Most men and women will never experience a situation of true survival, where one's life hangs on the outcome of choices made in dire situations. Those who have experienced a survival situation will tell you that the goal of survival is simple enough - don't die. But ‘simple’ rarely translates into ‘easy’. Yet, considering everything the human race has survived thus far, humanity ranks amongst history’s best survivors.
While there are countless tales of incredible survivor stories, here are five of history's greatest tales of survival.
Let’s start with two survivors who at least got a movie out of the ordeal.
The application to become an American Frontiersman didn't actually say, “must be certified bad*ss”, but it was kind of implied. Hugh Glass answered an advertisement to join the fur trading expedition of General William Henry Ashley as it made its way down the Missouri River in 1822. In 1823, the expedition was attacked by the Akira Native American Tribe. In the ensuing battle, Glass was shot in the leg, and the expedition was forced to change its route and move overland toward the Yellowstone River.
In what is today Perkins County South Dakota, while hunting for small game for the expedition, and suffering from the bullet wound to his leg, Glass stumbled upon and surprised a grizzly bear and her cubs. The bear proceeded to maul Glass to within an inch of his life, a scene depicted by Leonardo DeCaprio in “The Revenant.” Glass managed to kill the grizzly with his gun, knife and bare hands (pun intended…) But not before it mangled his voice box beyond repair, opened massive wounds on his back and literally bit off a piece of his eh… rump and tossed it to her cubs.
Glass was found clinging to life only a few feet from the body of the bear. The expedition, outnumbered and on the run from the pursuing war band of Native Americans, determined that Glass was already doomed. Although two men were designated to stay with Glass until he expired, he was abandoned and left for dead in the freezing, hostile South Dakota wilderness. But Glass, aforementioned bad*ss and grizzly bear slayer, refused to die. Mauled, defenseless and freezing, Glass set his own broken leg, used the bear’s own hide for warmth and applied maggots to his incredible wounds to eat the rotting flesh. He laid near the banks of the Grand River for five days, then crawled more than two hundred miles to safety, even going so far as to scare wolves away from a kill and eat it for himself.
Glass eventually made it to the safety of Fort Kiowa, where tales of his survival turned him into an American folk legend.
Not many people can say their will to survive overcame their will to keep an arm… However, Aron Ralston is one of those people. Portrayed by James Franco in the movie “127 Hours”, Aron Ralston was an experienced hiker and mountain biker who, on a whim and without alerting anyone to his plans, left for a hike through Bluejohn Canyon in Canyonlands National Park in Southeastern Utah. While descending into a “slot canyon”, Aron crawled over a boulder suspended on the ledge of the canyon. His weight dislodged the boulder, causing it and himself to fall deep into the canyon.
The boulder completely crushed his right arm, pinning it against the rock face. Aron spent the next five days rationing his water and what little food he had brought with him. After three days of struggling against the boulder and resorting to drinking his own urine, Aron was struck with a gruesome epiphany. With only a dull multitool, Aron began amputating his own arm. In the hour that followed, Aron cut the flesh and tendons in his right arm only to discover his knife was too dull to cut through the bone. Aron used his own weight and leverage to break the bones and finished the amputation.
His tale of survival was not over, however. Aron then repelled down a sixty-five foot rock face one-handed and trudged eight miles before he was finally discovered by a family on vacation.
Joe Simpson and Simon Yates
Joe Simpson and Simon Yates were avid mountaineers who decided to scale the previously unscaled West Face of the Siula Grande Mountain in the Peruvian Andes. The pair summited the mountain and were on their descent when disaster struck. Simpson broke his leg and could no longer support his own weight. With bad weather closing in and three thousand feet of descent to go, the pair constructed a rope system using two lengths of 150’ long cords tied together so Yates could support Simpson’s weight. Yates then began lowering Simpson down the mountain. What came next could only be described as the worst case scenario.
