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Nothing makes a person feel more alive than narrowly escaping death, especially if it was due to a thrilling display of reflexes and quick thinking. But then you have the people who escaped their doom via pure accident, incompetence or irresponsibility. Their stories are amazing, even if they're not all that inspirational.

5
Thwarting a Serial Killer by Getting Home Late

On April 28, 1979, Anna Williams went out dancing with friends. A 63-year-old woman staying out late with her friends is not news, despite what nursing home newsletters try to tell you. Also not news ... the fact that she stayed out later than usual.

But ...

The Near Miss:

... there was someone waiting for Anna. That person was waiting in her home. That person was the goddamned BTK Killer.

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Seen here looking like your math teacher.

That's the alias of Dennis Rader, who gave himself the name BTK (it stood for "bind, torture, kill"). He was a serial killer who was active from 1974 to 1991, murdering 10 people (he wasn't caught until 2005). This was 1979, right in the heart of his rampage, and Rader stalked Anna Williams for months. Finally, while she was out, he broke in, cut the phone lines, picked out a few souvenirs to take home for his collection and waited.

And waited. And waited.


"It's like she doesn't even want to be murdered."

When Williams got home, she found that her house had been broken into, and that her phones were dead. She looked through the house to find ... there was no one there.

Rader had gotten tired of waiting and just left.

Two months later, Williams got a letter from BTK that included a poem called "Oh Anna Why Didn't You Appear?" Because chicks dig poems, especially ones about how you planned to brutally murder them.

So Anna lived to dance another day, surely not affected by the fact that a serial killer had been inside her house, the very house in which she was now standing, reading the poem about how he had waited to kill her in that very house, and how he could be in that very house, right at that very moment, watching her read his poem from the closet.

But none of that happened. He must have been truly put off by her rudeness, because he never returned to try to finish her off. He moved on to other victims, and she moved on to silently screaming forever.

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And, eventually, the prison industry moved on to a bold new era in fashion.

4
Missing a Plane Crash by Getting Drunk

In 1988, Jaswant Basuta was on his way home to New York from having attended a family wedding in the U.K. He followed the usual routine -- checked his luggage and checked in with the flight, then hit the airport bar for many, many drinks.

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"They're gonna have to pour me into the seat."

Before he knew it, the departure screen said his gate was closing, so he made like a character in a rom-com and sprinted. He didn't make it. He begged, and he pleaded, and eventually he argued with the Pan Am staff, but there was no way that he was getting on that plane. Remember, this was pre-9/11, so his drunken tirade didn't get him cavity searched ... it just got him the pleasure of sleeping off his drinks on a row of seats while waiting for an opening on another flight.

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This functions as either a gate or a drunk tank, depending on how many seats you sprawl across.

The Near Miss:

Basuta was booked on Pan Am flight 103, departing December 21, 1988. If those words and numbers aren't ringing any bells, then maybe the phrase "Lockerbie bombing" will put things into perspective.

During the flight, a bomb exploded in the cargo hold of the plane, killing everyone on board and 11 people on the ground. In total, 270 people lost their lives that day. Because Basuta made getting drunk in the airport bar his main priority, he wasn't one of them. But he did have a few questions to answer. Because while he hadn't made it onto that plane, his luggage had.

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Apparently, it was International Airline Opposite Day.

Imagine Basuta's surprise when he was woken from his booze snooze by police who were somehow convinced he was the guy who was responsible for the bombing. Because that's what killers do -- fall asleep at the scene of the crime. Long story short, Basuta wasn't the bomber -- Libya was. He returned to New York undoubtedly feeling like the luckiest man alive, and with an instant rebuttal should his family ever try to stage an intervention about his drinking.

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3
Saved from 9/11 by the Lamest Late for Work Story Ever

When a person is late for work, the temptation is to come up with the most elaborate excuse possible. Just explaining that you hit the snooze bar 17 times in a row is a great way to make yourself seem like an unreliable loser. So Lara Lundstrum Clarke was probably certain that nobody was going to buy the story she had to tell about why she was late.

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"Ninjas! Forty ninjas! And, uh, subway maintenance."

See, she was crossing the street when a car turned the corner and almost hit her. Having already inconvenienced this driver by getting in the way of her progress, she motioned for the car to go. But the person behind the wheel was far too polite for that and responded to Lara with a "No, you go" motion of her own. At this point, a full on politeness showdown ensued, with both parties insisting the other go ahead. Seriously, it went on forever. Oh, and the driver of the car was Academy Award winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

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We're guessing the car wasn't a Volvo.

As impossible as that story might be to believe, it's totally true.

The Near Miss:

The date of Clarke's brief stalemate with an absurdly polite celebrity was September 11, 2001. Her office? It was on the 77th floor of 2 World Trade Center. Thanks to her run-in with the future mom of a kid named Apple, she got to her subway platform just as the train doors shut and had to wait for the next train. As a result of that wait, she wasn't in the tower when an airplane slammed into it.

Four of Clarke's co-workers were killed that day, but she survived, thanks to the overwhelming politeness and apparently dangerous driving of Gwyneth Paltrow.

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Just stay the hell away from that wheel, Gwyneth.

If this all sounds like the plot of a movie, that's because it is the plot of a movie. A 1998 movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow. The movie was called Sliding Doors, and it follows Gwyneth through two realities: one in which she caught the train, and one in which she missed it. Her realities were a lot more "chick flick romance stuff" and a lot less "terrorist attack," but she does end up being hit and killed by a car in one reality, bringing this whole Inception-style story full circle.

