5 Insane Coincidences That Saved People's Lives

Here are five real stories of unfortunate folks whose bad luck ended up saving them from horribly unpleasant deaths.
5 Insane Coincidences That Saved People's Lives

Imagine being kicked extremely hard in the nuts (or way up in the ovaries, as the case may be) and going to the hospital, at which point the doctors tells you they found a tumor in your genitals -- had it been found any later, you'd be dead for sure. That, basically, is what life did to the following people. Here are five real stories of unfortunate folks whose bad luck ended up saving them from horribly unpleasant deaths. Like ...

Drunkard Gets Placed In Solitary Confinement, Survives His Whole City Getting Leveled By A Volcano

5 Insane Coincidences That Saved People's Lives
via Wikimedia

St. Pierre, the picturesque capital of the French-Caribbean island of Martinique, was apparently such a crimeless paradise that they reserved their top security prisons for drunks and street brawlers. Unfortunately for Louis-Auguste "Ludger" Sylbaris, he was both those things. In 1902, Sylbaris was arrested after a drunken knife fight -- and rather than simply taking his knife fight license away, St. Pierre's authorities decided to sentence him to one month of solitary confinement in this tiny yet impregnable cell:

5 Insane Coincidences That Saved People's Lives
Gael Chardon

He didn't even have enough arm space to jerk off in there.

Geez. Can you imagine anything worse than being locked up inside a small, grimy, poorly ventilated dungeon and stewing in your own farts for 30 days?

How It Saved His Life:

How about being steamrolled by volcanic ash, as everyone else in St. Pierre did? Yeah, OK, that's worse. Here's the city as Sylbaris saw it before and after passing through that cell:

Popular Science

"Holy shit, I did that with a knife?"

The morning after Sylbaris was locked up, the nearby Mount Pelee erupted, causing the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century -- the entire city was destroyed within minutes. St. Pierre's population suddenly dropped from around 30,000 to two or three people. And one of those of two or three was nursing the worst hangover in recorded history.

Apparently the local authorities thought Sylbaris was Juggernaut from the X-Men, because they imprisoned him in what turned out to be the sturdiest structure on the entire island. While most people in St. Pierre were making like the Nazi at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, all Sylbaris saw was hot ash coming in through the small slit in his door. He tried urinating on his clothes to stuff them in the slit and keep the heat out (or perhaps he was just pissing on his shirt like normal and thought, "Hey, there's an idea"), but it still got pretty damn hot in there. And by "hot," we mean the air inside Sylbaris' cell flash-heated to a temperature of over 1,000 degrees. This was the end result:

via Wikimedia

He immediately became a vegetarian.

Sylbaris had to endure four painful days without food, water, or even booze before he was finally found. After being rescued, he received a full pardon for that whole drunken knife fight thing, as surviving a volcanic eruption is one hell of a "Get Out of Jail Free" card (also, there was no jail anymore, so there's that). In the end, Sylbaris's ordeal turned him into a quasi-celebrity and he became a touring attraction with Barnum & Bailey Circus ... which involved sitting in a replica of his cell all day. So, in a way, he did serve his sentence.

Circus World Museum

He carried this poster at all times to show cops what happens when someone tries to lock his ass up.

John D. Rockefeller Gets Left Out Of His Train, Avoids Fatal Derailment

5 Insane Coincidences That Saved People's Lives
Buffalo News

Before his name became synonymous with "mustache-twirling, top hat-wearing rich guy," John D. Rockefeller was just an average middle-class businessman, but he already possessed his most important quality: his legendary anal retentiveness. Rockefeller was always extremely organized, to the point that for the first 28 years of his life, he never missed a train. Until he did. On December 18, 1867, J-Rock booked himself on a routine train trip from Cleveland to Buffalo and sent his bags ahead of him, but he arrived to the station mere moments after the machine had departed.

But don't worry: at least his bags (containing Christmas presents for his friends and family in New York) made it in time and were now safely inside that train heading for Buffalo. The one he wasn't in.

5 Insane Coincidences That Saved People's Lives

His exact face when he realized.

How It Saved His Life:

Actually, Rockefeller's precious bags didn't stay safe very long, because a few hours after the train departed, this happened:

5 Insane Coincidences That Saved People's Lives
Star Beacon

At least they got out of going to Buffalo.

