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10 Extraordinary People Who Survived When They Should Have Died

by Andrew Gestalt
fact checked by Rachel Jones

Life has a funny way of throwing us unexpected curveballs. Yet, it’s amazing to see the resilience of the human spirit when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. This list of ten extraordinary individuals is a testament to the will to survive. These are the stories of people who faced death head-on and somehow managed to come out on the other side.

Related: Top 10 Tips From History On How You Can Survive A Depression

10 Vesna Vulovic: The Miraculous Survivor

Falling 33,000 Feet and SURVIVING – Guinness World Records

Imagine plunging from a staggering height of 33,333 feet (10,160 meters), a descent that should have been a one-way ticket to tragedy. Now, imagine not only living to recount the experience but also earning a spot in the Guinness World Records. Meet Vesna Vulovic, a Yugoslav flight attendant who defied the odds in a way that still seems beyond belief.

The year was 1972 when the unthinkable happened. Vulovic was on board JAT Flight 367, a seemingly routine flight until it wasn’t. High above Czechoslovakia, disaster struck, and the aircraft shattered at 33,000 feet. Vulovic, against all expectations, survived the calamity. She was the lone survivor of the catastrophe.

In the wake of the incident, Vulovic faced the daunting aftermath, enduring severe injuries, including a fractured skull and broken legs. Her incredible survival story is an awe-inspiring reminder of life’s unpredictability and the indomitable human spirit.

9 Jose Salvador Alvarenga: Lost at Sea for over a Year

Man survives adrift at sea for more than a year!

Being stranded on a deserted island is the stuff of adventure novels and Hollywood movies. Still, for Jose Salvador Alvarenga, a fisherman from El Salvador, it was a harrowing reality. In 2012, Alvarenga and his fellow fishermen embarked on what should have been a routine fishing trip. Little did they know that the whims of nature had other plans for them.

Caught in a powerful storm, their small fishing boat was tossed like a mere toy. Before they knew it, they were adrift in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Most people would have given up hope in such a dire situation, but Alvarenga was made of sterner stuff.

For an astonishing 438 days, Alvarenga clung to life on the open sea, surviving on a diet that consisted of the most basic of provisions: raw fish, turtles, and birds. His ordeal was a testament to the indomitable human spirit, the remarkable ability to endure unimaginable hardships, and the unrelenting will to survive, even when all seemed lost.

8 Roy C. Sullivan: Lightning Strikes Twice

The Curious Case of “The Spark Ranger”

Roy Sullivan, often referred to as the “Human Lightning Rod,” was a remarkable individual who achieved worldwide recognition for his extraordinary encounters with lightning. Born on February 7, 1912, in Virginia, USA, Sullivan began his career as a park ranger in the Shenandoah National Park in 1936. However, it was his inexplicable series of lightning strikes that would define his life. Throughout his lifetime, Sullivan was struck by lightning an astounding seven times, earning him a place in the Guinness World Records as the person with the most recorded lightning strikes.

Sullivan’s remarkable story of survival and resilience made him a living legend. Despite the immense odds against being struck by lightning even once, he managed to endure multiple encounters with this deadly force of nature. His experiences not only left him with physical scars but also inspired awe and fascination in those who heard his story. Sullivan’s life serves as a testament to the unpredictable and awe-inspiring power of nature, as well as the incredible resilience of the human spirit in the face of extraordinary adversity. He passed away in 1983, but his legacy lives on as a symbol of one man’s incredible journey through a series of unlikely and harrowing events.

7 Michelina Lewandowska: From Buried Alive to Survival

Used Her Engagement Ring To Switch Places With Him | Michelina Lewandowska & Marcin Kasprzak

Imagine the sheer terror of being buried alive in a wooden box, left for dead. That nightmare became a horrifying reality for Michelina Lewandowska, a Polish woman whose astonishing tale of survival unfolded in 2011. Her ex-partner kidnapped her, callously bound her with tape, and then buried her in a shallow grave hidden deep within a remote forest.

In what can only be described as an instinct of survival, Michelina clawed her way out of the makeshift grave that should have been her final resting place. Her story is more than just a chilling account of survival. It’s a stark reminder of the extraordinary strength that can emerge when faced with extreme and life-threatening circumstances.

6 Juliane Koepcke: Sole Survivor of a Plane Crash

How Juliane Koepcke Survived A Plane Crash And 11 Days Alone In The Amazon

When a plane goes down in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, the odds of making it out alive are about as slim as finding a unicorn in Times Square. But 17-year-old Juliane Koepcke wasn’t one to play by the rules of probability. In 1971, she found herself in a plane crash on her way to visit her father in Peru. The crash took the lives of everyone on board, including her mother. It’s the kind of situation nightmares are made of.

Koepcke didn’t walk away unscathed. She came out of that wreckage with a broken collarbone and some pretty deep gashes. But here’s the jaw-dropping part—she didn’t just curl up and give in to the harsh reality of the jungle. She fought, and she persevered. For a mind-boggling eleven days, she navigated the dense, unforgiving wilderness, surviving on sheer determination before she was rescued.

