Betty Lou Oliver crashed down 79 floors in an elevator, broke her neck and back, and still survived! Such stories are hard to believe. But, there are many real-life heroes who have survived adverse hostility and situations and have been able to share their tale with the world. We bring to you 10 such stories in which people survived impossible situations and tragedies.
1. The second officer of the Titanic stayed onboard until the very last moment and got trapped underwater. Finally, a boiler explosion set him free. Years later, he volunteered in World War II and helped in the evacuation of 130 men from Dunkirk.
Charles Herbert Lightoller was the second officer aboard the Titanic. Initially, he was appointed as the first officer, but due to last minute additions to the crew, he was dropped back to the position of second officer. Prior to being on the Titanic, Lightoller had experienced the wrath of the sea in many voyages aboard ships such as the Primrose, Holt Hill, Primrose Hill, Knight Companion, etc.
On April 14, 1912, Lightoller reported for duty for the sailing of the Titanic. Everything was fine until night time when the crew realized that they had hit an iceberg. Upon receiving orders from the captain, Lightoller and the other crew members started putting people on lifeboats and lowering them onto the water. He helped lower almost 47 boats with women and children to safety. When there were no more women and children left, the first officer ordered Lightoller to get into a boat. But, he insisted on staying back.
A few moments later, the ship took a plunge forward and Lightoller had to dive into the freezing waters. He tried to swim up to the surface but was sucked deep underwater by an operating ventilation shaft. It was difficult for him to swim up under such pressure, but then one of the hot boilers exploded. The force from the blast helped Lightoller to swim up to the surface. Lightoller, along with a few crew members, held onto an overturned boat until the Carpathia arrived and saved them.
On June 1, 1940, Lightoller, who was 66 years old at that time, took his boat, the Sundowner, to Dunkirk to help the trapped army. Although his boat had never carried more than 21 persons before, this time it helped save the life of 130 men. (source)
2. Jose Salvador was out fishing when his boat was struck by a terrible storm that lasted for five days. The boat was washed away to an unknown part of the ocean, and without oars, Jose kept floating in the Pacific Ocean for 13 months before he found land.
Jose Salvador was a fisherman from El Salvador. Jose went out on a fishing voyage with his co-worker, Ezequiel, in November 2012. They planned a 30-hour deep-sea fishing session where Jose planned to capture some sharks, marlins, and sailfish. Shortly after they started the trip, their boat was blown off course by a storm. The storm was so terrible that it lasted for almost five days. Most of the functioning of the boat was hampered by the storm. Even though Jose and his mate were able to capture 500 kgs of fish, they had to throw all of that away to help the boat survive the bad weather.
With no oars, anchors, or any satellite devices, the boat started drifting aimlessly on the ocean. Jose and his partner had only a handful of supplies and food to keep themselves alive. When the food started getting scarce, they were able to catch a few fish and turtles. They collected water from rainfall whenever possible. But, most of the time, they were forced to either drink turtle blood or their own urine.
After being afloat on the ocean for four months, Jose’s partner got sick and died. After a few more months, Jose spotted a tiny piece of land. On January 30, 2014, Jose swam ashore and came into contact with human civilization after 13 months. Many people had expressed doubts regarding Jose’s story, but investigators were able to confirm many details from his account. A study conducted by Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales, confirmed that the landing point of Jose was actually possible considering the starting point and the wind and ocean currents. (source)
3. Frane Selak has cheated death seven times. He survived a plane crash, a train wreck, two engine fires, a bus hit, and a fall from a cliff. In 2003, he won $1 million in a lottery prompting journalists to name him “the world’s luckiest unluckiest man!”
It was in 1962 when Frane Selak came close to death for the first time. He was traveling by train when the train flipped, went off the track, and fell into a river. Selak was able to survive as someone pulled him out of the river. But 17 other passengers were not so lucky. The following year, Selak went on his first plane ride and the plane had a malfunctioning door. Selak was thrown out of the plane and landed on a haystack on the ground. Unfortunately for the other passengers, the plane crashed killing 19 passengers.
Two brushes with death are enough for a lifetime, but the universe had other plans for Selak. Three years after that, Selak was on a bus ride when the bus crashed into a river! Four passengers lost their lives, but Selak, once again, was able to swim to shore with only a few bruises. Fast forward to 1970—Selak was driving his car when the fuel tank blew up. He managed to escape just a few seconds before the explosion. In another incident, oil from a fuel pump caused flames to shoot out of the air vents of Selak’s car. His hair was completely burned, but he managed to survive yet again.
In 1995, Selak was hit by a bus. He managed to survive with minor injuries. Selak’s last incident was a dangerous one. He was in his car when he collided with a United Nations’ truck while driving on a mountain road. After colliding with the truck, he swerved into a nearby roadside traffic barrier and the car door flew open. As he was not wearing a seatbelt, he was thrown out of his car. But luckily, he managed to hold onto a tree and watched as his car fell down 90 feet into a gorge.