While passing over a bridge near the town of Angola, New York, the train's last two cars became detached and ended up derailing and crashing into an icy gorge. A total of 49 people were killed in what became known as the "Angola Horror," and all but two of the passengers in the rear car were burned alive -- the same rear car that Rockefeller, as a late arrival, would have been sitting in if he'd been at the station a few instants earlier. Rockefeller was understandably shaken when he attempted to track down his baggage, only to learn that it was completely incinerated in a fiery crash.

5 Insane Coincidences That Saved People's Lives
via Wikimedia

Apparently, all of his shaving equipment was there.

Perhaps figuring that some sort of Final Destination-type curse was coming to get him, Rockefeller went on to make the most of his life. Within three years, he would establish the Standard Oil Company, making him the world's richest man and the model for every modern philanthropist -- he singlehandedly ensured a brighter future for America's youth by improving education, curing diseases, and making it harder for people to die in horrible train crashes. As for those ruined Christmas presents, Rockefeller wrote in a letter to his wife that their friends "appreciate them as though received." Really, you cheap bastard? You couldn't fork off an extra $60 to replace them? Now we know what the D. stands for.

And on a startlingly similar note ...

New York Yankee Avoids Fatal Plane Crash Because His Team Blew The 2001 World Series

5 Insane Coincidences That Saved People's Lives
Focus On Sport/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Booking a flight out of New York in late 2001 had to be a bit of a pants-shitting experience, but New York Yankees player Enrique Wilson had a good reason to do it: He was planning to fly home to the Dominican Republic on November 12 after playing the last game of the World Series on November 4. Wilson figured that once his team won the title, he'd attend the resulting victory parade and bask in the glory for a week before going off to spend a hot, sticky winter with his family. After all, there was no way the Yankees were losing that year, right? Not only were the Yankees an unstoppable dynasty at the time, but what team would want to be known as the heartless bastards who crushed New York's hopes so soon after 9/11?

The answer, of course, is the freedom-hating Arizona Diamondbacks.

5 Insane Coincidences That Saved People's Lives
Sports Illustrated

We have it on good authority that they got a pep talk from Voldemort and Hitler before the game.

Despite being a legitimate title-winning machine at that point (they'd just conquered the 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000 Series), the Yankees lost the game when Mariano Rivera, the best closer in baseball history, uncharacteristically blew their lead at the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7, allowing the D-Backs to swoop in and help themselves to the title. With no parade and no reason to stick around in a city recovering from two depressing disasters, Wilson canceled his November 12 flight and went home early. On the bright side, at least things couldn't possibly get any worse for New York ...

How It Saved His Life:

Here's Wilson's original flight:

5 Insane Coincidences That Saved People's Lives

If you can't see it, look under the fiery ball of death.

It never made it past Queens, let alone into the Dominican Republic. While it's often overshadowed by the 9/11 attacks, the American Airlines Flight 587 tragedy is still, in fact, a big-ass tragedy: All 260 passengers died when the plane crashed into the Belle Harbor neighborhood due to a mechanical failure. Which means that, by losing the title and giving Wilson no excuse to stay an extra week partying up in New York, his fellow Yankees actually saved his life. Or at least that's the way Rivera, the baseball legend who bungled the lead in Game 7, chooses to see it -- he flat-out told Wilson, "I'm glad we lost the World Series because it means that I still have a friend."


"Could a World Series ring help me move next Sunday? No, it couldn't. And speaking of which ... "

But this wasn't the first time a humiliating defeat saved the lives of everyone involved ...

5 Insane Coincidences That Saved People's Lives

Football Team Loses Important Game, Avoids Dying In The Deadliest Nightclub Fire In History

5 Insane Coincidences That Saved People's Lives
Boston Globe

On November 28, 1942, the beloved, undefeated Boston College Eagles football team went up against their archrivals, the ... what's the opposite of beloved and undefeated? Let's be kind and go with "the underdogs," the Holy Cross Crusaders. The Eagles were so sure they'd mop the floor with their scrappy opponents (and thus go on to play in the Sugar Bowl) that they'd already gone ahead and scheduled a victory party at the Cocoanut Grove, the swingingest nightclub in town.

But then, in the sort of twist that only happens in inspirational sports movies, the Crusaders not only defeated Boston College, but "hammered them unmercifully" by the score of 55-12. Here's a contemporary visual representation of the match:

via Fenway Park Diaries

The first draft had the horse in mid-shit on their corpses.

