The 6 Most Insane True Tales of Survival

Every day there are untold stories of people surviving via luck, training or just the power of will. Even when it seems utterly impossible.
The 6 Most Insane True Tales of Survival

There's so much death in the news that we don't really stop to appreciate the fact that humans are actually really hard to kill. Nature and man conspire to do it every day, and every day there are untold stories of people making it through via luck, training or just the power of will. Even when it seems utterly impossible.

Juliane Koepcke vs. Christmas

The 6 Most Insane True Tales of Survival

Everyone has a Christmas horror story, whether it's a tree igniting in the living room or some chronology ghosts haunting you for being a bad person. Still, none of them hold a candle to Juliane Koepcke's Christmas in 1971, which even John McClane would insist was pretty goddamn bad.

Badass of the Week

Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker.

On December 24, 1971, Juliane was with her mother and 91 other people on an airplane that got struck by lightning and exploded mid-air. The blast sent Juliane hurtling into the Peruvian jungle from 10,000 feet, while still strapped in to her seat.

She suffered a broken collarbone, a swollen eye and a nasty gash on her arm, but aside from these injuries and the trauma of surviving a goddamn plane explosion that liquefied everyone else, she was miraculously unhurt after her fall.

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Hell, she still photographed well.

After surviving exclusively on holiday sweets she found in the wreckage, Juliane followed a stream toward civilization and survived using the skills her father had taught her. Wait, did he know this was going to happen? Later was he all like, "See, I told you!"

Anyway, she waded downstream for nine days. And we should point out that she did all of this nearly blind, since she somehow managed to lose her glasses in the thousands of feet between mid-air explosion and jungle floor. Juliane eventually found a canoe and paddled it to the first sign of civilization she had seen since the crash: a lumber yard.

The 6 Most Insane True Tales of Survival
Wings of Hope

Years later, she returned to the site of the crash to beat up the wreckage.

The next day, Juliane was airlifted by less combustible means to a hospital, where her father was waiting for her -- we assume with a stopwatch.

Betty Lou Oliver Survives the Fall That Killed King Kong


On July 28, 1945, a plane crashed into the Empire State Building so hard and fast that it gave the then-tallest structure on earth an exit wound. One of the engines blew a hole clean through the other side of the building and crashed through the roof of a building down the block.

The 6 Most Insane True Tales of Survival

Something tells us this was the work of George Bush Senior.

More than a dozen people were killed in the crash, but among the survivors was Betty Lou Oliver, elevator operator and immortal.

The impact threw Oliver from the elevator she was standing in, and the resulting fire gave her severe burns. But it was about to get much, much worse.

The 6 Most Insane True Tales of Survival
Wikipedia Commons

Above: A bad day on the job.

Rescue crews, needing to get her to the ground so she could get medical attention, put her right back in the elevator and punched the button for the ground floor. Now, anyone who's familiar with the "Do Not Use in Case of Emergency" signs plastered on every elevator already knows this was a bad idea. Sure enough, the cables were so badly damaged by the accident that they snapped almost immediately.

Betty Lou was sent into a 75-story free fall.

The 6 Most Insane True Tales of Survival
NYC Aviation

Due to what was either a featherweight frame or an adamantium skeleton, Ms. Oliver survived that 75-story fall -- directly after getting hit by a plane -- then returned to the job only five months later. And yes, she went right back to work in the same elevator that tried to kill her.

Marguerite de La Rocque Conquers the Isle of Demons

The 6 Most Insane True Tales of Survival

Way back in 1541, a French noblewoman named Marguerite de La Rocque accompanied one of her relatives on his expedition to explore the New World. During the trip, she was caught banging one of the shipmates, which is apparently a serious offense on French ships. Jean-Francois de La Rocque punished Marguerite by marooning her on the Isle of Demons in Canada's Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

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Blaeu Map, 1617

At the time, Newfoundland held less than a dozen people. Barely half of its current population.

