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Top 10 Sole Survivors Of A Plane Crash

Blogball . . . Comments

When one hears the words “sole survivor” it tends to conjure up many feeling and emotions. For the families and loved ones hearing that there is only one person alive, and then holding out hope that just maybe it was their family or loved one that survived. For the survivor thinking why me and was it fate, or was it not my time, was it destiny or was it just pure luck?

Or maybe it is as Forest Gump said: “I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time”.

NOTE: I tried keeping the descriptions short, and that was often difficult. I wanted to include information on the flight, the crash and the survivor. Many sources were used to make this list, so I am fairly confident the general information is correct, but please, if any Listverser knows of any information that is incorrect or want to add some additional facts or information about these air disasters or other sole survivors, please share them. Also it might seem not quite right to put a subject matter like this in a bottom to top list order. Obviously, each incident is just as tragic as the next. The “order” criteria I used was the over all survival story, and the survival chances of each individual.


First Lieutenant Martin Farkaš

Letadlo Havarie

Date of Crash: January 19, 2006
Aircraft type: Antonov An-24
Operator: Slovak Air Force
Crash Site: Hejce, Hungary
Passengers & Crew: 43
Fatalities : 42
Cause of Crash: Pilot Error

This airplane was carrying Slovak peacekeepers. The aircraft crashed in snowy and forested terrain, on Borsó Hill, at an elevation of 700 meters (2,300 feet), near the Hungarian village of Hejce and the town of Telkibánya. The plane hit the tops of trees, before catching fire and crashing. The bodies and wreckage were scattered over a large area. Michaela Farkasova, the wife of the only survivor, reported that she received a cellular telephone call from her husband, who told her that his plane had crashed in a forest. He asked her to alert rescue services. Shortly after the phone call, Farkas was found. According to rescuers, his survival was pure luck as he was found in the aircraft’s lavatory, which received little damage. Farkaš suffered minor brain swelling and lung injuries after the crash. He was put into a medically induced coma, and was soon reported to be in stable condition. Further investigations indicated that the pilot descended too early in the dark towards the lights of Košice.


James Polehinke

30Crash Lg

Date of Crash: August 27, 2006
Aircraft type: Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ) CRJ-100ER
Operator : Comair (d/b/a Delta Connection
Crash Site: Blue Grass Airport, Lexington, Kentucky
Passengers & Crew Onboard: 50
Fatalities: 49
Cause of Crash: Pilot Error

This aircraft was assigned the airport’s Runway 22 for the takeoff, but used Runway 26 instead. Runway 26 was too short for a safe takeoff, causing the aircraft to overrun at the end of the runway before it could become airborne, killing all 47 passengers and two of the three crew. The Flights First officer, James Polehinke, was the only survivor. Polehinke suffered serious injuries, including multiple broken bones, a collapsed lung and severe bleeding. Doctors later determined that Polehinke had suffered brain damage, and has no memory of the crash or the events leading up to it. Polehinke was flying the plane when it crashed, but it was the flight’s captain, Jeffrey Clay, who taxied the aircraft onto the wrong runway.


Foye Kenneth Roberts


Date of Crash: JUNE 14, 1943
Aircraft type: B-17C Flying Fortress
Passengers & Crew: 41
Fatalities: 40
Cause of Crash: unknown

For reasons of military security and morale, this incident was hushed-up by U.S. Army and Australian civil authorities for many years. The plane carried forty-one American servicemen returning from ten days of leave. The aircraft took off into ground fog, and leveled off at an altitude of about 300 feet. In a matter of minutes the plane had caught fire in the air, and as it dived into the trees one of its wings came away, leaving a great opening in the fuselage through which most of the passengers were emptied into the bush before the final impact. The only survivor was Foye Kenneth Roberts. Roberts suffered head injuries that were not diagnosed at the time of the crash, and lost his speech for many years after lifesaving brain surgery. Roberts cannot recall anything of the actual crash. In February 2004, Foye Kenneth Roberts passed away. Another fact that is remarkable is that, still to this day, this crash rates as the worst aviation disaster in Australian history.


Nestor Mata


Date of Crash: March 17, 1957
Aircraft type: C-47 Skytrain
Operator : Philippine Air Force
Crash Site: 22 miles NW of Cebu City, Philippines
Passengers & Crew: 26
Fatalities: 25
Cause of Crash: Metal fatigue

This crash killed the 7th President of the Philippines, Ramon Magsaysay, as well as many high ranking military officials. A reporter for the Philippine Herald, Nestor Mata, was the sole survivor of the accident. The aircraft took off from Lahug Airport for Nichols Field, and eyewitnesses on the ground observed that the airplane had not gained enough altitude as it approached the mountain ranges in Balamban. Mata was sitting in the second seat, next to the President’s compartment, when the crash occurred, and remembers there was a blinding flash for a moment, then he fell unconscious. When he regained consciousness he found himself on the side of a steep cliff among trees and bushes. As he was in agonizing pain, he began shouting, ‘Mr. President! Mr. President!’ When some farmers found him they had to return to the village to get a hammock on which they loaded and carried him for 18 hours through rugged terrain. As soon as Mata reached the Southern Island Hospital in Cebu, he was treated for severe shock and pain from second and third degree burns. Mata did not lose consciousness in the hospital, and was able to dictate to a nurse a press dispatch to his paper. It began ‘President Magsaysay is dead.’
The photo above of the white cross is a “marker” of the exact site of the crash.