In 2003, Selak won $1,110,000 in a lottery. This was just 2 days after his 73rd birthday. It was also the time when Selak married for the fifth time. He bought a house and a boat with a part of his winnings. In 2010, he had a change of heart and gave away most of his money to his relatives and friends. (source)
4. During 9/11, 16 people were stuck in a stairwell and survived the heart-wrenching tragedy. They held onto the stairwell while buildings collapsed all around them.
We all remember 9/11 like it happened just yesterday. Many people lost their near and dear ones on that fateful day. But amidst the destruction, there were a few people who held onto a stairwell and were able to survive the tragedy. There were 16 people in total: an engineer, a book-keeper, an office temp, a police officer, and 12 firemen. The stairwell was situated in the middle of the Tower B that collapsed. Holding onto the stairwell, the people were spread out between floors 22 and one.
One of the survivors accounted that when they were hanging onto the stairwell, the walls seemed to shake and separate from the building. Initially, there were only firemen who were supposed to be in the stairwell, but they soon found four civilians hanging on for their lives in the stairwell. In just a matter of seconds, the building came crashing down. The people landed on the floors below almost buried in debris.
Most of the people had to seek therapeutic help to relieve themselves from the traumatic experience. One of the survivors said in an interview: “Sometimes I cry for no reason. From anxiety, I’ve had shortness of breath and I have to sit down and regroup. The image of the staircase is very vivid in my mind.” (source)
5. Vesna Vulović was a Serbian flight attendant when her flight exploded in mid-air. Without a parachute, Vesna fell 33,000 feet and landed on hard ground. She survived the fall and even today holds the record for surviving the highest fall.
Vesna Vulović was on JAT Flight 367 traveling from Stockholm to Belgrade. The flight was supposed to have two stops in between, Copenhagen and Zagreb. Vesna was really excited about her first visit to Denmark. The crew was supposed to have the entire afternoon and morning to themselves. So. Vesna, along with the other crew members, decided to go sight-seeing.
The journey began and the flight reached Copenhagen at 2.30 pm. Vesna said, “I saw all the passengers and crew deplane. One man seemed terribly annoyed. It was not only me that noticed him either. Other crew members saw him as did the station manager in Copenhagen. I think it was the man who put the bomb in the baggage. I think he had checked in a bag in Stockholm, got off in Copenhagen, and never re-boarded the flight.” The flight took off again at 3.15 pm and around 4.01 pm, the bomb exploded. The aircraft was torn into two pieces in mid-air.
Vesna fell 33,330 ft. Out of the 28 passengers and crew members, Vesna was the only one who landed alive. She was found by Bruno Honke, a villager, who heard her screaming and pulled her out of the wreckage. The impact caused her multiple injuries and her uniform was covered in blood. She went into a coma for many days after hospitalization and had to go for numerous treatments in the next few months. She suffered from a fractured skull, two broken legs, three broken vertebrae, broken ribs, and a fractured pelvis. The injuries left her paralyzed her from the waist down, but she was able to recover.
Vesna became a national hero in Yugoslavia. In 1985, she was awarded a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the person to survive the highest fall without a parachute. (source)
6. Aron Ralston was trekking through the Blue John Canyon when a dislodged rock crushed his right hand against the canyon wall. He tried to free his hand for five days, but when nothing worked, he amputated his own hand to free himself.
Aron Ralston was hiking alone in the Blue John Canyon in Utah. The date was April 26, 2003. While he was descending a narrow canyon, one of the boulders broke loose from above him. The boulder hit his left hand hard and then crushed his right hand against the canyon wall. No one knew that Aron was in the canyons and he had any way of calling for help.
Aron had no hope of staying alive. So, he slowly started eating the food he had and drinking the last drops of water. He survived like that for five days. He kept trying to dislodge his arm. When all his methods to free his arm did not work, he decided to try to amputate his arm. With the tools he had available, he started making cuts on his hand. Soon, he realized that he needed to cut through his bones to completely free his hand. He did not have the required tools for the purpose.
After the fifth day, he ran out of food and water and was forced to survive on his own urine. On the nearest sandstone canyon wall, he etched his name, date of birth, and the estimated time of death. He had no hopes of surviving through the night. He videotaped his last words to his parents. Amazingly, he woke up the next morning to find that his arm has started to decompose. He then had an idea that he could break his arm by applying torque against his trapped arm. It took him almost an hour to completely break his arm and free himself.
After freeing himself, he walked almost eight miles with just one hand before stumbling across another family who was hiking there. The family alerted the appropriate authorities. Aron lost 18 kgs and 25% of his blood by volume in those five days. His own family had alerted the authorities of his absence, and they had narrowed down the search to the canyon lands. The search party found him four hours after he amputated his arm.
His arm was retrieved by the park authorities. It took 13 men and heavy hydraulic equipment to move the boulder and retrieve the arm. The arm was cremated and the ashes were given to Aron. Six months later, Aron visited the site of the accident on his 28th birthday and scattered the ashes of his arm there. According to him, this is where they belong. (source)
7. Slavomir Rawicz was an army lieutenant imprisoned by the Soviet army. To escape from his jail term of 25 years, he walked 4,000 miles on foot, crossing the Gobi desert and the Himalayas, to reach India. When he was found, he just weighed 31 kgs.
