5 Of The Most Insane Hostage Rescues In History

Real hostage situations get way crazier than you think.
5 Of The Most Insane Hostage Rescues In History

We've all fantasized about getting caught in a hostage situation and saving the day. We'd disarm the bad guys, set everyone else free, then walk out to cops and reporters cheering. Our high school crushes would throw themselves at our feet, and then our boss's pants would fall down for reasons unspecified and everyone would laugh at them. That's all right. Human beings are chronically delusional. It's harmless. But don't go around believing the fantasy, because real hostage situations get way crazier than you think. Look at how ...

Putin Gassed Hundreds To Death ... To Save Them From Terrorists

When Chechen rebels took over a Moscow theater in 2002, authorities didn't have a whole lot of rescue options. Negotiations didn't progress far, because the terrorists weren't asking for something as simple as suitcases of gold and empty promises of amnesty -- they demanded an end to the Second Chechen War. Storming the theater would lead to mass death, because they had over 800 hostages and had riddled the place with bombs. The rebels described themselves as some kind of suicide squad, willing to kill themselves and everyone else, should the need arise.

Russian Special Forces came up with an idea: Put everyone to sleep with knockout gas. Only problem was, knockout gas doesn't exist. Most gases that induce unconsciousness do so merely as a preamble to killing you. After all, even carefully crafted anesthesia stands a good chance of shutting down your body if the dosage isn't just right. But by Day 4, the terrorists had started executions, so President Vladmir Putin gave the order to unleash the gas. Reports at the time called it a secret chemical agent, but people today might recognize the name: It was a variant of fentanyl.

The gas entered the auditorium through the air conditioning system, put a fair percentage of those inside out of commission, and allowed Special Forces to successfully take control. The official story at first called the mission a total success. Ten hostages died in the crossfire, but everyone else made it, and authorities even managed to take the terrorists in alive. That story soon fell apart. The truth was that 50 terrorists had died (not too many tears were shed over them), and reporters saw hostages vomiting and choking as they entered the evacuation buses.

Authorities refused to identify the gas for doctors, so no one knew how to treat the patients. In the days after the siege, 120 hostages died from the effects of the gas. If you count everyone who died in the next year, the number rises to over twice that. Some of the survivors put together a lawsuit, so the closest thing this ordeal has to a conclusion is the European Court of Human Rights telling Russia to pay a couple million dollars to 64 plaintiffs. And as for Putin, his presidency ended in 2008, and of course no one ever heard from him again.

Related: I Survived 996 Days As A Hostage (They Killed Everyone Else)

Kidnappers Buried A Group Of Children Alive

California, 1976: Three men kidnapped the entire contents of a school bus, containing one driver and 26 schoolchildren. This sounds so cartoonishly evil that in a movie, this would probably flip and turn into a comedy. You know, the kidnappers discover they're totally unequipped to babysit a whole classroom's worth of rambunctious youngsters, shenanigans ensue. In reality, babysitting did not figure into their plan. They just herded all their hostages into a trailer buried in a quarry, then sealed it and piled dirt on top to prevent escape. Problem solved.

Now they only needed to get in touch with the cops and demand $5 million in exchange for the trailer's location. They reasoned that the state would pay thanks to a recent budget surplus, and because everyone cares about kids. "Children are precious," explained one kidnapper later. "They're vulnerable. They will mind." But the kidnappers couldn't reach the police. The phone lines were so jammed with parents and media asking for updates on the missing kids that they couldn't get through. This was bad for the men and worse for everyone else, since in the absence of other leads, contact with the kidnappers is the main way you solve a kidnapping.

The three men weren't sure of their next move. They napped and put off more planning for later. And during one of these naps, the hostages got away. Wait, didn't I say the hostages were trapped in an inescapable bunker? It's true, but their trailer wasn't designed to support a bunch of weight on top. Over time, it buckled, convincing everyone inside that they were about to be crushed to death. The ventilator quit after a while, and they quickly ran out of food. Dirt trickled in from a leaky opening on top.

Alameda County DA's Office
Reminder: This was NOT a mass child grave. This story has a happy ending.

But if dirt could get in, there was a chance people could get out. The oldest child, Michael Marshall (14 years old; most of the kids were under 10), and bus driver Ed Ray stacked mattresses to reach the ceiling, then pushed up until it gave way. Their captors weren't around when the kids popped out, so they followed the sounds of machinery until they found quarry workers who helped them.

All three kidnappers were caught and received life sentences. One is still in prison today. His last parole request was denied after police discovered he ran both a Christmas tree farm and a gold mine from behind bars. If the guy wasn't such an asshole, we'd kind of like to see a movie about him.

Related: 5 Insane True Stories Of Hostages Outsmarting Their Captors

Muhammad Ali Went To Iraq To Free American Hostages

The U.S. did some bombing in Iraq in 1991 (after it being on our to-do list for a while), but before that was a confusing time in which Saddam Hussein, fearing reprisal for his invasion of Kuwait, took hundreds of Westerners stationed there hostage. The U.S. ambassador, upon being told that anyone who saved Americans faced death, gave a press briefing with a noose around his neck. "If the choice is to allow American citizens to be taken hostage or to be executed," he said, "I will bring my own fucking rope."