Erika Delgado


Date of Crash: Jan 13, 1995
Aircraft type: DC-9
Operator : Intercontinental airlines
Crash Site: Maria La Baja, 500 miles north- west of Bogota
Passengers & Crew: 52
Fatalities: 51
Cause of Crash: Unknown

This airliner exploded in mid-air as the pilot, apparently, was attempting an emergency landing near a swamp, but hit a grassy field and exploded and then toppled into a lagoon. A farmer said he heard cries for help, and found a 9 year old girl, Erika Delgado, on a mound of seaweed, which had broken her fall. She was the only survivor. She was traveling with her parents and a younger brother, from Bogota to the Caribbean resort city of Cartagena. The rescuers said she told them her mother had shoved her out of the plane as it broke up and burst into flames. She was taken to hospital in shock, and with a broken arm. Erika later recalls someone approached and ignored her cries for help, but ripped a gold necklace from her neck and ran away. Witnesses say scavengers also looted the bodies of other passengers. Erika issued a plea for the return of the necklace, which she says was the only memento of her father.


George Lamson, Jr.

0512017239 Reno-Crash-250

Date of Crash: January 21, 1985
Aircraft type: Lockheed Electra 188
Crash Site: Reno, Nevada, USA
Passengers & Crew: 71
Fatalities: 70
Cause of Crash: Pilot/Ground Crew error

After a weekend of skiing, 17 year old George Lamson had taken a seat next to his father in the front row of the airplane’s cabin, directly behind the bulkhead. The plane began to shudder and the plane’s right wing dipped as it began its ill-advised right turn. Lamson pulled his knees to his chest just as the plane hit the ground. The force of the crash ripped Lamson’s seat from the fuselage, and he was catapulted out of the plane, landing upright in the middle of the highway, still strapped in his seatbelt. He unbuckled and dashed toward a field at the far edge of the pavement as the plane exploded. Three people survived the crash initially, including George Lamson’s father, but both died a few days later of severe burns and head injuries. It was later determined that the probable cause of this accident was the captain’s failure to control, and the copilot’s failure to monitor the flight path and airspeed of the aircraft. This is what caused the unexpected vibration shortly after takeoff.
Lamson was recently contacted by the press and is a now a father himself. He asked the reporter not to reveal anything more of his work or whereabouts and remains a very private person.


Mohammed el-Fateh Osman

 39271425 Boylong

Date of Crash: July 8, 2003
Aircraft type: Boeing 737
Operator : Sudan Airways
Crash Site: Port Sudan
Passengers & Crew: 116
Fatalities: 115
Cause of Crash: *Unknown

About 10 minutes after takeoff heading from Port Sudan on the northeastern coast to the capital, the pilot radioed the control tower about a problem in one engine. The pilot killed that engine and told the tower he was returning to the airport. Ten minutes later, the Sudanese airliner plunged into a hillside while attempting an emergency landing, killing 116 people and leaving 3-year old Mohammed el-Fateh Osman amid a scene of charred corpses, as the only survivor. The boy was found injured and lying on a fallen tree by a nomad. The boy’s mother was among the victims. Mohammed lost part of a lower leg and was treated for severe burns. The bodies were buried in a mass grave after performing the Muslim prayer, because the conditions of the bodies would not allow transporting and delivering them to the relatives.

*The country blamed the United States for the crash, saying that sanctions had restricted vital aircraft parts. The United States denied that claim, stating that there was no ban on equipment required for aviation safety.


Vesna Vulovi?


Date of Crash: January 26, 1972
Aircraft type: McDonnell-Douglas DC-9
Operator: Jugoslovenski Aero transport
Cause of Crash: Bombing
Crash Site: Hinterhermsdorf , East Germany
Passengers & Crew :28
Fatalities: 27

This is close to the top of the list because of the overall circumstances, and the unbelievable survival story of Vesna Vulovi? . Vesna was a flight attendant on board when a bomb went off, at the altitude of 33,000 ft. (10,050 meters). The terrorist act was attributed to Croatian Ustashe terrorists. The explosion tore the jet into several pieces in mid-air. The wreckage fell through the sky for three minutes before striking a frozen mountainside. A German man, upon arriving at the crash, found Vesna lying half outside of the plane, with another crew member’s body on top of her, and a serving cart pinned against her body. The man was a medic in the second world war, and did what he could for her until further help arrived. Vesna’s injuries included a fractured skull, two broken legs and three broken vertebrae, which left her temporarily paralyzed from the waist down. She regained the use of her legs after surgery, and continued working for JAT at a desk job. It was discovered later that her schedule had been mixed up with that of another flight attendant named Vesna, and she was subsequently placed on the wrong flight.

Vesna still holds the Guinness World Record for the highest fall survived without a parachute, at 33,330 feet. She is considered a national heroine throughout the former Yugoslavia.


Cecelia Cichan


Date of Crash: August 16, 1987
Aircraft type: McDonnell Douglas MD-82
Operator : Northwest Airlines
Crash Site: Romulus, Michigan (western Detroit)
Passengers & Crew Onboard: 155
Fatalities Onboard: 154 – 2 on the ground were also killed
Cause of Crash: Pilot error

After taking off from Metro Airport, during the initial climb, the plane rolled about 35 degrees in each direction. The left wing struck a light pole about ½ mile (800 m) from the end of the runway, struck other light poles, the roof of a car rental building, and then the ground. Cecelia Cichan was located by rescue workers in her seat, several feet away from her mother’s body along with Cecelia’s father, and her 6-year-old brother. Her survival of the crash was considered unexplainable and miraculous by many, including airline crash investigators. The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the accident was the flight crew’s failure to use the taxi checklist to ensure the flaps and slats were extended for takeoff. Cecelia is now married and earned a Psychology degree from the University of Alabama. Although she has made no public statements, or attended annual memorial services regarding the tragic crash, she corresponds with some of the crash victims’ loved ones.