Yates, supporting Simpson’s weight and standing higher on the mountain, inadvertently dropped Simpson over a cliff. Yates tried to haul Simpson back up the cliff but the rope system failed. The knot from the rope couldn’t fit through the carabiner supporting Simpson's weight. Simpson, still hanging off the side of a cliff, attempted to support his own weight on his one good leg, but his frostbitten hands dropped his rope (and his last hope).
The pair were stuck in the worst possible way. Simpson was unable to climb up the rope and Yates was unable to pull him to safety. Neither could communicate with each other as the snow beneath Yates gave way. Yates made the unthinkable decision to cut the rope keeping Simson from falling more than one hundred and fifty feet. Simpson fell into the crevasse, hit a ledge and miraculously survived. Yates, assuming his friend had died, continued his descent down the mountain alone. Having regained consciousness after the fall, the injured Simpson fashioned a snow cave from the surrounding ice, spending three days in the crevasse with no food and little water. Simpson was eventually able to crawl more than five miles back to basecamp and safety. Their story is immortalized in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Touching the Void.”
1972 Andes Flight Disaster
On October 13, 1972, an Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 carrying forty five people crashed in the Argentine Andes. Twelve died in the crash, but for the twenty-seven people who did not, their tale of survival was just beginning. Suffering a multitude of debilitating injuries, including broken legs, the remaining survivors did what they could to melt snow into water and ration what little snack food was on the airplane. For more than two months the survivors clung to life near the wreckage, unable to find food on the barren mountain face. Even after reports from their one working radio declared that the search for them had been called off and another eight of them died in an avalanche the survivors endured.
Supplies dwindled to nothing and the survivors were forced to make a choice that would haunt them forever. Die of starvation or consume the flesh of their fallen comrades. The survivors committed the unthinkable and cannibalized their dead to survive. In December (summer in the southern hemisphere) the snow had cleared enough for the survivors to send three men to trek up the mountain and find help. Several days after their departure the remaining thirteen survivors awoke to see rescue helicopters cresting the ridge to fly them to safety. The below photo was taken at that moment.
JFK & PT 109
During World War II the American’s, just a bit angry at the Japanese for the whole Pearl Harbor thing, began harassing the Japanese Navy in the Pacific with small HEAVILY armed patrol torpedo boats called PT boats, and John F. Kennedy used to drive one. Unbeknownst to a great many Americans President John F. Kennedy used to be Lieutenant Junior Grade John F. Kennedy, commander of PT 109.
On August 2, 1943 JFK and his crew set off in PT 109 to harass the Japanese barge traffic that had been resupplying the Japanese Navy. Around 2:00 am Kennedy ordered the boat to idle on one engine to reduce their wake and to avoid being spotted by the enemy. Suddenly The Amagiri, a Japanese destroyer appeared from the moonless night and careened toward PT 109. The crew of PT 109 had less than ten seconds to react before the Amagiri, a much larger vessel, struck PT 109 broadside, cutting her in half. The resulting explosion killed two crew members, leaving ten, plus JFK, to drift amongst the wreckage of their ship.
The crew clung to what was left of their bow for hours in the shark-infested waters until it became evident that the bow would sink. JFK, a Harvard swimmer, swam to shore towing those who could not swim or were too badly burned using a rope held in his teeth. The survivors made it to the deserted Plum Pudding Island, the only one not swarming with hostile Japanese forces. The crew survived on the island for six days eating only coconuts and what little supplies could be found by JFK who repeatedly swam to the neighboring islands to scout for food. Meanwhile, news of the incident had reached the Navy who dispatched two local islanders in a canoe to find the wreckage. The islanders instead found a shouting and waving JFK who inscribed a message on a coconut for them to take back to the Navy.
COMMANDER... NATIVE KNOWS POS'IT...
HE CAN PILOT... 11 ALIVE
NEED SMALL BOAT... KENNEDY
The Navy would eventually rescue JFK and the crew of PT 109. JFK would go on to have the coconut he had inscribed with his message made into a paperweight which he kept on his desk in the Oval Office.
If you are ever in a survival situation remember Charles Darwin who said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
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