#2. Becoming the Lone Survivor of a Plane Crash into the Ocean, as a Teenager
On June 30, 2009, Bahia Bakari, a French teenager, was flying to the Comoros Islands along with her mother on Yemenia Flight 626. It was around 2 a.m., so the passengers were sound asleep, and if you've been paying attention up to now, you know that things are about to go to shit.
A baby started bawling. And then things got even worse.
The lights went off, the plane started violently shaking, and Bakari pressed her head against the window to try to see what was going on. And then, suddenly, she was in the ocean, floating in the darkness, tossed around by rough seas. For a startled moment she actually thought she had fallen out of the plane and that it continued on without her. But then she realized that she was surrounded by debris, and the screams of some of the 152 other passengers. Flight 626 had just crashed into the Indian Ocean, near Madagascar. The girl had been tossed free of the plane when it flew apart.
Bakari, by the way, barely knew how to swim. In the darkness, she managed to make it to a piece of floating debris and cling to it. She then tried to paddle toward where she thought she heard other survivors, but never found them. One by one, they all went silent. All but Bakari.
Andreas Schindl/iStock/Getty Images
Even the baby.
And so the girl floated out there, in the darkness, alone, getting tossed around by the waves. An hour passed. Then two. Then four. When the sun finally rose, there was still no rescue. Bakari saw land in the distance, but here is where real life diverges from the movies: Instead of washing up there and going to work on a makeshift raft with her volleyball friend, she watched helplessly as the currents carried her steadily away from the shore. And so she just floated there, for hour after hour, watching the trees shrink into the distance.
Finally, someone at the airport said, "Hey, wasn't a plane supposed to land here a while back?" and a massive search operation was launched. But it was a local fisherman named Libouna Matrafi who just happened to pass by and spot Bakari bobbing among the wreckage, having clung to that piece of debris for at least nine goddamned hours (by some accounts it was up to 13 hours before she was rescued).
Luckily, it had been too dark for her too see all the sharks.
She tried to swim toward the rescuers, but was too exhausted, and was swamped by the waves. The fisherman jumped into the waters and swam toward her. Once on board it took them several hours to get back to the port due to the rough seas.
After a few days in a local hospital, she was shipped to a hospital in Paris. She was reunited with her father, and one of her first visitors at the hospital was then-president Nicolas Sarkozy. Bahia would find out she was, in fact, the only survivor of the crash (her own mother had been on the plane, remember -- so now she had that to deal with). She was later approached about the film rights to her story, but she said no. What, you mean you don't want to relive the horror of that night every time you see an ad for the movie?
#1. Surviving a Brutal Murder Attempt, Then Surviving the Mountain
Americans tend to romanticize the Old West, what with the gunslinging and horses and all the fun shit we did in Red Dead Redemption. So it's easy to forget how much life in that time and place just absolutely sucked. Just ask Larcena Pennington Page, who had moved to Tucson, Arizona, with her husband in 1860. One morning, when her husband was out hunting for lunch, five Apaches attacked their camp, kidnapping Page and a 10-year-old Mexican girl improbably named Mercedes.
In retrospect, they shouldn't have camped at Comegetmeapaches Canyon.
Their nightmare began with a 15-mile trek through the mountainous terrain, which isn't great under ideal conditions, but Page was also recuperating from Malaria at the time. She was unable to keep up, so they decided to get rid of her by making her remove most of her clothes, then beating her until she tumbled down the side of a hill, unconscious. After a few more rounds of stabbing with lances and pummeling her with rocks, they declared her dead enough and dragged the body behind a tree. And there she lay, for three goddamned days.
When Page finally regained consciousness, she started her journey back toward the camp, which, if you've been paying attention, is a 15-mile mountain hike away. Shoeless, barely clothed, her body battered with wounds that should have killed her several times over, she would crawl on her hands and knees during the day and rest at night. This was around the Catalina Mountains, which means she was crawling over this terrain:
Where vultures go to die.
She survived by eating seeds and vegetation and drinking snow. Oh, yeah, did we forget to mention it was cold as hell?
She made slow progress back toward where she remembered the camp being (not realizing it wasn't there any more), and when we say slow, we don't mean hours. We mean it took almost two weeks of crawling through the woods. Then, after 12 days of hellish struggle, she made it back to the campsite from where she had been taken hostage, only to find it was abandoned -- even the food was gone, from where the Apaches had ransacked it. She ate what she could find among the remnants that had been spilled on the ground, and decided to press on.
The next day she headed toward another campsite, finally encountering civilization. When she arrived, she was unrecognizable -- nearly naked, with clotted hair, covered in gaping wounds, emaciated, and badly sunburned. She was at first mistaken for an unfortunate outcast squaw, and the men ran for their guns. If they had shot her, we have no doubt that she would have survived that as well.
Arizona Historical Society
"Boys, I am in no mood for your shit."
Finally, she was recognized and reunited with her husband ... whom the Apaches would kill the very next year (we told you, the Old West was a goddamned shitshow). But Page not only survived, she lived on to the age of 76. Oh, and did you forget about Mercedes, the little Mexican girl who also got kidnapped? The Apaches handed her back later, unharmed, in a prisoner exchange. We're sure your story was exciting too, Mercedes, but we're sorry. Page kind of upstaged you there.
Yosomono writes about his own miraculous survival in the nuclear wastelands of Japan. Josh wants to be your BFF on Facebook. Follow Jacopo on Twitter and check out the slick website for his upcoming book The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy.
Related Reading: Survival stories get miraculous-er, like this guy who was trapped underwater for three days. And on the other side of the unbelievable spectrum, there's this marathon runner who got lost in the Sahara. People are tougher than you'd expect. One man even survived an industrial drill to the head.