Juliane Köpcke

400Px-Wings Of Hope

Date of Crash: December 24, 1971
Aircraft type: Lockheed Electra L-188A
Crash Site: Puerto Inca, Peru
Passengers & Crew: 92
Fatalities: 91
Cause of Crash: Human Error and Structural failure, possibly struck by lightning

This is really two survival stories, so I have placed it in the number one spot. There are many more interesting details to this story, but to keep this to a list format here are the basic facts of the account. On Christmas Eve 1971, the Peruvian airliner had taken off from the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, on a flight to Pucallpa, Peru. About a half hour after takeoff, and at about 21,000 feet, the aircraft entered a thunderstorm and heavy turbulence and was possibly struck by lightning. The pilots had difficulty controlling the aircraft, and it soon went into a dive. The crew attempted to level out the plane, but the fire and turbulent forces on the wings caused the right wing and most of the left wing to separate from the aircraft. The aircraft came crashing down in a mountainous region of the Amazon. Miraculously, a German teenager Juliane Koepcke (17), who was traveling with her mother, survived the crash and was still strapped in her seat. After searching for her mother in vain, Koepcke wandered through the jungle for nine days looking for help. On the ninth day, she found a canoe and shelter. Hours later, local lumbermen returned and found her. The men took her on the final seven hour journey via canoe down the river to a lumber station, where she was airlifted to a hospital. Koepcke is now a successful biologist in Germany.

The photo above is Juliane Köpcke sitting near the recreated wreckage for a documentary called Wings of Hope.

Contributor: Blogball

  • munro

    this list is so intense
    i wonder how many of these people suffer from severe survivors guilt?

  • stevenh


    Excellent List

  • Kreachure

    Interesting, I didn’t even know there were that many sole survivors of a plane crash.

  • That guy

    Yes, very interesting
    Surviving a plane crash must be scary as hell

  • warrrreagl

    I met Cecelia Cichan. Although she doesn’t initiate conversations about her ordeal, she doesn’t refuse to talk about it, either. She’s a completely ordinary person in every other respect.

  • How cruel that someone could come across the scene of a plane crash, find its sole survivor to be a young child, and be so cold-hearted as to steal from her? That’s what struck me as maybe the saddest part of this list.

    Excellent list Blogball – I really like it and am determined to survive any aviation disasters I might be in!

  • simuun

    I can’t believe the number 6 post about the scavengers taking things from the bodies. For one thing its bad enough to steal from the dead bodies but a whole different level when a little girls pleas for help are ignored so someone can steal a necklace. It’s sickening.

  • Touching, but being in a plane crash just isn’t on my lifes to do list. Side note, getting it by lightening is. Weird?

  • rushfan

    Wow. Fantastic list. Very moving stories.

  • Quiana

    Wow! One of the best list I’ve read on this site. Good Job.

  • Cheeshygirl

    Fascinating list. It reminded me of the plane crash in Panama around Christmas. A father took his teenage daughter and her best-friend to an island he owned near Panama. Their plane crashed killing the pilot, father, and daughter. The best-friend was the only survivor. I remember watching the ABC news special about the story. Originally, the surviving parents of the two girls were only told one girl survived, not which one. They stayed together as they waited for more information. Can you imagine what was going through their heads? Hoping their child was alive while sitting next to someone who would have had to lose their child for that to be the case. Wow! Too much for my brain to handle.

  • Randall

    God, what a heartwrenching list.

  • heatherrr.

    interesting list! my mother used to work for northwest airlines in metro airport at the ticket counter, and witnessed the 1987 crash. she’s only talked about it once. my dad still works for northwest, soon to be delta, as an aircraft mechanic.

  • Christine

    I think it is also interesting to note that in #7, they carried the guy for 18 hours to get help! 18 hours! and they probably didn’t even know him! Perhaps they knew of him but they probably didn’t really know him and that makes their trek truly amazing.

  • Barack Obama

    Great list. There aren’t many crashes worldwide each year of aircraft with 50+ passengers, as most of these were. So one could infer that other than crashes with no passengers surviving (by far the most common), having just one survive (as opposed to random numbers like 3, 14, etc) happens more commonly than one would think.

    I mean, when you throw 50 morsels into a blender, one piece always seems to avoid the blade….

  • Ixxi

    I’ve actually heard of #3.

    My mother is a flight attendant and as much as this list is kinda scary, keep in mind how many people fly daily.

    I agree about the sadness of the little girl being stolen from. How coldhearted are those people! I can’t even comprehend the ordeal she just went through and then someone who sees a lone child crying after surviving such a horrific time they take the one thing of monetary value and leave her to die.

    Good list.

  • warrrreagl

    Ixxi, when I consider Man’s inhumanity to Man, nothing I read out of Colombia surprises me.

  • Csimmons

    man, I remember that plane crash in Lexington well, it was a scary time, we had thought it was terrorists at first. but a great list, very interesting!

  • MzFly

    Oh My God. Wow. This is a very intense list and reading through it, just made me go through so many emotions. These survivors stories are simply amazing.
    I have to wonder what kind of support system and/or therapy these folks must need after the fact; taking into account survivor’s guilt, traumatic stress and such.

  • Mom424

    Blogball; This is a great list. Good job and you weren’t at all too verbose. It really isn’t too much of an issue here. The more the info you can cram in the better.

    Just goes to show you how important it is to never give up hope. It would have been much easier for Julianne Kopcke to just roll up into a ball and die.

