5 Shocking Times First Responders Made Everything Worse

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Truly, first responders are heroes. So much so, that our society venerates them with such programs as 9-1-1, Chicago Fire, and Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers. But the emergency personnel we're going to talk about today got it so wrong, that they should hang their heads in shame and definitely deserve to be slapped no less than three times each.

Rescuers Mix Up Two Victims, And The Families Don't Learn The Truth For A Month

In 2006, some guy driving a semi fell asleep at the wheel and plowed into a van carrying students for a college event. Five people in the van died -- four students, plus one chaperone -- making this the sort of disaster that smothers a college with an atmosphere of tragedy for, oh, at least a decade. Among the many grieving parents were a couple who learned that their daughter had been one of the victims. Four days later, it was her birthday, so they held the closed-casket viewing that morning, and the burial followed on the day after that.

So, that was just a terrible story that you're no better off for having learned. But when you're in a crash like this, you don't just either die or slip away unscathed. Even those who survive might get horrifically injured, and their story goes on. And so let's look at another set of parents. They received the good news that their daughter had survived the crash, but recovery would be tough. For now, she was in a coma. Between the machines and the swelling, they couldn't get a good look at her face, and anyway, the doctors warned her that the accident may have altered her appearance.

Doctors performed a bunch of surgeries, and over time, the girl in the bed awoke (waking from a coma is a gradual process). Three weeks in, she said her first word: "hi." They moved her to a rehab facility, but even as she improved in some ways, she didn't in others. She didn't seem to recognize her folks. Nor her sister or boyfriend -- she kept saying the name "Hunter," but that definitely wasn't his name. As part of her recovery, a therapist also asked her to write her own name, and instead of "Laura," she wrote "Whitney." Clear mental impairment! Though, hold on, wasn't there a Whitney in the crash? And if you put Whitney and Laura's pictures next to each other ...

Dammit, they'd mixed up the bodies. One of the emergency responders had clipped Laura's ID to Whitney while still at the scene, and everyone else just rolled with it. At the very least, the coroner should have made someone identify Whitney's body, but sparing her parents that ordeal had forced them to needlessly go through one much worse ... though not as bad as what Laura's parents went through when they finally learned the truth. Whoops, your daughter's actually dead, doctors finally told them. Died a month ago, actually. Buried too, though that'll save you the trouble of a funeral at least.

Bodies can be hard to identify, but there are attributes you can look for even if rescuers think all blondes look alike. Like height -- Whitney's supposed body was four inches too short. Also eye color, and teeth, and just what shoes they're wearing, all of which Laura's family noticed were wrong, though they rationalized these differences away. Or how about we identify all victims by scent? "Hunter" turned out to be the name of Whitney's dog. So, that's what she must have been mumbling. "Call Hunter. Have him smell me. Hunter will know the truth!"

Rescuers Killed The Survivor Of A Plane Crash By Running Over Her, Twice

Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crashed in San Francisco in 2013, and you've probably long forgotten about it. We've had plenty of crashes over the last few years, some much more deadly than this one, so maybe the name "Asiana Flight 214" doesn't ring a bell. But here are a couple names we bet do ring a bell: "Sum Ting Wong" and "Ho Lee Fuk":

ASIANA FLIGHT 214 PILOTS' NAMES Captain Sum Ting Wong WiTu Lo Ho Lee Fuk Bang Ding Ow
"Live on the scene is Ray Cistdoosh."

Yeah, this was the crash behind that wacky story where a news station read out a bunch of names a troll sent in. That story ended up obfuscating the fact that people died in that crash. Not a lot of people -- just three. But that modest number (this was a giant Boeing 777, the first fatal crash of that model ever) really makes it all the more unforgivable that one of those passengers was killed by the rescuers themselves.

16-year-old Ye Meng Yuan survived the plane hitting the ground. She survived the tail section breaking off, and she survived getting thrown onto the runway. But then along came a firetruck ready to spray foam on the wreckage, and it ran over her. It's unclear if this killed her, because a little later, a second rescue truck passed by, this one leaving the scene to fetch more water, and it ran her over too. Thanks to the vehicles' combined work, the fire chief was later recorded saying, her body looked "like someone dropped a pumpkin."

That recording later found its way to the media, and it offers a revealing look into the way professionals respond to stuff like this. The fire chief says, "Oh my God," then someone else says, "you can see the tire tracks right there," and the chief replies, "I mean, shit happens, you know?" City officials had a go at keeping silent about the cause of the death, and when the truth came out, Ye Meng's family tried and failed to sue. Incidentally, investigators determined that though the rescuers killed her, she never would have fallen out of the plane if she'd been wearing her seat belt. So, now you know what the airplane seat belt is for. It's to save you from being crushed by passing trucks.

Personnel Completely Fail To Save Earthquake Victim (Because They Made Her Up)

So, have you had enough already of these stories about dead kids? Good news: You don't need to mourn this next kid because she never existed at all!

We should mention, though, the 2017 Mexico City earthquake did kill some kids who did exist. It killed hundreds of people total, and among the many buildings that collapsed was the Enrique Rebsamen School, which crushed dozens of students as it fell in on itself. Rescuers then had the task of digging through the rubble to save anyone who might still be alive and trapped. After they found the first few survivors, there were no immediate signs of more of them, but people stayed hopeful. Because of Frida.