The Eagles promptly cancelled their post-game party, as the humiliating defeat meant they'd not only have to take shit from disappointed fans all night but *gasp* actually pay for their own drinks.

How It Saved Their Lives:

Many other Boston residents did decide to party at the Cocoanut Grove that night, and ... well, make your own fire-related pun here. The place went up in flames and claimed the lives of 492 people, becoming the worst nightclub fire in history. More people died in that club than were supposed to fit inside of it.

via Wikimedia

The firemen were confused due to reports of chants of
"We don't need no water let the motherfucker burn," coming from the club earlier that evening.

It turns out that during the 1940s, "swingingest" also translated to "safety violatingest." The club's authorized capacity was 460, but nearly 1,000 people were packed in there that night. When a busboy accidentally lit up some highly flammable decorations, the overcrowded place was engulfed in flames within minutes -- many of the victims didn't even have time to let go of their drinks, let alone escape. In addition, some brilliant architectural genius designed the exit doors to open inward, which can cause quite an awkward situation when hundreds of panicky people are attempting to flee the place.

5 Insane Coincidences That Saved People's Lives
Boston Globe

"Oh, beg your pardon. You go first." "No, no, please, you go first." "I insist, you go-"

It's reasonable to assume that if the Eagles' victory party had gone forward as planned, there would have been more people, more alcohol, and ultimately more body bags there. So, yeah, that shameful defeat of theirs suddenly didn't taste so bitter after all. In the story's most ironic twist, one football player did show up to the club and perish in the fire that night: a guy who played for the Crusaders the year before. The lesson: If your team wins, stay home. If your team loses, stay home. In fact, just stay home forever.

Over 200,000 Jews Survived The Holocaust Because They Were Deported By Stalin

5 Insane Coincidences That Saved People's Lives
Sovfoto/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Believe it or not, Joseph Stalin was a bit of a dick. The man was a raging anti-Semite -- so much so that after the Soviet Union invaded and occupied part of a certain European nation, Stalin deported over 200,000 Jews into Gulag labor camps and other fun locations in Siberia. Why? Because he considered them "class enemies," and because he wanted to.

5 Insane Coincidences That Saved People's Lives
Heritage Images/Hulton Archive/Getty Images


And, contrary to the shockingly inaccurate depiction in Muppets Most Wanted, life in the Gulag camps was no happy talent show. The deportees spent the next few years being forced to work and live in treacherous, freezing conditions. There were few worse places Jewish people could find themselves in at this time.

How It Saved His Life:

The nation Stalin invaded? Poland. The year we've so carefully avoided mentioning? 1940. Hopefully you see where this is going, because we really don't want to show you a photo of a Nazi concentration camp here.

Here's this instead.

Stalin, one of the worst genocidal killers in history, saved over 200,000 lives by complete accident. In 1939, Comrade Joe had signed a nonaggression pact with Adolf Hitler which led to their joint occupation of Poland. When some Polish Jews escaped the invading Germans to the Eastern side of the country and ran into the Russians, they were jumping from the fire into the frying pan -- they ended up being sent to Siberia, but at least that was one place where they couldn't be rounded up and murdered by the Nazis. If there was one bright spot to the Gulag labor camps, it's that they didn't have any gas chambers.

By 1941, after Hitler pulled a double-cross on his former buddy and attacked the Soviet Union, Stalin begrudgingly granted amnesty to his Polish prisoners so they could form their own armies and help fight off the invading forces. It was at this point, incidentally, that the Poles recruited our old friend Private Wojtek, the soldier bear, and oh dear lord, why are you still reading this article, go read that one we just linked to.

5 Insane Coincidences That Saved People's Lives
Polish Institute

We'll wait.

That's not to say there were zero casualties among Stalin's deportees (again: major dick), but let's put it this way: Approximately eight out of 10 Polish Jews alive after World War II were still around thanks to him. Thank you, Stalin, and also, go fuck yourself. But mainly, thank you. (Go fuck yourself.)

Robin Warder is the co-owner of a pop culture website called The Back Row and recently won a "Best Screenplay Award" for writing the short film, Indefinite Late Fee.

A sharp kick to the nads isn't the only way to save a life. There's also Larry David. Find out how in 6 TV Shows You Won't Believe Saved People's Lives and check out these incredibly unlucky/ lucky people in 5 Lives Saved By The Exact Right Person Randomly Showing Up.

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