12 People Who Survived the Impossible
Disasters, tragedies, and freak accidents often result in the loss of tens of thousands of lives. These horrific incidents are tragic world events, but sometimes these devastating situations offer a glimmer of hope. Every once in a while a person accomplishes the impossible. They survive incidents where all logic indicates they shouldn’t have a chance of survival. These inspirational stories feel like the plot of a blockbuster movie. Instead, they inspire movies about people’s lives and inconceivable feats of survival.
There are plenty of incredible stories of survival, from a woman who fell out of a plane but was unharmed to a man who survived not one but two atomic bombings. One person even managed to live after a particle accelerator beam shot through their head.
In most cases, surviving an accident is just the first part of the story. In many scenarios, these people find themselves alone and injured and must pull themselves together to survive the harsh conditions they find themselves in. Somehow these lucky people faced near-death situations and were able to hang on to tell their stories. Read on below and discover how these people managed to overcome improbable odds and survive impossible situations.
1. María Belón (Survived Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami)
On Christmas Eve 2004, physician María Belón, her husband Enrique, and three sons, Lucas, Simón, and Tomás, arrived in Khao Lak, Thailand, for a family vacation. Two days later the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami struck the country and surrounding area on December 26.
The earthquake hit a 9.1 on the Richter scale, destroying Sumatra, Indonesia, and the surrounding coastal countries, notably Sri Lanka and Thailand. The earthquake caused a massive tsunami inflicting further damage. As one of the deadliest disasters in recent history, it cost the lives of roughly 227,898 people.
Miraculously, Belón and her family survived the incident. In the immediate aftermath, Belón suffered near-fatal injuries and had to have emergency surgery to save her life. Her husband and sons were split up but found each other, reuniting with Belón at the hospital. The entire family somehow managed to survive and reunite. The critically acclaimed 2012 film, The Impossible, told the true story of the family and stars Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, and Tom Holland.
2. Tsutomu Yamaguchi (Survived Two Atomic Bombings Days Apart)
In the summer of 1945, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, forcing Japan to surrender and bringing an end to World War II. Both bombings killed between 129,000 and 226,000 people, with many dying immediately and others over time from radiation poisoning and other health issues. While the Americans targeted cities with military facilities, they primarily comprised of civilians. Amazingly, many people survived the bombing of their city. Even more miraculously, around 70 people survived both explosions, notably Tsutomu Yamaguchi.
On August 6, 1945, Nagasaki native Yamaguchi visited Hiroshima for business. At 8:15 am, the U.S. military dropped the Little Boy atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Yamaguchi suffered severe burns all over his body. He was lucky to survive the first ordeal. On August 9, Yamaguchi was surprisingly back at work in Nagasaki. Early in the morning, the United States dropped the second atomic bomb, Fat Man, on Nagasaki. Once again the bombing caused immense damage and killed thousands of people. Yamaguchi somehow survived the second nuclear bomb as well. While he suffered further injuries he lived well into old age, dying from stomach cancer in 2010.
3. Reshma Begum (Survived for Two Weeks Under Collapsed Rana Plaza)
On the morning of April 24, 2013, 19-year-old Reshma Begum skipped breakfast because she was running late for work. She grabbed a couple of packs of biscuits to get through the day before she set off for work. At the time, Begum lived in the Rana Plaza in Savar Upazila of Dhaka District, Bangladesh. The eight-story building included apartments, banks, shops, and garment factories. As Begum was leaving, the building began to shake and suddenly collapsed.
It’s one of the deadliest building accidents in recent memory, with roughly 1,135 people dying. During the collapse, Begum made it to the second floor before she became trapped under the rubble. She ended up in a small cavity with enough air to breathe and room to move.
Luckily Begum had the packs of biscuits with her so she had something to eat. Workers randomly dropped water bottles into every hole they could find and Begum managed to find several of these bottles. She survived on the biscuits and water for 17 days until she drew the rescue worker’s attention. The entire country watched her incredible rescue live on television, with her story bringing hope to the nation.
4. Aron Ralston (Amputated Own Arm To Escape a Boulder)
Mountaineer Aron Ralston has a unique and inspirational story. On April 3, 2003, Ralston went canyoneering alone in Bluejohn Canyon in Wayne County, Utah. As Ralston descended a canyon, he accidentally set a boulder free. The dislodged boulder crushed his hand and pinned his arm against the canyon wall. Since he didn’t tell anyone about his plans to go hiking, nobody knew where Ralson was and he remained trapped by the boulder for several days.
Ralston slowly drank his remaining water over the period of five days as he tried to free himself from the boulder. He became dehydrated and delirious. With no options left, Ralston amputated his arm to free himself from the boulder. He then repelled out of the canyon with one arm and hiked until he could find help. After the incident, Ralston gained a small amount of fame after appearing on several talk shows. He also wrote a book about his experience, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, inspiring the feature film 127 Hours.
5. Juliane Koepcke (Survived a Plane Crash)
When German-Peruvian mammalogist Juliane Koepcke was a teenager she joined her parents in setting up a research station in the Amazon rainforest in Peru. While her time there was cut short, she learned vital survival skills that would save her life.
On December 24, 1971, 17-year-old Koepcke and her mother were flying on LANSA Flight 508 when lightning struck the plane. As the aircraft broke apart mid-air, Koepcke remained strapped into her chair, still attached to two other seats. She fell 10,000 feet, crashing into the Amazon rainforest. She suffered significant injuries, including a broken collarbone, an eye injury, and a deep cut on her arm.
After finding a fisherman’s camp, she gave herself first aid treatment and even poured gasoline into the wound to force the maggots out. After 11 grueling days, a fisherman rescued Koepcke, who would eventually return to the area to identify her mother’s body. Koepcke made a full recovery and graduated from the University of Kiel, taking over the research station in Peru after her father’s death in 2000.
