5 Survival Stories (Almost) Too Miraculous to be Real
A human being is a fragile creature. All it takes is a nasty bump or a wrong meal to finish us off. Still, as we have previously pointed out, under the right circumstances people can be borderline invincible. There are a few men and women who have been able to survive things that could -- and by all rights should -- kill a horde of elephants. Let's take a moment to celebrate these unkillable supermen.
The Man Who Was Trapped Underwater (for Three Days)
With hindsight, Harrison Okene probably should have seen the signs. All of the ingredients were in place: He was young, happy, and gainfully employed as a cook on a Chevron service tugboat. Also, he was about to get married in a few days. All he had to do before his wedding was finish this one ... last ... mission.
Don't worry, he lives. She's crying about catering.
Of course, said mission turned into the most terrifying disaster movie this side of the SS Poseidon. In the early morning of May 26, 2013, Okene had just gotten up and was in the bathroom. Suddenly, his ship was hit by what a spokesman later called a "sudden ocean swell" (which is presumably corporate speak for "Shit, we accidentally summoned Cthulhu again").
Okene could only watch helplessly as his daily life turned into a trip to Rapture. The tugboat capsized and plummeted 100 feet below the surface, with him still inside. Trapped in the dark abyss with no one else in sight and wearing nothing but his boxers, Okene waded through the ship's corridors (which were slowly filling with icy water). He managed to locate a source of light, some Coca-Cola, and a few tools, and he made it to a relatively safe corner of the ship.
That dissolved gas is oxygen, right? Right?!
Okene ended up bunking in a 4-foot air pocket under the surface, holding back the water as best he could and stacking mattresses as the cold water rose to keep dry. To make things worse, sharks and barracudas soon started roaming the ship's interiors in search of a meal. He could hear them fighting for the remains of his shipmates in other rooms and swimming in the water just below him. He had no food. The salt water and the bumps from the accident were wearing his skin raw. There was far too little air for him to breathe, and he was ruining it with every breath by puffing out carbon dioxide. He would not last beyond a couple of hours.
Except that he totally did. In fact, he managed to stay alive for 62 hours. Here's how:
That little beauty is called Boyle's law. It states that when you increase atmospheric pressure (say, by sinking 100 feet underwater), gases become denser. This meant the tiny air pocket actually contained a lot more oxygen than it would on land. Meanwhile, that lethally cold water aided Okene by absorbing the murderous carbon dioxide he was breathing out, so the CO2 levels never built up to toxic levels, either.
When the company finally got around to sending a recovery team (they had, understandably, been assuming everyone was dead), Okene gave a diver the shock of a lifetime: The second he heard human sounds, he announced his presence by pounding the shit out of a wall with a hammer.
The divers fled, fearing pirate ghosts, but they returned with backup.
After a quick rescue operation and a stint in a decompression chamber, Okene emerged back in the land of the living, as good as new. Divers all over the world marvel at his tenacity, as those depths can only safely be dived for about 20 minutes at a time. Meanwhile, Hollywood screenwriters are still trying to wrap their heads around the fact that a dude who was just about to get married actually survived a disaster.
The Man Who Rode a Tornado
If there's one thing to be learned from notable documentaries such as Twister and Sharknado, it's that tornadoes are as disastrous as tornado movies are terrible. Getting caught near one means a collapsed house on your head or worse. Getting caught in one means a quick, nasty, flying trip at NASCAR speeds, with lethal winds and flying debris in a heated contest to see who can pulverize you first. There's no surviving a ride like that. That is, unless you're Matt Suter.
In 2006, the 19-year-old Missouri native was in his grandmother's trailer home when the weather became rowdy. In an attempt to shield himself from the storm, Suter was just standing on the sofa and attempting to close the living room window. Suddenly, things got 10 kinds of crazy. The noise became unbearable. The floor of the trailer started "moving just like Jell-O." A massive force hit the trailer, tearing the doors from their hinges and generally wrecking shit. Furniture went into Poltergeist mode, flying around and smacking into Suter.
