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.
The Near Miss:
... there was someone waiting for Anna. That person was waiting in her home. That person was the goddamned BTK Killer.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
#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.
"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.
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.
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.