In addition to Marguerite, her lover was abandoned on the island, as well as her completely innocent, presumably pissed maidservant. Without much to do on an island, Marguerite and her new boyfriend got to work nailing one another, and without the benefit of prophylactics on the island, she got pregnant.

The 6 Most Insane True Tales of Survival

Condoms: Because you never know when you'll end up stranded in bumfuck nowhere.

Now, while there weren't specialized OB-GYNs during that time period, it was still pretty well understood that no one should try having a baby on a deserted island. Nevertheless, she birthed a child by herself and survived. Sadly, no one else, including the baby, was as adaptable as Marguerite, and they all eventually died, leaving Marguerite on her own against the relatively unexplored Western Hemisphere.

The 6 Most Insane True Tales of Survival

With a huge gun, apparently.

Marguerite lived on the island for two solid years, hunting wild animals/monsters, before she was eventually rescued by fishermen. Once back home, her story made her an instant celebrity for reasons that would have probably resulted in her own reality show today.

The 6 Most Insane True Tales of Survival

"She's got tits? And a gun? GET ME ONE HUNDRED CAMERAS."

Yet, her story still isn't quite as improbable as ...

Juana Maria, the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island

The 6 Most Insane True Tales of Survival

Like the mighty unicorn missing its place on the Ark, so too did Juana Maria miss the boat intended to save the last of her people from genocide in the mid 1800s. She was an islander on San Nicolas (off California) when the population was nearly wiped out by a group of roving Aleutian hunters from the north. The Aleutians killed nearly every man, woman and child on the island, and by 1835 there were less than 30 islanders left, total.

Glenbow Archives NA-1338-109

It turns out you can commit war crimes in a kayak.

A boat full of missionaries came to rescue the remaining islanders from getting murdered, and they managed to get everyone on board safely. Everyone except for Juana Maria. The woman ended up completely alone on the hostile island of San Nicolas ... for the next 18 fucking years.

After several failed attempts to rescue her, Juana was eventually picked up in 1853 wearing what one newspaper described as "skins and feathers of wild ducks, which she sewed together with sinews of the seal." The paper went on to add that "she cannot speak any known language, is good-looking and about middle age." She had not only survived alone on the island, but thrived there, actually outliving everyone else she knew (but more on that in a moment).

The 6 Most Insane True Tales of Survival
Missions of California

She designed her own pinhole cameras on the island, using only dolphin spleens and seagull beaks.

Ironically, despite her amazing individual resilience for almost 20 years, Juana Maria did not last two months once she reached the mainland. Her story was the inspiration for Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins, thus serving as a romantic ideal for future generations of girls of what life might be like if everyone would just leave them the fuck alone.

I Island of the Blue Dolphins Scott O'Dell LAUREL-LEAF NEWIERY

It was like this, only with a lot more piles of dead sea otters.

Oh, and what we said earlier about how she outlived everyone she knew? It turns out that her getting left off the rescue boat was the mother of all blessings in disguise. The rest of her people who fled to the mainland ended up dying almost immediately from the new diseases they contracted from their rescuers.

The Aboriginal Adventures of Narcisse "Amglo" Pelletier

The 6 Most Insane True Tales of Survival

At an age when most kids are worried about hiding boners behind textbooks, 14-year-old cabin boy Narcisse Pelletier was dealing with human trafficking, murder and complete abandonment. The ship on which Narcisse worked was carrying hundreds of Chinese laborers to Australia when it ran aground off of New Guinea in 1857, and several of his shipmates were promptly killed by natives. Narcisse was one of only about 12 men to escape by longboat, and together they paddled around the Coral Sea aimlessly for 12 days, subsisting on sea water and piss.

The 6 Most Insane True Tales of Survival

"I don't care what you say. This is not part of a balanced breakfast."

They finally made land in Far North Queensland, Australia, and stopped for water before continuing on ... one man short. No one is sure exactly why they left Narcisse in Far North Queensland, home to the most poisonous everything on the planet. Then again, if you have ever spent a long time cooped up with a 14-year-old, you might understand the decision.

