Unfortunately, not everyone who wants to flee an oppressive regime by sea is lucky enough to know how to build an AquaScooter. Some have to make do with their arms. Like Slava Kurilov, an oceanographer living in the USSR who, in 1974, jumped into the Pacific Ocean and became the only person insane enough to escape from behind the Iron Curtain by swimming.
A man so badass he gave that cigar cancer.
Kurilov had been denied a visa to make research trips outside the Soviet Union several times, the official reason being that Russians are dicks. In 1974, he saw an ad for a cruise ship sailing into the Pacific. The trip required no visa because it wasn't going to sail into a foreign harbor, or even go near one. It was the perfect opportunity for Kurilov to finally get to know some of the places he had been studying and relax a little. But the party was cut short when, about a hundred kilometers from shore, he fell overboard.
Did we say he fell? Actually, he fucking jumped. His plan: swim night and day until he reached the Philippines.
Via Wikimedia Commons
Hundreds of kilometers of open sea: better than living in the USSR.
We should note here that he had no clue where he was. The ship's course had been kept secret for security reasons, and he'd been given a chance to peek at a map exactly once. All he could do was guess when to jump -- as in, on which day -- and wing it.
Since Kurilov's plan was pretty much improvised, he had no raft, no lifesaver and not even a piece of wood to hang on to, let alone luxuries like a compass or a knife. He also had no drinking water and no food except what was circling around him.
Via Wikimedia Commons
We're pretty sure he could have made a campfire to roast it.
Kurilov says he possessed the mental power to keep swimming for three straight days thanks to the fact that he was also an advanced yogi. He studied the ocean for years, knew how to guide himself by looking at the stars and learned meditation techniques: It's like he was literally the only person on the planet who could pull off this plan.
And despite swimming way off course and at one point being dragged away from land by a treacherous current, Kurilov never gave up and eventually reached the Philippines ... where he was, of course, jailed for a few weeks, possibly after being mistaken for some sort of sea mutant. After all that, he still loved the sea. In his journal he reflects upon what he felt during his time drifting in the ocean -- honestly, it reads like three days of making sweet, albeit painful and demanding, love with the Pacific.
That's not sea foam behind me.
The Bethke brothers hated being in East Germany almost as much as they loved risking their lives to get out of it. It all started with Ingo, the eldest brother, who in 1975 sneaked past minefields and watchtowers to cross the 650-foot-wide Elbe River in an inflatable mattress. Ingo's brothers back in East Germany were eager to be reunited with him, and also to undermine his accomplishment by doing something even more badass.
The second brother, Holger, got his turn in 1983, but he and his friend decided to take a more direct route: they jumped over the Berlin Wall with ropes, hooks and arrows.
All three brothers and their varying degrees of mustache.
That task is actually even harder than it sounds. First, an arrow fired by Holger from the top of a five-story building brought a piece of rope to a roof on the other side of the wall, where Ingo was waiting. This rope was then used to string a length of steel wire across the two buildings. The plan was for Holger to travel across the wire using a pulley wheel, but at one point the pulley got stuck ... so he crossed the final stretch by holding on to it with his hands and feet while below the searchlights gleamed.
Also, this bullshit.
He made it. Two down, one to go.
If Ingo was the low-budget original and Holger was the critically acclaimed sequel, Egbert, the youngest brother, was the high-profile third act with the implausible plot and spectacular visuals. In order to finance his brother's rescue, Ingo sold his pub in 1989 and bought two ultralight planes to fly right across the border and back. Why two? One to pick up Egbert, and another just so their brother could follow them with a camera rolling. Here's the original footage, starting at 2:47:
Of course, neither of them knew how to fly a plane, so Ingo took a crash course in aviation and taught Holger himself. On the day of the rescue they dressed in military uniforms, painted the planes green and stuck Russian stars on them, figuring that the guards would think twice before attacking what looked like Russian planes.
The plan was simple: cross the border in the small hours, touch down in a park, grab Egbert and haul ass. However, on approaching the pickup zone, they found that someone had pitched a fucking circus tent on their prospective landing ground. There was just enough space left next to it, so one plane landed anyway. Egbert hopped on ... and then they got the hell away from East Berlin as fast as possible, right? Actually, no. They flew along the border for a few extra miles just to enjoy the view, and also because fuck those AK-47s.
Footage from the plane, moments prior to raining shit onto the wall.
The end of the clip shows West Berlin cops puzzling over the two abandoned Russian-looking planes while the brothers are long gone, celebrating in a bar. Later they quipped, "if we'd known that the wall would fall that same year we'd have done it anyway." Of course, that doesn't take into consideration the strong possibility that the Soviets called it quits purely out of shame for not being able to contain the Bethke brothers.
Getting the nickname "Jumpin'" when you're in the 101st Airborne's "Screaming Eagles" division and everyone's job is to jump out of planes has to be an achievement in itself. Not satisfied with that, Jumpin' Joe Beyrle also went on to become the only American soldier to serve in both the U.S. Army and the Soviet Army in World War II ... but not before having to go through hell and back. Just looking at his face before and after his ordeal should tell you the whole story:
In June 1944, Beyrle was supposed to take part in D-Day, but his Normandy jump went a little wrong -- by which we mean his plane burst into flames with him still in it. He was forced to jump off the plane before it crashed, landing on the roof of a church. Despite being all alone and slightly singed from the explosion, he still managed to evade capture for 24 hours, in which time he kept busy by blowing up a power station (oh, and a few German soldiers as well) before being captured and dragged into the heart of the Reich.
After being beaten, starved and generally treated in a manner not necessarily conforming to the Geneva Conventions, Beyrle found himself as a POW in what is now Western Poland, less than 100 miles from the Russian Front. He would later find out that the American government had pronounced him dead months ago and a funeral mass had been held in his hometown. No one was coming to get him.
And so, in January 1945, despite various wounds (including a fresh bullet hole in his left arm), Beyrle attempted the last of several escapes. Fleeing in a hail of bullets (which killed the two other prisoners who tried to go with him), he headed east, hoping to run into the Red Army.
After three days of wading through icy streams by night and hiding in barns by day, Beyrle made it to the Russian Front, where the American waved down a T-34 shouting, "Amerikansky tovarishch!" He convinced the female tank commander that he, in his own words, "wanted to join them and go to Berlin with them and kill Nazis." They handed him a paybook and a machine gun and, that was it: This member of the 101st Airborne was now in the Red Army.
Several days of constant fighting later, he went back to his old POW camp and helped liberate his friends. Taking three suitcases full of liberated currency and his own POW record file as a souvenir, he rejoined the Soviets and kept on fighting ... until a German bomber blew him up. He woke up in a Russian hospital, where he met with the most decorated military leader in the history of Russia and the Soviet Union: Georgy Zhukov.
When they shook hands, four people caught on fire.
With the Field Marshal's help, Beyrle traveled to the American Embassy in the Soviet Capital ... where he was arrested because he misplaced all his identification on the Moscow subway. Beyrle was held under armed guard until his identity was confirmed, attacking a guard for no reason in the meantime, and he was returned to America. He came back to his hometown of Muskegon, Michigan, in 1946, where he got married in the same church and with the same priest that had held his funeral two years earlier.
For more incredible escapes, check out The 5 Most Badass Prison Escapes in the History of War and 6 Insane Prison Escapes That Actually Happened.
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