#2. The Boat That Surfed a Megatsunami
While Australia holds a virtual monopoly on the most deadly everything on the planet, North America does surprisingly (terrifyingly) well in comparison if you add natural disasters to the mix. The meteor that killed the dinosaurs crashed into the Yucatan, and the U.S. is the proud home to four of the five deadliest giant wildfires in recorded history. And then there was that one megatsunami that was tall enough to lick the tip of the Empire State Building.
On July 9, 1958, a massive rock slide dropped some 30.6 million cubic meters of rock right into Alaska's Lituya Bay. The rocks hit the water with enough force to create a wave roughly 1,720 feet high, uprooting trees and destroying almost everything and everyone in its path ...
... except for a couple of guys who were just casually surfing on top of it.
Howard G. Ulrich and his 8-year-old son, Sonny, had picked that fateful night for a nice father-son boat trip. They were awakened at around 10:15 p.m. by earthquake-like sounds and tremors, soon followed by a crash "like an atomic explosion." They were now staring at the business end of a rapidly approaching megatsunami. Ulrich, being a '50s kind of guy, eyed the all-consuming wall of water, threw his kid a life preserver, and said, "Son, start praying." Then he presumably poured himself a final glass of whiskey and looked around for a secretary to bang.
"Life preserver" was actually a '50s euphemism for "bottle of scotch."
Sonny must have been accidentally praying to Poseidon, because the tsunami completely failed to crush them. Instead, it was all "Guys, you want a ride?" The wave snapped their anchor chain and swept the boat aboard. The Ulrichs found themselves riding atop the titanic wave, over fields and forests, at speeds another survivor estimated were close to 600 mph. They rode the wall of water (which raged back and forth in the bay) for 25 or 30 minutes, until things calmed down.
Although they described the aftermath of the megatsunami as "something like the end of the world," they seem to be very nonchalant about their own miraculous survival. Here they are talking about their experience:
Seriously, what the fuck? These guys rode the biggest tsunami in recorded history, and they discuss it with coffee mugs in their hands like it ain't no thing.
#1. The Men Who Stood Under an Atomic Bomb
Allow us to introduce the six most daring men who have ever lived: Colonel Sidney Bruce, Lieutenant Colonel Frank P. Ball, Majors Norman "Bodie" Bodinger and John Hughes, Corporal Don Lutrel, and cameraman George Yoshitake. They didn't fight wars (at least, at the time), wrestle alligators, or brave inhuman weather conditions to earn the Cracked Medal of Misguided Badassery. Instead, they voluntarily tackled an atomic bomb.
If you didn't watch that video, it is a three-minute exercise in absurdity. It starts with five men nonchalantly standing on a patch of desert beside a mildly assholish sign that says "GROUND ZERO -- POPULATION 5." Suddenly, two planes fly over them and launch a nuclear missile that detonates directly above them. The men are startled by the force of the explosion, but otherwise observe it calmly and without fear. One of them wears sunglasses and chews gum throughout the process, eyeing the blazing death warrant above him with mild disinterest. An excited voice narrates the entire video, going apeshit over the explosion as if it were the decisive touchdown at the Super Bowl.
The recording is from July 19, 1957, when these five Air Force volunteers (and one photographer with the worst gig in history) stood directly under a 2-ton nuclear missile that detonated 18,500 feet (not 10,000 feet, as the video claims) above them. The aim of the stunt was to assure the American public that nuclear radiation wasn't much of a problem, and that air-to-air nukes probably were relatively harmless to people standing directly underneath them, maybe. These guys were not shielded from the blast in any way: When the cameraman found out the nature of his mission, all he had to protect himself was a baseball cap.
With a future so bright, he should have worn shades.
The whole "radiation is harmless" schtick was obviously a load of crap; the radiation from aerial nuclear testing has health implications to the people living in the area even today. Which is why these brave men had barely enough time to say "That was cool! Can we do that again?" before their faces melted off.
Just kidding! They were just fine. As far as we know, each of these guys lived a long, full life. In fact, two of them are still alive.
The fact that they all had cancer at some point of their lives is probably just a coincidence.
Related Reading: Down for more insane stories of near-death survival? Read about the man who took a sword-sized industrial drill through his brain. And that doesn't compare to the story of Troy Duncan, a man who survived being cut in half. Slake your lust for death-defying stories with this list of soldiers who survived unbelievable injuries.