    Very inspiring tales.

  • green

    Great list. Could you even imagine the survivors guilt that must be tempting to slip into? Not that it is their fault, but that they survived while so many others didn’t. For my friends who survived Norris Hall, that is the worst part for them.

  • Brian Flugan

    Meanwhile on Fox News, cargo plane overturns, crashes only 500 feet after take off. No survivor.

    Baaaad timing.

  • jake ryder

    These are the lists I love reading here. Never heard of #1 before. Great list.

  • dalandzadgad

    this list reminded me of the movie Unbreakable..

  • Thank you for the comments everyone.
    When I first thought about doing a list on this topic I checked to see if anyone else had done a list similar to this on the Internet and was surprised no one had so I never thought the list could get to this number. But after entering many key words and several search engines later it went to 10. This list as Randall put it was heart wrenching but it was also inspirational to write as I learned the story of each of the survivors. My heart goes out to all of the victims of these accidents.

    As I was reading the comments I was surprised that there were 2 that had close associations with the 1987 (#2) crash heatherrr who’s mom witnessed the crash and warrrreagl who actually spoke to the survivor. Listversers are amazing!
    Also, thank you jfrater for posting the list.

  • YogiBarrister

    I’m not sure if this meets the criteria of the list, but George Bush Sr. was the sole survivor of a plane crash during WWII. Well, his plane was shot down and he bailed out. Two crew members never made it out, another one had his parachute malfunction.

  • Cedestra

    Great list!
    I remember seeing something about a very small plane with a girl, her father, and the pilot and maybe a few crew members. Her parents had worked a considerable amount of time in the jungle and so she knew to survive. I remember this story shown on some show like Unsolved Mysteries, mostly because of the graphic details of the bott fly larvae she had to remove from her arm with a dismantled ring.

  • disco.x

    wow, extremely sad

    The worst part about it was in the plane crash with only the little girl surviving, and the idiotic people robbing her and her dead relatives rather than helping her.
    Very sad, but it can happen!
    rarely =]

  • The only one I’ve heard of is nr 3 from on other list.
    Very interesting list.

  • Clantargh

    Wow that is truly an amazing list. I’m reminded of the movie Unbreakable where a similar thing is part of the plotline (don’t want to give away spoilers). Whoever stole from the victims and the surviving girl, that is just despicable.

  • MPW

    really nice but sad list. It is amazing how the two little guys survived their plane crashes. I’ve never been on a plane before and this list makes me not want to get on one.

  • MPW: Never been on a plane before? Your lucky it’s horrible.

  • Angelina

    Great List, Blogball. Good research, well-written. Thanks for your contribution.

  • lola

    Brilliant list. Why was #10 put into a medically induced coma? I cannot make sens of a reason.

  • Ixxi

    MPW: I have to disagree with WarningDontReadThis I fly a lot and absolutely love it. Can be a bit cramped but this really isn’t the majority. There are proportanally less airplane crashes, injuries, & deaths each year than cars. It’s pretty safe actually. And absolutly beautiful to look out the window and see all the sights.

  • Hi lola, apparently when there is a brain injury It lets the brain hibernate so that it can recuperate.

  • Logar

    Pilot error, pilot error, pilot error. I never think about that when I get on a plane. I’ll start worrying about that now. Thank you.

  • Ixxi: I’m sure flying wouldn’t be that bad if it lasted a couple of hours but when it lasts 8-10 hours it is really awful.

  • zimzim

    no 27 cedestra:
    You actually speak of number 1 Juliane Koepke. She survived animal attacks, hunger and injuries. She was also smart enough to follow the river Amazon, because she knew she would eventually find traders and reduce the risk of running in circles. The scene that always gets me, is when she has to cut open her legs because of blood-poisoning.

  • modelpenguin

    Discovery channel did a very detailed, hours long special on #1 a few years ago, and I remember watching it. That’s the only one I’ve heard of. It was so scary and incredible she survived! Great list!

  • MPW

    Ixxi, heres why there are more fatalities in car crashes

    2.more cars than planes
    3.just about any idiot can get a license for driving

  • Denise

    I’ve flown overseas several times (16 hours plus) and it’s not horrible. Just bring things to read, sleep, eat, and you’re fine. It’s much better than being cooped up in a car for that long, at least you can get up and walk around and go to the bathroom! I love to fly, the turbulence makes it interesting!

    Great list too, I remember Cecelia Cichan from when I was a teenager, it was all over the news. Most of the other ones I had never heard of.

  • kiwiboi

    Blogball – great list!

  • Brad

    Great job. Ome of the best on Listverse.

  • chris

    The grammar and (lack of) punctuation in this list is dreadful.

  • Daniel FR

    i remember the #1 in the list was a big story in the german newspaper “Stern” at that time. they made a multipart story out of it, if i remember correctly.

  • DiscHuker

    logar: it is either going to be pilot error (since he is in control) or someone forced them to crash. there aren’t that many other options.

  • astraya

    The crash in Number 8 is listed on the front page of wikipedia today. (Hangs head shamefully: I went to wikipedia before I came here. Sorry!)

  • It is stories like these that cause me to be very nervous about flying. Not a pleasant thing when you have to fly 30 hours across the planet! I am staying put now!

  • DiscHuker

    lets post a list of people who died in terrible car crashes, a list of people who got hit crossing the street, a list of people who had a heart attack while riding their bike, a list of people mugged while riding public transportation.

    then we can all just stay inside if we keep the current philosophy of avoiding planes because of crashes.

