon got hopelessly lost. The group of four broke off into pairs, with two of them never being seen again.
Ghinsberg and his friend made a raft and went down the river, but it caught on a rock. They ended up losing each other in the rapids. For 19 days, Ghinsberg wandered the jungle alone. He had no idea that locals found his friend and helped him search for the others. Amazingly, they found Ghinsberg still alive, walking along the river bank. His story was told in his book “Back from Tuichi.”
Ernest Shackleton’s Expedition Team – Stuck in Ice
“The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition” is a book about Sir Ernest Shackleton’s survival tale. He made a failed attempt to cross Antarctica by foot before the start of World War I, in 1901.
Their ship, named the Endurance, got stuck in ice in the Weddell Sea. The crew consisted of 27 men and they had no method of communication with the outside world. They were isolated for the next 22 months.
Forced Out onto the Frozen Sea
The men lived on the ship for almost a year before the ice ended up destroying it. The crew was then forced to move out onto the frozen sea. A few months later, the team built sleighs and made it to Elephant Island, a rocky area of land beyond the Antarctic Peninsula.
Frank Hurley / The Ralls Collection
Back on land, people assumed that the expedition had been killed. Shackleton didn’t expect to be saved, so he made the decision to take one of the lifeboats and cross the sea of 800 miles to where a small whaling station was located. But they landed on the wrong side of the island and had to trek over the frozen mountains to get to the station. But they made it after all.
Steve Fossett – A Miracle Landing in the Sea
On his fourth attempt to fly across the globe solo in a helium balloon, hoping to win the $1 million prize, adventurer Steve Fossett hit a storm over the Coral Sea. He tried to sail the balloon, called The Solo Spirit, over the storm.
30,000 feet in the air, the hail shredded the outer layer of the balloon and it started falling from the sky. He braced for impact, lying across the bench and waited for it to end. Miraculously, when the thing splashed into the water, Fossett was completely unharmed. He climbed out and into a life raft and was rescued 10 hours later.
On October 26, 1967, Lieutenant Commander John McCain was flying his plane when he got shot down by a missile above Hanoi, Vietnam. He attempted to eject from the aircraft and fractured both arms and a leg, almost drowning when he parachuted into Truc Bach Lake.
Vietnamese locals pulled him onto the shore and transported to Hanoi’s main prison, also known as the “Hanoi Hilton.”
A True Hero, He Put Others Before Him
His captors didn’t treat his injuries and continued to beat and interrogate him in order to get information. He was eventually sent to a different prisoner of war camp in December of 1967 and was placed in a cell with two other Americans.
In March, McCain was put into solitary confinement, where he was stuck there for two years. In the middle of 1968, he was offered an early release. But believe it or not, McCain turned down the offer and said he would only leave if every man that was taken in before him was released too.
He Hit a Breaking Point
McCain was tortured every few hours and was suffering from severe stomach issues at the time. After four days, McCain hit a breaking point and provided an anti-American “confession.”
But since he refused to sign another statement, he continued to get two to three beatings per week. In total, McCain was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for more than five years. He was eventually released on March 14, 1973.