A rescue leader said that they'd spotted the girl using thermal imaging. Her name was Frida Sofia, she was 12 years old, and people could hear her speak even if they couldn't yet reach her. A little later, and the news got even better. They had sighted her hand, poking out from debris, and she'd been able to wiggle her fingers for the rescuers. And where there was one child still stubbornly refusing to die, there had to be more.

The diggers went on digging diggily, and those around the world who heard the news prayed furiously for Frida's safety. Rescuers kept on offering updates, but official word was supposed to come from the Navy, who were in charge of operations. And when reporters talked to the Navy directly, they received no passionate requests to tweet #SaveFrida. No information existed about a girl still alive there, said the Navy. They had no knowledge of anyone still alive there. They had inserted a thermal imaging camera all right, but it had detected only blood, no survivors.

It turned out that a rescuer had made Frida up. Exactly which one had first thought of her, no one knew, and so many of them jumped in to support the story that people said this went beyond a mere lie and might have entered the realm of collective psychosis. Coincidentally, this earthquake had hit on the exact anniversary of another huge Mexico City earthquake from 1985, and that one too featured an incident of rescuers digging for a child who turned out not to exist.

With Frida, people really should have seen through the charade sooner. The school's roster of students offered no record of a child named Frida. So, where had "Frida" come from then? It was the name of one of the rescue dogs. Once again, our desire to call out a dog's name proves stronger than death.

The Navy Ignored The Opportunity To Rescue Their Men; Sharks Ate Them

Just in case you're now convinced the Navy is the one infallible authority, listen next to the weird case of the USS Indianapolis. We've previously told you about events around the sinking of this World War II cruiser -- the sinking resulted in the captain's court-martial, in which the officer who sank the ship ended up defending him. That captain got rescued, while a whole lot of others aboard did not. Plenty of them might have been rescued if the Navy had sent help over to them, but they did not ... even though they knew the ship had sunk.

Well, maybe "knew" is the wrong word. They intercepted intelligence saying the Indianapolis had sunk, in the form of a message from the Japanese. But they thought to themselves, well, it's pretty convenient that we happened upon this useful information, isn't it? A little TOO convenient. Clearly, this is one of those Japanese traps, meant to lure us into an ambush! And so they ignored the intelligence and sent no help. They didn't even send a plane over to scout the area to check if maybe the ship really had gone down.

As a result, 900 men were left bobbing in the water. They didn't have any life jackets. The scent of injury and the sailors' thrashing drew in the sharks. What happened next is estimated to be the worst shark attack in history. Sharks dined on the men over the course of four days, perhaps eating as many as 150 of them. They ate some alive, and other times, the sailors threw corpses to them as soon as men died (or possibly sooner) to try to sate them. Occasionally, they weren't quick enough to cast bodies away, and one man would go mad with thirst, grab hold of another, and both would fall off the wreckage to drown or be eaten.

5 Shocking Times First Responders Made Everything Worse
US Navy
In the Navy. Oh Jesus help me, it's a shark!

In the Navy. It ate my leg now, what the fuck!

In the Navy. In the Navy.

You'll be gravy. In the Navy

On day four, a Navy plane whose pilot knew nothing of the original report spotted the survivors by pure chance. It called the discovery in, and a second plane came by with supplies. Then the guy in the cockpit, Lieutenant Adrian Marks, saw the sharks continuing to use the men there as luncheon meat, so he landed his plane among them, breaking the rules in the process. We're talking today about terrible rescues, but let's at least highlight this one guy as a rescuer who actually managed to do his job well.

Rescuers Wanted To Immediately Cut Off A Titanic Tennis Pro's Legs. Good Thing He Refused

All that talk of people bobbing in the water around a newly sunken ship definitely made some of you think about the Titanic. And when we're talking about rescue efforts gone disastrously wrong, the Titanic gives us plenty to look at. You might have already heard about how the ship's own lifeboats didn't do a very good job of collecting survivors from the water. And did you know there was a ship just 20 miles away that could have come by and rescued almost everyone, and they even saw the Titanic's distress flares but ignored them?

But we're going to narrow our focus a little and talk just about what happened to one Titanic passenger, Richard Norris Williams. Williams was a first class passenger and a professional tennis player. During the sinking, he broke open a door to save someone, and a steward threatened to sue him for breaking White Star property. A scene very similar to this happens in the film Titanic so though we can't find anyone confirming this, it's a fair guess that it was inspired by Richard Norris Williams.

Like so many others, Williams ended up adrift after the ship sank. To take his mind off the cold, he tried to make conversation with another passenger who didn't know English, advising him on how to remove a dent from his hat (this didn't work well; the passenger thought Williams was trying to steal the hat). But then he became among the passengers rescued by the Carpathia. A doctor on the rescue ship gave him a quick look over and suggested amputating his legs immediately.

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George Grantham Bain
"I'm going to need these legs," said Williams.

Amputation can be necessary sometimes, but in a situation like this, you'd hope that the doctor would at least give you a moment to see if you can get some life back into those frozen legs yourself. And in fact Williams refused the treatment, got up, and walked around, and that was enough to get the blood rushing through his legs again. Six weeks later, he was playing pro tennis again ... against an opponent who, totally coincidentally, happened to also be a Titanic survivor. He went on to win Wimbledon, be the top US player, and win a bunch of other titles too, plus medals in WWI. The doctor, on the other hand, went on to fuck right off, or so one hopes.

Top Image: NTSB

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