If the movies have taught us anything, it's that being in a shipwreck is pretty much the final entry in "things you are going to do in your life." All it takes is a superstorm, an iceberg, or a dickhead whale to throw you into a horror-filled survival challenge on a dubious raft with a tiger and/or soccer ball. Of course, we assume that in real life, even the survivors in those movies would die of thirst or shark bite long before rescue comes along.
But we'd be wrong. History is full of shipwreck survivors so bizarrely unkillable that they seemed to go out of their way to mock Death itself, right to his stupid, bony face:
5 Gudlaugur Fridthorsson Survives Six Hours in Freezing Water, Is a Seal Person
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On March 11, 1984, Gudlaugur Fridthorsson was on a boat with four other fishermen near the southern coast of Iceland, because dangerous frozen sea voyages are what you are legally required to do when your name is Gudlaugur Fridthorsson. The Nordic equivalent of Poseidon was apparently displeased with Gudlaugur's presumption, because his boat capsized, sending him and his four shipmates into the cold, unfeeling North Atlantic. Gudlaugur watched his friends sink into the terrible abyss around him one by one, until finally it was just him and the sea. As it turns out, those were the kind of odds Gudlaugur liked best. He kicked off his ice-shielding outer wear and, clad in nothing but jeans, a shirt, and a sweater, began swimming back to dry land.
Let's take a moment to acknowledge how completely ridiculous this is. The human body loses heat about 20-25 times faster when wet, even when you're cruising down Splash Mountain on a 110-degree day. Gudlaugur was over three miles from shore, in an area of the world where "shore" is a loose collection of glaciers tied together by frozen hatred. He shouldn't have lasted longer than 20 or 30 minutes at the very most, certainly no longer than Leonardo DiCaprio.
And Gud didn't even have any nude drawings to keep him warm.
Undaunted by the impossibility of his situation, Gudlaugur swam for six hours. Six goddamn hours in a body of water that shares a border with the Norwegian Sea. Most of us couldn't spend six hours in a fucking bathtub, and this stout Nordic fisherman paddled all the way to dry land. When he realized he'd come ashore at a place where the cliffs were too steep to climb, he went back into the ocean to swim to a better spot. And by "better spot", we mean "a field of razor sharp, solidified volcanic lava."
This was a problem, because Gudlaugur had kicked his boots off hours earlier to avoid drowning. But, as you can guess, he walked across the field anyway, losing tons of blood as the deadly terrain chewed his feet apart. Yes, Gudlaugur was living out the plot of Die Hard, except his Hans Gruber was the entire coastal area of Iceland.
Gudlaugur Sigurgeirsson via Faz.net
Greenland is Sgt. Powell in the metaphor.
Gudlaugur eventually reached a settlement and was finally taken to the hospital, at which point his body temperature was too low for medical thermometers to even measure, meaning he was at least two degrees colder than any living human had any right to be.
After Gudlaugur made a full recovery (because of course he did), the doctors ran some tests on him and discovered, to the surprise of absolutely no one, he was literally superhuman -- his body fat was three times thicker than that of an average person, and way more solid. He was basically built like a goddamn seal with a beard, which means there's a pretty good chance he was the only person on Earth who could have survived what he went through. He is the closest thing to Aquaman this world has yet seen.
4 Robert Crellin Politely Rescues Over 20 People
Library of Congress via Nelson Star
On May 29, 1914, an 8-year-old girl named Florence Barbour was travelling from Quebec City to Liverpool with her family when their ship, the Empress of Ireland, collided with another ship in the heavy fog and started to sink, because ocean liners back then had a serious problem with blindly smashing into things in a cloud of hubris.
"Oh, I'm sorry, after you!"
"No no, please, after you!"
"I insist, after you!"
Florence was awakened by getting thrown across her cabin like a loose shoe from a high-stepping poltergeist. All around her, a shrieking cloud of panic was descending upon the passengers of the Empress. Suddenly, Florence's uncle, Robert Crellin, exploded out of the confusion and grabbed hold of her with the sure-armed strength of an action hero. Crellin looked his niece squarely in the eye and said:
"Don't be frightened, dear, I've got you. God be willing, darling, we will save everyone."
If you think that sounds like cheesy platitudes meant to calm a hysterical child, then you clearly don't realize that Robert Crellin was actually telling the future. Check this out -- the Empress of Ireland took a meager 15 minutes to go completely under. As the ship rapidly sank beneath them, Crellin put Florence on his back and jumped off the deck into the water, swimming around for over an hour with his niece clutching his shoulders like a JanSport full of desperate human emotion.
Library of Congress via Flickr
If you were wondering whether or not Crellin had a mustache, the answer is "of course he did."
Eventually they came across an overturned lifeboat, and Crellin hoisted Florence on top of it before climbing on himself. They picked up a third survivor, and the trio floated over to a collapsible lifeboat, which they managed to open and hop into, because floating on a callous sea of death will turn everyone into an engineering savant.
Now, most people would have been content to just stay in the boat, shivering and comparing survival stories until a Coast Guard ship full of brandy and blankets showed up. Not Robert Crellin. He damn well meant what he said about saving everyone he could (see "looking into the future" above), and immediately set about pulling helpless folks out of the water, ultimately rescuing more than 20 people.
"I know I shouldn't complain about being rescued from certain death, but did you have to do it in the nude?"
When they were eventually rescued, not only did Robert Crellin downplay his role in the proceedings, he also directed the hero-hungry media towards Florence, telling reporters, "The child was pluckier than a stout man ... she never even whimpered, and complaint was out of the question." Classy, Robert Crellin. Real classy.
"Really, she was holding me up. I was basically wearing her as a flotation device."