  • logar

    DiscHuker: True, I have only 2 things to worry about:
    1. Pilot Error, and
    2. Everything Else.

    That’s not so much, after all!

  • jimbob

    Awesome list! This list was so intense and I would love to hear about the other sole survivors that didn’t make this list.

  • astraya

    “Mackay” and “plane crash” kept going through my mind. I searched on the fount-of-all-knowledge-pedia and found that Australia’s second worst plane crash also happened there, in 1960 (before my time but I’ve read about it).

  • Giuliana Torres

    I’m from Perú and one of the survivors inspired my name.
    My mother studied biology, so when my father went to Germany enrolled in the navy he meet Juliane Kopcke. When they started to think in names for me, my father wanted a name of a survivor like Juliane, but my mother doesn’t like at all the name, so both chose a very similar name like Giuliana, and I’m Giuliana but with the story of Juliane Kopcke behind, so when someone tells me to travel to the jungle I have to tell the story of Juliane Kopcke and I always say that two persons with almost the same name can’t survive in the same place, so I dont want to travel to the peruvian jungle, just in case. I’m sure I have no hope to be a survivor like Julianne Kopcke.

    Great Article!!!

    Greetings from Perú.

  • Dan

    I’ve heard that the crash position they show you in the safety booklet is meant to help you die instantly on impact, is this true? because i think it’d rather try a survive myself. does anyone have any info on this? i cant remember where i heard it from, so i’d assume it was false (although in a crash i’d curl up in a different position just incase….)

  • I have made some fairly major changes to the code on the site to try to get it more optimized. If anyone has any problems (especially around the area of comments) please let me know ASAP!

  • I am really amazed at the commenter’s that have a personal connection to these Survivors!
    Philmont237, that is some great information you have added.

  • Dana

    Extremely interesting list…and very unique.

  • Keri

    When I saw this list I knew that #2 had to be on here. I forgot Cecelia Cichan’s name but I grew up not far from Detroit Metro airport and they have a memorial up for the crash. My mom remembers it like it was yesterday because I was only 2 at the time and if the plane had gone any further it would have crashed into our house. It hit the on ramp of 1-94 and I always wonderd how many cars it must have hit?

  • Z

    Umm, Charles Woods ftw.

  • interesting list

  • Animalactivist534150

    Cool List. Oh, and by the way, your grammar is fine.

  • Vera Lynn

    Wow. I would be so frightened. I have a story about the opposite. Aloha Airlines flight 243s fusilage ripped apart at 24,000 feet. Every one made it except a stewardess who was in the aisle when the plane blew open. Maui 1988.

    BTW I love to fly too. My fave part? Both taking off and landing. It’s a rush.


  • Sunny

    What amazing stories. This proves one of my favorite adages… When it is your time, it is your time! If you are meant to live… you will. GREAT list!

  • warrrreagl

    Oh my Lord, someone remembers Charles Woods. He was a hell of an inspiring story, and a hell of a source for nightmares for those of us who grew up in Alabama during that time. We’d be sitting there comfortably watching TV as kids without a care in the world, and a commercial break would occur. Suddenly, without warning you’d hear, “I’m Charles Woods and I’m running for governor,” and if you dared look at the TV you were guaranteed nightmares for a week.

    He was a brilliant businessman, master politician, and awesome hero, but terrifying to see if you were a kid.

  • Vera Lynn

    Other airplane stories:
    I have an article about a boy who was too poor to go on a class trip. The plane went down. All the other students died. The look on this kid’s face is heartbreaking.

    The worst on ground collision was at the Canary Island airport. Pan Am flight 1736 and KLM flight 4805 slammed into each other in 1977. 582 dead. 61 survivors. The picture of all the coffins lined up is stunning (I don’t mean pretty. I mean like being hit; to be stunned)

    And a mid air collision. Only survivor was a baby but it died before medical attention could be gotten. That was at Zagreb, Yugoslavia.


  • CRSN

    Jfrater – i was on the site a couple of hours ago and all this ebay shit came up that was imbeded on the home page, why?

    (stupid question) is it because you changed your server around?

  • I feel sorry for the poor people who come across this list just as their about to pack their bags or somthing.

  • nippy143

    WOW!..this list is so touching especially with #2 and #4..with #1, maybe her experience wandering alone in the jungle served as a basis for her career in life…great list..:)

  • namesnatcher

    weird, 4 of them are within a week of my birthday

  • cyberfreak77

    Wasn´t John McCain a sole survivor of a plane crash, too?

  • NN

    ’twas a great pleasure reading the list. All of these stories are amazing. And the fact that most of them went on with their lives is also amazing.

  • NikPG

    Just proves the old saying
    “Cemetery or Lavoratory When you gotta go you gotta go”

    BTW I’m trying to login and then comment but it doesn’t allow me to do so

  • Drogo

    In a way, Seth Macfarlane (Family Guy) is a sole survivor.
    On sept. 11, 2001 he missed his flight. It was one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center. If that happened to me I would be constantly saying, “I was almost on that plane, I was almost on that plane!!!”

  • Drogo

    p.s. but actually, it’s not as if he had survived a crash.

  • Spart


    Excellent list and well researched.
    This is why I keep coming back to the site

  • everlast

    man what a great but scary list.

    Being from Detroit, I remember #2 greatly, and is what probably caused my dislike for flying. If you have seen the news footage of the crash it is no wonder why some find it a miracle the girl survived.

    and how bad is it for the two people on the ground who died, “oh how’d they die? AN AIRPLANE LANDED ON THEM?!?!”