Sławomir Rawicz was a lieutenant of the Polish army. He was captured by the Soviet army at the time of the German-Soviet invasion of Poland. He was arrested on November 19, 1939. First, he was taken to Minsk, and then to Kharkov for interrogation. Then he was sent to the Lubyanka prison in Moscow where he was tortured for information. When the interrogation was unsuccessful, he was sentenced to 25 years of hard labor in a prison camp in Siberia.
In 1941, he, along with six other prisoners, escaped from the camp. The party included three Polish soldiers, a Lithuanian architect, a Latvian landowner, a US metro engineer, and a 17-year-old Polish girl, Kristina, who joined them on the way. So, in total, there were eight people. They walked on foot from Siberia to India, covering almost 4,000 miles. They endured the harsh temperatures of the Gobi desert and the freezing cold of the Himalayas. Two people died in the desert and two in the Himalayas. The remaining four people trekked for almost 11 months before reaching British India in March 1942. They stumbled upon a Gurkha patrol station who took them to a hospital in Calcutta.
Ronald Downing, based on his conversations with Rawicz, wrote The Long Walk. There have been many people who were skeptic about Rawicz story. In 2006, a report was released by the BBC which pointed out that Rawicz never made the journey to India. Based on Soviet records, he was transported to Iran directly from the prison. But a British intelligence officer, Rupert Mayne, had told his son that in 1942, he had interviewed three people who claimed to have escaped from Siberia. (source)
8. Richard Norris Williams survived the Titanic tragedy, but he spent so much time in the freezing waters that both his legs were recommended to be amputated. He refused and proceeded to win his first tennis tournament a few months later and became Wimbledon doubles champion in 1920.
Richard Norris Williams was an accomplished tennis player. He planned to take part in American tennis tournaments before going on to study at Harvard University. He, along with his father, was aboard the Titanic when it capsized. Once he and his father hit the freezing waters, his father was crushed by the forward funnel of the ship as it collapsed. Richard was narrowly missed. He held onto a boat waist deep in the freezing waters for a long time before being hauled onboard. He and the other occupants of the boat were later transferred to a lifeboat.
When the Carpathia rescued them, the passengers had suffered terribly from being in the freezing water for too long. The rescue doctor recommended the amputation of both the legs in case of Richard, but he refused. He started exercising daily, and eventually, he recovered. He kept his tennis career going and got into Harvard. Despite his traumatic experience and injury, he went ahead to win the 1912 United States mixed doubles. He became the United States singles champion in both 1914 and 1916. In 1920, he also won the Wimbledon men’s doubles champion and was runner-up in 1924. He became the 1924 Olympic gold medalist.
He also served in the US Army during the World War I and was awarded the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur and Croix de Guerre. (source)
9. In 1945, an airplane crashed into the Empire State Building. The crash damaged the cables of an elevator when a woman was still inside. She fell over 70 stories and survived to hold the world record for the longest survived elevator fall.
On July 28, 1945, a tragedy befell the Empire State Building. A B-25 bomber airplane crashed into the building. The collision killed the pilot, two people on the plane, and 11 people inside the building. When the plane collided into the building, it broke into many parts. One of the parts destroyed the cables of two elevators. Both the elevators were on the 79th floor, and as soon as the cables were destroyed, they crashed to the ground.
In one of the elevators was Betty Lou Oliver, a 19-year-old elevator operator. She broke her neck, back, and her pelvis from the fall. But surprisingly, she survived! It’s hard to say whether it was Oliver’s sheer luck or the magic of physics that saved her life. The broken cables of the elevator coiled up on top of one other below the elevator and made a cushion-like structure for the falling elevator. This, to a large extent, softened the fall. (source)
10. Ewa Wiśnierska, a German paraglider, was sucked away to altitudes higher than the Mt, Everest by a storm. Despite dangerous lightning, pounding hail, below-zero temperatures, and oxygen deprivation, she survived to tell her tale.
Ewa Wiśnierska was on her regular paragliding training when a storm hit. The storm sucked her to an altitude of 9,947 meters, an altitude higher than the height of Mt. Everest. She was sucked up to almost 30,000 feet. The temperature at such heights is generally -40 degrees. Ewa passed out due to lack of oxygen. She hung floating in the air covered in ice for almost an hour, and that too, while unconscious. It was actually her blacking out that saved her life. In an interview with ABC Radio, she said: “It was because that I got unconscious because then the heart slows down all the functions — it saved my life. ”
She further added: “From the theory, I knew the chances to survive are almost zero, I knew I can only have luck, I can’t do anything — and I got it.” In an interview with The Sunday Morning Herald, she explained her experience as: “I wanted to fly around the clouds but I got sucked 20 meters per second up into it and started to spiral. After 40 minutes or an hour, I woke up and I was 6,900 meters. I was still flying, but I realized I didn’t have the brakes in my hand. I saw my hands and the gloves were frozen, and I didn’t have the brakes, and the glider was still flying on its own.”
When she was up there, she encountered hailstones that were as big as rockmelons! But during all this time, her glider kept working perfectly and she was able to land safely once she gained consciousness. (source)