Regardless, this was where Narcisse's story started looking a lot less like Cast Away and a lot more like Dances With Wolves. Narcisse bumped into three Aboriginal women, who brought him back to their tribe. Narcisse was immediately adopted by the tribe, and for the next 17 years, he learned their ways and language, eventually growing into manhood and raising at least two kids of his own. Then in 1875, Narcisse was picked up by a passing ship. But by then he had become so in the zone with the Aborigines that he upheld their vow of secrecy regarding everything he had learned during the decades he spent with them.


Which resulted in one of the shortest biographies of all time.

He was celebrated throughout France for his heroic story of survival among the savages of Australia, but in reality he never wanted to leave, even insisting that he was kidnapped by the boat that "rescued" him and forced away from his true people. And his options for occupations back in France were less than spectacular -- a traveling show wanted to hire him as an Anglo-Australian freak. He opted to run a lighthouse instead, and died while still bitter about being taken from his tribe.

Lucio, Salvador and Jesus Master the Pacific

The 6 Most Insane True Tales of Survival

With countless sharks, giant squids and 75 percent of the world's volcanoes around its rim, the Pacific Ocean is like Mother Nature's weapons stockpile. So when someone accidentally wanders into the middle of that arsenal, it's usually a safe bet that they won't drift back out as anything but a partially eaten corpse. But in October of 2005, three Mexican fishermen floated across the entire Pacific by accident, and came out just fine.

The 6 Most Insane True Tales of Survival
El Periodico de Mexico

Yup. That would have been our reaction as well.

The trio departed from the Pacific port of San Blas, Mexico, on October 28, 2005 to go shark hunting with two friends in a rickety 28-foot fiberglass boat. After running out of fuel, they got sucked into the North Equatorial Current, and without a radio they realized that the only way to get back was to go forward. Five thousand miles forward, to be exact, without food, water, gas or any playing cards.

With their lives now literally left up to how creatively they could navigate their way across certain death, they MacGyvered some fishing hooks and string using parts from their engine and stitched a sail out of blankets. They lived off of raw fish, seagulls and sea turtles, and because of a stroke of luck, they were rained on nearly every day of the ordeal. Or maybe it wasn't so lucky -- the storms were so bad that they constantly had to bail water from the boat and thought on several occasions that they were just going to sink.

The 6 Most Insane True Tales of Survival

"You know what, Salvador? I'd rather drown than hear you sing 'Don't Stop Believin'' one more goddamn time."

Nevertheless, the trio were able to survive in the heart of the Pacific ... for nine freaking months. That's 270 days at sea. Imagine you take a trip for Christmas and get lost. You think, "Well, we just have to hold on until somebody finds us." Now imagine you stay gone so long that by the time you are rescued, they are putting out decorations for next Christmas. All that time, in a boat with two other guys, getting pelted with rain.

The trio were eventually picked up off the Marshall Islands by a Taiwanese fishing boat. It was a confusing moment for everyone when they tried to explain what had happened, and the crew of the rescuing boat tried to explain exactly how far they had drifted. After the men were flown back home, they immediately went back to their careers as shark fishermen on a tiny boat because, after surviving that, what else is the Pacific going to pull?

The 6 Most Insane True Tales of Survival

"You ain't got shit, Jaws."

To learn more about the epic struggle unfolding right now for control of this planet, Jacopo asks that you pick up a copy of his book "Go @#$% Yourself!" - An Ungentlemanly Disagreement, by Filippo Argenti and check out its topic page right here on Cracked.

For more awesome tales of survival, check out 6 Soldiers Who Survived Shit That Would Kill a Terminator. Or learn about what'll kill you, in 6 Deadly Injuries You Think You'd Survive (Thanks to Movies).

And stop by LinkSTORM to learn how to survive 4chan.

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