2
Avoiding an Assassination Due to a Late Dinner Guest

Tsar Alexander II ruled Russia from 1855 to 1881, a time when grenades were chucked at world leaders like water balloons and the man in charge was whoever was blown up the least. In April 1866, a man shot at the tsar while he was walking in his garden. He missed. That summer, a man shot at Alexander while he was visiting France. He missed. In April 1879, another man shot at the tsar while he was walking in his garden again. This guy missed, too, and all garden walks were canceled. If they were going to kill this guy, they were going to have to come up with a plan.


"Step one: Shave his bullet-deflecting mustache."

In June of 1879, 11 young Russians came together and formed a group called the People's Will, which took a vote and decided that the tsar had to die. Since he was bulletproof, they decided to use a newfangled invention called dynamite.

The original plan was to blow up the tracks under the train he traveled by at the exact moment the train passed over them, but it turns out that's even harder than it sounds. After failing on multiple occasions (though successfully blowing up a train car full of fruit at one point), they decided to just blow him up in his own house.


They were not wildly imaginative assassins.

The Near Miss:

The People's Will had connections. They had a man working in Alexander's palace, directly under the dining room. He spent more than three months sneaking more than 300 pounds of dynamite into his room. At this point, it was just a matter of finding an exact date and time when they knew for a fact the tsar would be in there.

Finally, they got it: The tsar was scheduled to have dinner with Prince Alexander of Hesse on a particular day at 6:00 p.m.


Their beards were fraternal twins.

The day came. The assassins knew the tsar and his entire family were in fact in the palace. The bomber in the basement lit the fuse and got the hell out of there. He walked out of the palace and waited. A few minutes later, the bomb exploded, turning the dining room into a crater.

But the tsar and his family weren't in it. They were home, yes, but there was a blizzard in Russia, and all of the trains into the city were late, so their visitor, Prince Alexander, was late for dinner. And starting dinner without their visitor would have just been rude.


Assassination attempts are less of a faux pas by comparison.

The tsar and his family waited, and were in fact walking toward the dining room when they heard the boom. The tsar was unharmed, and probably believed himself to be immortal (he would be proven wrong a year later, when another assassination attempt finally got him).

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1
A Gas Explosion Claims No Lives Because Everyone Was Late

Church choirs are serious business. It takes a lot of practice to properly testify, so the West Side Baptist Church choir in Beatrice, Nebraska, had practice every Wednesday at 7:20 p.m. Somehow, every single member of the 15-person choir showed up late for their practice on March 1, 1950. All of them. There were no holdouts. Every single person in the choir decided that the importance of the petty bullshit they had going on was far more important than showing up to pay tribute to the Lord. Jesus would not be pleased! Or would he?

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We'll never know. He was out sleeping one off.

The Near Miss:

Practice was to start at 7:20. The church literally exploded at 7:27.

The flame in the furnace ignited a gas leak, sending the roof of the church straight down, killing all of the nobody inside. Like we said, every single member of the choir was late and, as a result, missed not only their date to sing for the Lord, but also their date to meet him. And they each missed it for completely different reasons. Seriously:

The pianist was going to get there half an hour early, but she fell asleep after dinner. Her mother woke her up, but she did that whole "Yeah I'm up zzzzzz ..." thing and hit the snooze button. So both she and her mother, the choir director, were late.

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"I'm an atheist for the next half hour, piss off."

Two high school girls, Lucille and Dorothy, were late because Lucille was listening to a riveting radio broadcast and wanted to hear the end. Yes, kids, there was a time when you couldn't just download that kind of thing later.

The Estes sisters were going to be there on time, but the car wouldn't start. They called Ladona Vandergrift, a high school sophomore, to get a ride with her. However, little Ladona was doing geometry homework, and couldn't figure out a problem. She spent so long on that problem that they were all late.

Ms. Schuster and her daughter missed practice because they were helping Ms. Schuster's mother prepare for a missionary meeting.

Herbert Kipf decided that he needed to finish a letter before he went to practice. Because it's not like you can just pick up that kind of activity later, you know?

Joyce Black says that it was cold outside, so she delayed going for so long that she ended up being late. Cold weather in early March in Nebraska? A likely story, Joyce.

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"The spirit of God warms me, but giving my car heater a head start helps, too."

Harvey Ahl and his two sons were late because he was talking to somebody and lost track of time. Talking to a person who makes you late for an appointment with God? Tell us, what does the devil talk about?

And finally, the reverend, who had lit the furnace earlier that day and then went home to dinner, ended up being late because his daughter made a mess in her dress, so he had to wait for his wife to iron a new one before they could all go.

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"Darling, you can have as many pudding cups as you want when we get back home."

So the church explodes, while all of the people who are supposed to be inside are ironing dresses and working on homework. Considering that it was a church choir, the members pretty much agreed that it was a miracle. No matter how cynical you are, you have to admit, they have a point, though if they had seen Final Destination, they would probably all feel differently. Unsurprisingly, this story was fascinating enough to earn a spot on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries.

For people who looked death in the eye and flipped it the bird, check out 7 People Who Cheated Death (Then Kicked It In The Balls). Or learn about the 6 People Who Died In Order To Prove A (Retarded) Point.

And stop by LinkSTORM to see which columnist is Death incarnate.

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