6. Ewa Wiśnierska (Survived a Paragliding Incident)
World champion Ewa Wiśnierska took every opportunity to train for the 2007 paragliding world championships. One of her training sessions quickly turned into a fight for survival when on February 14, 2007, Wiśnierska went paragliding near Manilla, New South Wales, in Australia. Wiśnierska ignored warnings of severe thunderstorms in the area and went ahead with her training.
During the session, a cumulonimbus cloud causing heavy rain pulled Wiśnierska into the cloud. Once inside temperatures were extremely low, with heavy amounts of hail. Additionally, the cloud lifted Wiśnierska more than 32,000 feet into the air. She was unable to escape the cloud and passed out, but thankfully woke up an hour later still in the air. Wiśnierska regained her composure and landed safely three and a half hours after she had taken off.
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7. Harrison Odjegba Okene (Survived 60 Hours Underwater)
On May 26, 2013, the Nigerian tugboat, Jascon-4, capsized at a Chevron platform in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nigeria. The boat landed on the seafloor upside down, killing 11 crew members. Somehow the cook, Harrison Okene, survived the accident.
In pitch-black darkness, Okene found his way to the engineer’s office and created a platform above the water from a mattress and other objects. Using the platform, Okene survived for three days due to the sufficient air in the room despite the boat being submerged underewater. After 60 hours, South African divers discovered Okene clinging to the mattress when they went to recover the bodies. Despite losing consciousness during the rescue, Okene amazingly survived the ordeal.
8. Vesna Vulović (Survived a Plane Crash)
JAT Flight 367 from Stockholm to Belgrade exploded mid-air when a briefcase bomb in the luggage compartment exploded. The plane fell apart on January 26, 1972, over Srbská Kamenice village in the present-day Czech Republic. Almost all the crew and passengers died instantly after the plane depressurized, besides flight attendant Vesna Vulović who was in the fuselage when the bomb went off.
She blacked out due to low blood pressure and didn’t remember anything after the explosion. Investigators believe a food cart trapped Vulović in the fuselage, which broke away from the rest of the plane. It crashed on an angle into a snow-covered mountain, with investigators speculating those circumstances saved the flight attendant’s life.
A villager found her among the wreckage and quickly phoned for help. She was in a coma for several months with a fractured skull, broken legs, broken vertebrae, fractured pelvis, and broken ribs. Eventually, she made a full recovery but has struggled with survivor’s guilt ever since.
9. Roy Sullivan (Struck by Lightning Seven Times)
Getting hit by lightning once is a painful and debilitating experience. In addition to severe pain, lightning strikes often cause serious burns. Nobody knew that better than park ranger Roy Sullivan. He worked at Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park most of his life and is best known for surviving seven separate lightning strikes throughout his life. Nicknamed “Human Lightning Rod,” Sullivan suffered through the strikes between 1942 and 1977.
The first strike occurred when he ran out of a burning building. Other strikes happened when he was on a routine patrol. The combination of Virginia’s thunderstorms and Sullivan’s job put him in the line of the strikes on a seasonal basis. Sadly most people avoided Sullivan out of fear that he was bad luck, with the park ranger spending most of his life in isolation. He committed suicide in 1983, with many believing the loneliness got to him.
10. Anatoli Bugroski (Survived a Particle Accelerator)
Russian scientist Antaoli Bugroski survived a near-death experience with a particle accelerator. For those not in the know, a particle accelerator moves energy through two beams employing electromagnetic fields. Coming into contact with these beams can result in illness and death.
On July 12, 1978, Bugroski was repairing a malfunctioning component when one of the rays passed through the back of his head. The beam entered his ear lobe burning through his face, bone, and brain tissue before exiting through his nose. He also received a deadly amount of radiation.
While Bugorski didn’t feel any initial pain, he was near death in a few days. The beam’s path became visible when Bugorski’s skin began peeling, and his face swelled to twice its size. Amazingly, Bugorski managed to survive and went on to receive his Ph.D. He continued to work, although he struggled with seizures, fatigue, and paralysis to his face.
11. Frano Selak (Survived a Train Derailment, a Plane Crash, a Bus Accident, a Car Fire, Being Hit by Bus, and a Head On Collision)
Some consider Croatian Frank Selak to be the luckiest man ever to live, while those less optimistic view him as the unluckiest. Selak amazingly survived several near-death experiences throughout his life. In 1962, Selak had his first brush with death when a train he was riding crashed in the river. Luckily, a good samaritan pulled him from the cold, icy water with 17 others dying.
One year later, Selak fell out of a faulty airplane door, landing on a haystack as the plane crashed, killing everyone on board. For three years, he avoided any accidents until a bus he was riding on crashed into the river, killing four passengers.
Selak kept a low profile for a few years but death continued to hunt him when the car he was driving caught on fire. He managed to escape the vehicle before it blew up. He went on to survive two more accidents in the mid-1990s and when he reached his 70s in the early 00s, Selak capped off his charmed life by winning the lottery. After making a few purchases, Selak gave the rest of the money to friends and family, deciding to live a minimalist life until his death in 2016 aged 87.
12. Truman Duncan (Survived a Train Cutting Him in Half)
Truman Duncan survived one of the most harrowing near-death experiences. In June 2006, Duncan was working in the Cleburne rail yards in Texas when he fell onto the tracks. A train was barreling down on him moments after the fall. He tried to outrun the train, but it ran him over, dragging him for several feet.
After the train stopped, Duncan was entangled in the train and nearly cut in half. Miraculously he managed to survive with a thin layer of tissue connecting his body. He had to have his left leg and bottom right leg amputated but lived to tell the tale.
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