  • astraya

    Vera Lynn: People survived the Canary Islands collision? I was browsing through a list of aeroplane disasters this morning, and saw the death toll. I assumed that no-one survived. I’ll have to read about that.

  • astraya

    cyberfreak77: Check out McCain was in his plane on the deck of an aircraft carrier.

  • JB

    A fascinating topic that makes for a very well-played out list. Good job.

    I don’t mean to nitpick, but your punctuation with commas is extremely off. I don’t know if it even matters to anyone else besides me, but I felt the need to point it out. That’s my only critique.

  • arvaamita

    Yeah, it does make you a little sick that someone would go through a wreckage site and loot the stuff from the dead – BUT to steal something right off a little girls neck while she is crying for help?!?!?! That is heartless! Though – the story about the people carrying the one man for 18 hours to get help kind of gives us a little more hope in humanity! Thank god there are some decent people who are willing to help!

    Great list! Thanks!

  • Vera Lynn

    Drogo A lot of people missed that flight. Almost 20%. People were delayed, or had some problem that prevented them from getting there. It is said that most planes that crash are not filled with the amount of people that are booked. Weird.

    Astraya Yes. 61 people lived. They were in the front section of the Pan Am plane. Cannot imagine the inferno and destruction.

  • kerrick

    If memory serves, statistically speaking… you’re more likely to get struck by lightning, attacked by a shark, and win the lottery than be involved in a plane crash.

    I try to keep that in mind as I’m strapping myself into a hollow prison with wings.

  • Diogenes

    seeing your here blogball, i’ll mention what started my interests which led to the compiling of some discoveries on a list I did (10 cheaters of death) a couple of months or so ago.
    In 1944, flight sergeant Nicholas Alkemade was a tail gunner somewhere over Germany at 20,000 feet, when there was an explosion and he found himself trapped in a bomber going down in flames. his parachute was also in flames behind him and he knew he was going to die and did a backflip into the open question mark younder. An immense calm came over him as he sailed tords the much so that he was able to caculate the time it would take before impact,,,90seconds from 18,000 feet. Anyway I wont bore you with the rest, but he survived.

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  • ben

    I heard, but cannot substantiate, that the director of the movie about #1 actually booked that flight and missed it.

  • Hi, Diogenes I came across that guy too! (Nicholas Alkemade) That was an amazing story. Even though Vesna Vulovi? fell 33,000 ft. his fall seemed a little more impressive because there was nothing but his body protecting him.

  • jimbo

    Kerrick, statistically speaking, you know nothing of statistics. hehe, no, I dont meant to jab at you personally, but statistics are only certain numbers from certain situations.

    How can lightening be compared to plane crashes? X people have flown planes in the history of aviation. That is a number, yes. A finite (although not recorded) number. How are you coming with the lightening? People standing on planet earth thruout history>? or Only during storms? Or are we doing a ratio or how many people have been recorded killed in airline accidents vs killed by lightening over all?

    100 people killed this year in airline accidents vs 50 killed by lightening. Are you using single year stats or are you attempting to average the total recorded lightening deaths in the history of mankind?

    I know I’m being a dick about this but really, that lightening comment is like some unintelligent banter from poor medics that still think you can get a cold from standing in the rain. we know how many people fly per year and how many die, that is a defined ratio. We most likely know how many people die/yr from lightening…but whats the beginning criteria? People standing in the middle of a field? People in storms? Or every one on the planet at any given moment? I dont mean to hijack this thread, it really is a good posting and informative.

  • Randall


    Ahem. A moment’s thought would have told you a couple things: 1) these statistics are easily found in books and on the ‘net. I don’t have the time just now to research how they’re compiled, but suffice to say it’s unlikely that they’ve been fudged or are otherwise in error, because surely someone would have challenged them by now. We’ve been told for decades that flying is the safest form of travel, statistically. If it weren’t so, we’d have found out long ago. 2) Knowing this to be so, you should have been able to figure out that these statistics are based on deaths as a subset of a total number… in the case of flying, how many people die from flying each year, which is then averaged out–and of course the number of people flying is huge, and rose steadily in the post-war years, and rose even more rapidly and acutely after airline deregulation. Yet fatalities from flying have fallen precipitously in that same span of time. So say you have X millions of people flying each year… and in a given year, globally, X hundreds die from it. Good ratio. Even better if you factor in only US flights, where you still have X millions (I would think) flying in any average year–but last year, for instance, I believe there were NO air-related deaths. Compare that to car travel, where there are millions of cars on the road in a given year, but the death toll is a more substantial percentage–I forget the figure for last year, but at any rate, as we know–a LOT of people are dying out there in car accidents.

    I can’t speak authoritatively regarding lightning deaths. But obviously it would require number of deaths from lightning as a SUBSET of some group–and the question is how they determine who that group is. On average about 60 people die in the US from lightning each year. It’s unlikely that, as a comparison, they use total number of lightning strikes (a huge number in the millions) vs. number of deaths, and then compare that to airline deaths. In any case, a check on death statistics doesn’t show either aircraft accidents or lightning as a leading case of death in the US–(whereas car accidents are number one for accidental death). In a given year the chance of being struck by lightning is about one in 700,000 and the chance of being killed by lightning is less than one in 6 million in the United States.

    Here’s a quote from a site I found:

    Your chances of being involved in an aircraft accident are about 1 in 11 million. On the other hand, your chances of being killed in an automobile accident are 1 in 5000. Statistically, you are at far greater risk driving to the airport than getting on an airplane.