Mobile homes are not particularly known for their stability.
At this point, it was clear that the storm was a twister. This became even clearer when Suter, wearing only his underpants, was sucked out of the trailer through a collapsing wall into the raging darkness beyond. As death scenes go, this was both extremely cinematic and utterly unsurvivable.
Except that he totally survived. By the time Suter regained consciousness, he was lying four football fields away from the remains of the trailer. The twister had been hurling him around until he ended up in a grass field almost a quarter mile away and across a barbed wire fence. He survived the 150 mph ride with just minor cuts and bruises.
He used this diagram in traffic court to contest his speeding ticket.
The astonished agents of the National Weather Service measured the precise distance of his flight at 1,307 feet, which is the longest tornado-aided flight a human being has ever survived, especially with such minor injuries. Really, the only reason we're not thinking Suter is secretly Superman is the fact that in 1955, a 9-year-old girl also miraculously survived a 1,000-foot tornado ride. That she took with her pony.
The Kid Who Survived a Plane Crash and Tamed a Mountain
To say that Norman Ollestad Jr. got into extreme sports at a young age would be a severe understatement. His dad, Norman Sr. -- a notorious adrenaline junkie -- started pushing him into the scene about five minutes after Mama Ollestad popped Junior out.
Junior's umbilical cord made bungee jumping an obvious choice.
So while most of us were busy building booger constructs and pissing ourselves at the thought of rides at Six Flags, Ollestad was deep sea fishing and going on jungle safaris to find secret surfing spots.
Ollestad didn't always enjoy daddy's lessons, but they did make him tough. He became a master at everything extreme, from comfortably riding on his father's back while he was surfing at age 1 to effortlessly skiing impossibly difficult slopes at freaking 4.
If he tired of being a badass, a modeling career awaited him.
When it came to pure mad skills, Ollestad was the world's best-equipped child to cope with any bullshit fate could throw at him. Too bad fate found out about him and said: "Oh yeah? We'll see about that."
On February 19, 1979, Ollestad -- 11 at the time -- and his father were flying to Big Bear Mountain to retrieve a trophy he had won the day before. Their Cessna was caught in a blizzard and crashed in the mountains at around 8,600 feet. Ollestad's dad and the pilot were killed instantly. Ollestad was more or less OK, because of course he was, but the other survivor (his father's girlfriend, Sandra) had a dislocated shoulder and a busted head. This less-than-ideal situation was soon made a whole lot worse, because the rescue helicopters completely missed them. They were on their own. The only way back to civilization was climbing the hell down.
Maybe the rescuers actually spotted him and watched from above, eating popcorn.
Because the trip had been just their family's version of a quick afternoon errand, Ollestad didn't even have a pair of gloves. All he had was an impossibly steep mountainside, his father's training, and a primal will to live. Carry-dragging the injured Sandra with him, he started making his way down, an inch at a time. Because the universe really wanted to rub it in, Sandra soon lost her grip and fell right before Ollestad's eyes. We assume that a cloud shaped like a middle finger drifted across the sky immediately afterward.
At that point, most grown men would just lose their shit and give up. Instead, Ollestad fucking leveled up and continued with a full health bar. He went into survival mode, ignoring all the pain and fear. Hanging on by his fingernails, Ollestad made his way down until he finally got to more solid ground. Having found the challenge slightly too easy, he decided to up the ante by descending the rest of the way by skiing: He used a couple of branches as poles and his sneakers as skis.
Which is not unlike using your shoes for other activities. That is to say, impractical.
After nine hours, Norman finally made it down the mountain in surprisingly good condition, immediately inciting a media frenzy. A few years ago, he wrote a book about the experience. A movie is also in the works, although its production has been delayed -- presumably because they're still trying to find an actor who can read the script without being immediately hospitalized by a serious case of spontaneous ball-shriveling.
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.
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.