Luckily, America was far stronger than Iraq -- not just in firepower, but also in star power. After a bunch of ex-politicians entreated Saddam in an unofficial capacity, the big guns came out: Muhammad Ali went to Iraq personally to bring some Americans home. Ali had previously traveled to Lebanon in 1985 to free American hostages, and to Israel to free Shi'ites, failing both times. And the U.S. government didn't approve of this mission. They said that Saddam would use the presence of any celebrity to make propaganda, and they were absolutely right. Plus, 1990 Muhammad Ali was considerably less equipped to negotiate compared with 1985 Muhammad Ali. Six years of Parkinson's often made it difficult to speak clearly.

At first, the trip wound up even worse than the government had feared. After a week in Baghdad, Ali ran short on medication and became practically bedridden. He couldn't speak at all. But then, on November 29, he and Saddam met for one hour. Ali spoke through a translator using sign language. His status as a Muslim icon held weight, and he said he'd speak honestly about his time there when he returned to America.

5 Of The Most Insane Hostage Rescues In History
And Saddam got a photo for his wall of celebs, but it was worth it

Hussein agreed to send him home with 15 hostages. Also, he got a chance to argue against U.S. intervention. "This is the land of the Garden of Eden and the land where Abraham was born," he said. "How could it be bombed?" Huh. Wonder if he was right?

Related: 8 Insane Things I Did After Being Kidnapped By Terrorists

Egyptian Special Forces Get Shot By Counterterrorists And Accidentally Blow Up Hostages

In 1978, an Egyptian journalist was assassinated in Cyprus. The assassins demanded a plane to get away, but when no other country let them land, they touched back down in Cyprus to think about what to do next. Authorities negotiated with them, and made some progress in getting them to release their hostages. But Egypt sent its own Special Forces team in, even though Cyprus never gave Egypt permission to storm the airport. So when the Egyptian guys made their move, Cypriot and Egyptian forces wound up fighting each other at the airport for over an hour. This ended with Cyprus killing 18 Egyptians, which was more than the number of hostages. Meanwhile, the hijackers were convinced to lay down their weapons ... by the crew of their plane.

That death toll is handily beaten by the EgyptAir Flight 648 incident in 1985. The plane was traveling from Athens to Cairo when Palestinian militants took control. An Egyptian air marshal onboard shot and killed one hijacker, so the others responded with enough gunfire to puncture the hull and depressurize the plane. This forced a landing in Malta. The hijackers executed some hostages, and then came a 10-hour period of negotiations.

In hindsight, experts say the negotiators could have kept going. But Egypt had their finest commandos on the scene, and they stormed the plane ... by placing explosives outside the cargo hold. This happened to be close to where all the passengers were huddled together. The blast punctured oxygen tanks and ignited airplane insulation, and 60 passengers died, most by asphyxiation. Egypt, as governments tend to do, covered up their role, claiming the hijackers had killed all those hostages with grenades. But then medical examiners got a look at the bodies. Suffocating foam plugged every exposed orifice. Hooray, you got rescued!

Related: 6 Brilliant Ways Hostages Outwitted Their Captors

Four Boys Take Over An Electronics Store And Make History

In 1991, four Oriental Boys took 39 hostages in a California outlet. That's not my racist description, they were members of a gang called the "Oriental Boys," refugees from Vietnam. The oldest was 21, and the other three were teenagers. They presented a series of alternating demands which suggested they maybe didn't plan this whole thing out in advance. At one point they asked for $1 million each, which is the sort of request we can all relate to. At another point, they asked for 40 1,000-year-old ginseng roots. They wanted these so they could brew tea. They later asked for a plane to Thailand so they could fight the "Viet Cong" who'd killed their fathers. Most consistently, they demanded bulletproof vests. To deliver this last demand, they got one hostage to agree to be shot in the leg and released.

After a standoff lasting the whole day, and with only their most reasonable demands having been met, the gunmen figured it was time to get serious. So they divided the hostages into groups, narrowing them down to decide victims. The front door was open at this point, and a sniper fired on them. But at this exact split second, the door swung shut, diverting the bullet from its path. The gunmen panicked and fired, so SWAT stormed the place and shot all four of them. One survived because he wore the bulletproof vest they'd sent.

It remains the largest hostage rescue in American history. But the real statistic that makes this crime notable is the penalty the one surviving gunman received: 49 consecutive life sentences. Ringleader Loi Khac Nguyen was convicted of just three murders (plus attempted murder and kidnapping) and actually committed none, as he alone was unarmed during the final clash. Nevertheless, he was held liable for his dead partners' actions. America does not take kindly to people messing with our commerce.

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for bits cut from this article and other stuff no one should see.

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