    An article in Time magazine (12/4/06) reminds us that “if you’re a bike rider, a dog lover, or a bath taker then you’re at far greater risk of being killed in an accident than you are from riding in a commercial aircraft. Don’t forget the other kinds of accidents that killed more people than aircraft crashes–stinging from bees/wasps, slipping on ice or snow, choking on food, or falling down stairs or off ladders. It’s a dangerous world we live in! And please don’t forget the 600 Americans who are killed every year from falling out of bed.”

    Note the stat: chance of being killed by lightning: less that one in 6 million. Chance of being involved in an aircraft accident (not even being killed, which is an even smaller stat) is 1 in 11 million.

    Further thing to consider: Flying is an activity where one is in harm’s way. One is also in harm’s way during a lightning storm if one is not sheltered and grounded. It appears, statistically, then, that one is more likely to be killed by the lightning in that event, than it is to be killed simply by flying.

  • Kahlua

    My father is also the sole survivor of a plane crash, although it wasn’t a large flight like the ones listed above. He was the bombardier on a B-17 shot down during a bombing raid over Merseburg, Germany during World War II. The plane was hit and exploded in mid-air. The explosion knocked my father unconscious, but blew him clear of the wreckage. He regained consciousness as he was falling toward earth, he pulled the ripcord on his parachute, and was captured by the Germans when he landed. He spent the rest of the war as a POW at Stalag Luft I. The other eight men in his crew were killed.

  • Kahlua, that is really an incredible story about your dad.
    I believe Tom Brokaw was right hen he wrote about the “The Greatest Generation”

  • big ski

    Im not that spooky or judgemental BUT these people were and are required to be or to do something special in life. Survivers guilt must plague these folks on a constant basis. I would be humbled.

  • Incredibly sad that some/most of these people were left without their families in the end. #1 is an incredible story. I’d love to see the Discovery Episode!

  • Recruitment Oursourcing

    That is so sad. That child is so young, it’s so unfortunate what is going on in today’s world. It really makes me cry. Some people are so concerned over a stupid pimple when really it could be so much worse. Think about that.

  • kervin

    how dare you mention muslim plane crash survival in this post-9/11 world of ours!

  • Somu

    hi people, i found this artile when i looked up juliane kopcke. i live in india and am in the 12th grade and we have an english lesson on her and her survival story. so i wanted to look it up and find out more about her……….just wanted to let everyone one know that she was in our texbook.

  • a friend of mine’s mom died in the plane crash at bluegrass airport- unfortunate for me i called her a few days after it happened and she told me that her mom had died and i had been under a rock and hadn’t seen the news coverage. :( her brother and her got a tattoo of their mom’s face on their backs not too soon after the crash.

  • Person666

    It’s kinda wierd that the bluegrass accident happened on the day i was old enough to get my pilot’s license. Now that i’ve contributed my worthless two cents, good list.

  • Person666

    100th post!

  • Sigurd

    I live on the same place #7 happened more than 51 years ago and know the story but I have never been to the spot.

    Here’s a photoblog of the 50th anniversary:

    Yes, there are still people here willing to help carry somebody they don’t know for 18 hours, and also some who might loot. Hopefully the former outnumbers the latter.

    BTW, Nestor Mata’s grandchild says his grandpa is still going strong.

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  • Susan

    After all these years, I sometimes wondered what happened to the little girl that was the sole survivor of a plane crash. Now that we have the internet, it was so easy to find out, thanks to this list. It was #2, the little girl, according to the news back in 1987, said she was protected because her mother’s body was covering/protecting her. I am glad to read that she grew up, etc.
    I am also freaking out because I saw our President Elect Barak Obama had also written a comment here on 6/18/08 at 10:26am.

  • Cheryl Campbell

    This is miracles, and goes to show you can not go on other people time. Faith is all you need to lead a productive life because faith make all things possible. This quote has a great meaning “I can’t control my destiny, I trust my soul, and my only goal is just to be. There’s only now, there’s only here. Give in to love or live in fear. No other path, no other way. No day but today.” If you truly beleive and have faith there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

  • KC Liew

    The worst I’ve ever been in are sudden drops due to turbulence, first in Fokker F-40s and then in a A 330, just 4 days after the Charkhi Dadri accident on Nov 12 1996.

  • Blah

    Extremely interesting. Nice work. Those scavangers are sick and should burn in hell!!!!!!! I t wud b very exciting to survive a plane crash in my opinion!!!!!

  • hinkdink1991

    great list, that last one is really interesting

  • Bluegrass Victim

    Very interesting list. It inspires me to see what some of these survivors have done with their lives. How they have used their “second chance” for good. I lost my husband in the Lexington crash (#9) and the only thing i have ever heard that Polehinke wanted to do was to get his pilots license back. (god help us) And yes..if most people knew how many near crashes..and how poorly trained commercial pilots would hold your breath and pray every time the plane took off and landed.

  • rain

    Num 3 is cool. surviving at 33,000 feet. I think God has a plan for her. She was at the wrong flight so it was not her time to die.

  • Capt.Denis Murphy

    My name is Capt. Denis Murphy. I have a very unique survival events in the archives of aviation history. I was able to survive two ditchings in the Atlantic Ocean and a water crash in shark infested waters while numerous Coast Guards units and airliners were looking for me, I eventually rescue by a local fisherman off Marathon in the Florida Keys. Please check out my website at for your perusal. I believe we human beings have the unique gifts of survival.

  • poupon

    for number 3, Vesna Vulovic, a hero in Serbia: she is alive but it did affect her life. She never was never able to have children. It is an amazing story though, just google her and I hope they caught the evil perpetrators.

  • poppy

    this doesnt help me with my homework it just made me cry when i cn the children

  • Jen S.