5 Harrison Okene: Trapped under the Sea

Harrison Okene: Moment divers find man alive in sunken ship off Nigerian coast

For Harrison Okene, a Nigerian cook, the nightmare of being trapped in a sinking ship below the ocean’s surface became a horrifying reality in 2013. The tugboat he was working on capsized, leaving him stranded in a dire situation. Imagine being 100 feet (30.5 meters) underwater, surrounded by the crushing pressure of the sea, with only an air pocket as your fragile lifeline.

What’s more, Okene’s ordeal lasted a staggering three days. That’s three days in the pitch-black, icy water, with the haunting presence of his lifeless crewmates. It’s a situation that would send shivers down anyone’s spine.

But as fate would have it, Harrison was about to experience one of the most incredible rescues in maritime history. A team of divers stumbled upon him, and against all odds, he was brought to the surface.

4 Aron Ralston: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Trapped: Aron Ralston

Aron Ralston’s incredible tale, later made famous by the movie 127 Hours, is mind-blowing. This gripping survival story, which unfolded in the rugged canyons of Utah in 2003, transcends cinematic drama.

While Ralston was hiking in the enchanting yet perilous Blue John Canyon, fate took a cruel turn. A massive boulder came crashing down, mercilessly pinning his arm. Trapped and isolated in the unforgiving wilderness, he faced an unthinkable dilemma. No rescue teams were on the horizon, and his supplies dwindled.

With unparalleled courage and determination bordering on the supernatural, Ralston made a life-altering choice. He chose to amputate his own arm, a decision that most of us can hardly fathom. The sheer grit and willpower required for such an act are beyond words.

Aron Ralston’s harrowing journey is a testament to the strength of the human spirit when pushed to its limits. It’s a stark reminder that when our survival instincts kick in, people can endure unimaginable trials.

3 Ewa Wisnierska: Flung into the Sky by a Tornado

Ewa Wisnierska Documentary (Full Movie)

Paragliding—a sport known for its breathtaking aerial escapades and serene glides over picturesque landscapes. However, for Ewa Wisnierska, this adventure turned into a harrowing life-or-death ordeal. In 2007, she found herself in the heart of the Paragliding World Championship in Australia. Here, thrill-seekers chased their dreams in the open skies. Little did she know that the tranquil atmosphere would soon transform into a battleground with nature.

A colossal thunderstorm, an unpredictable force, swept across the sky, seizing Wisnierska and her paraglider in its vicious grasp. The monstrous storm lifted her to an astounding altitude of 32,000 feet (9,753 meters). (A height humans weren’t meant to survive.) Here, she confronted unrelenting challenges: bone-chilling temperatures, oxygen deprivation, and the relentless fury of the storm.

Wisnierska’s survival defies logic. Her story is a testament to the human spirit’s capacity to withstand even the most extreme conditions.

2 Dr. Leonid Rogozov: Self-Surgery in Antarctica

The Soviet Explorer and self-surgery on Antarctica | Leonid Rogozov

Antarctica, with its reputation for extreme cold and isolation, is the last place you’d want to experience a medical emergency. However, that’s exactly where Dr. Leonid Rogozov found himself in 1961. He was the sole physician on a Soviet Antarctic expedition when he developed acute appendicitis, a potentially life-threatening condition. The nearest help was thousands of miles away, and time was not on his side.

In a jaw-dropping display of determination and medical prowess, Dr. Rogozov embarked on a life-or-death mission—to perform surgery on himself. With only rudimentary medical supplies and the assistance of a driver who held a mirror, he began the daring operation. Imagine the immense physical and mental strength required to cut into your abdomen and locate and remove an inflamed appendix. All while battling excruciating pain and knowing that one wrong move could seal your fate.

Dr. Rogozov’s remarkable story exemplifies human ingenuity, unwavering courage, and the will to survive when no other options exist.

1 Ricky Megee: Stranded in the Outback

Wrong Turn: The HARROWING Ordeal of Ricky Megee

Ricky Megee’s survival story reads like something straight out of a Hollywood thriller. Stranded in the unforgiving Australian Outback in 2006, he endured a harrowing ordeal that defied the odds and left us all scratching our heads.

Megee’s incredible journey began when he went on a road trip, only to get stranded in the middle of nowhere. His car ran out of fuel, leaving him alone and vulnerable in the scorching heat of the Outback. With no phone signal and limited supplies, his situation seemed dire.

But Megee’s determination to survive was nothing short of extraordinary. He resorted to extreme measures, like drinking his own urine and scavenging for meager food sources, including roadkill. As days turned into weeks, he faced dehydration, exhaustion, and the constant threat of deadly wildlife.

Miraculously, after 71 days in this desolate landscape, a passing motorist spotted him and came to his rescue. Megee’s survival story shocked the world and is a testament to human resilience and the will to live against all odds.

fact checked by Rachel Jones