    Today a Yemen plane crashed and there is a 4 year old lone survivor. I couldn’t help but think of Cecelia Cichan. I live in Metro Detroit and remember her miraculous story of survival. I was happy to read that Cecelia is doing so well and may God continue to bless her.

  • greekguy9999

    Riveting stories!!! All of them. So fascinating.

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  • reyna

    On #1 Juliane Köpcke, why do you say it is a 2 survival stories? you didn’t explain this.

  • astraya

    Re the Yemenia plane crash, there is an article on the Sydney Morning Herald website today that explores the concept of sole survivors. Vesna and Cecelia are both mentioned in it:

  • Shay4sox

    Readers of articles like this may choose to bear in mind the X Files episode, Season 7, about one Henry Weems, who was the sole survivor of a Christmas time plane crash in Lake Michigan, like Cecelia in the above list. This crash changed Henry Weems’ life rather! There is a built in “joke” about this episode which, no doubt, will become public knowledge in due course! My brother’s name in Maurice.

  • Mike

    Ustashe did not bomb JAT Flight 367. Czechoslovak investigators and independent international investigation never found any evidence to substantiate that claims.
    It was a fabrication of a communist government who took that opportunity to blame them.

  • marcushat

    very touch articles. THANK YOU!

  • marcushat

    Very Touching Articles. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!

  • GTT

    Blogball: another fascinating list I had missed the first time around… i think what I´ll do now is just search for your lists and read them all. Incredible.

    I was (unfortunately) not too shocked to read about the people who steal from bodies. My brother-in-law once had a horrible car accident. Fortunately, nothing happened to him save some cuts and bruises but the car was totalled and to an outsider it may have seemed that no one could have survived. He says that some men actually came up to the crash site to steal (probably looking for wallets and things) and when they saw him alive they scampered. Sick bastards.

    I had also heard the story of Juliane Köpcke (me being from Peru and all). Incredible survival story. I think I would probably have curled up into a ball and died waiting to be rescued.

    @Bluegrass Victim (105): I am so sorry to hear you lost your husband. My thoughts are with you…

  • Aleksandra

    vesna vulovic. thats really amazing.
    but being from ex jugoslavia shes not a “hero”. or “personality”… XP
    but god. amazing luck these peopel have.

  • Bazza

    “at an elevation of 700 meters ”

    Those would be metres.
    Meters are used to measure things, such as electricity.

  • MamaBear2Cubs

    Wow #6(Erika)was such a sad example of the decline of humanity, what does it say about that region and what they are going through?
    #4(Mohammed)and #2(Ceclia)brought tears to my eyes. I have a 3 year old and they really are so tiny. Children have an advantage though, they are small and their bones aren’t fully grown so they aren’t as brittle also generally people will die in place of a child or die saving a child. I wonder what the youngest age of a plane crash survivor is?

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  • KiloOscarGolf

    As the sole survivor of a plane crash in 1972 I find this list fascinating. We crashed on takeoff, 200 feet up and then straight back down. A very brave man rescued me, Ed van Tongeren. So – thanks Ed, I’ve had 37 good years I would have certainly missed out on. I still have your hand prints as burn scars where you grabbed me seconds before it all up in a fireball. And a thought for Bakari who died…

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  • ela

    I'm pleased to read this top, but I would be interested to know more details about how/why they escaped, where were they sitting and how come most of them are babies or teenagers…I have been doing research on survivors, ever since the last year's accident off Brazil's coast, and I knew some of these cases (Martin and Cecelia)… And yes, I got my mind set to survive any plane crash I might be involved in.
    Today a plane crashed in Mangalore, India and every noise from the planes in the sky gets me nervous…May the Almighty have mercy on their souls.

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  • Mark Farrar

    I am a survivor. I was involved in a plane crash in the hills outside of San Diego on April 4th, 1988 while flying solo. The plane went down after a piston rod seized and everything went quiet. I came across this collection of articles while trying to find stories of other survivors. I am currently documenting my experience.

  • Sanad

    There is another miracle Dutch child survivor was on the Afriqia Airlines this year in Libya. Check it out:

  • DanW

    I'm somewhat surprised the list doesn't include Bruce Mallibert, who survived a collision between a P-3C Orion and a a Convair 990 at California's Moffett Field in 1973. He may well be the only survivor of a midair collision in history.

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  • Pavel K.

    Crash Site: Hinterhermsdorf , East Germany ?!?!

    Matter of fact: Srbska Kamenice, Czechoslovakia … !!

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  • cbilodeau

    Cecelia Cichan would be raised by her aunt and uncle, Rita and Frank Lumpkin. Cichan had reportedly never spoken publicly about the event but would write messages to others who lost loved ones in the crash. Five years ago on the anniversary of the crash, she reportedly wrote the following:

    “Hi everyone. I just wanted to give a quick update. I am doing great. I know the anniversary is coming up soon, and that is a sad time for us all. My thoughts and prayers are with all of you … families and friends of the passengers of flight 255 … even those of you who are concerned but have no direct connection to the crash. Thanks to everyone who keeps me in their prayers as well! God Bless!”

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  • Kate

    What about those who survived JAL 123? Well, I guess since there were 4 survivors there was no “sole” survivor but definitely worth a mention! It was sooo crazy!!!

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  • Cheyne

    WOW amazing stories of survival but i have always wondered as i travel alot around the world wih work. Is it possible to design a parechute or 2 to be attached to the plane in order for the impact to not be so servere but a softer landing making survival alot higher. Well that is my thought as i would hate to go through that.


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