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Most Amazing Stories Of Survival In The World - Photo KnowInsiders

The rugged wilderness settings and crazy plot twists can captivate our attention for hours, even though there’s something gnawing at the edge of our thoughts the whole time. It’s disbelief, and it rises from the fact that deep down – we know it’s a made-up story. No matter how much our disbelief is suspended by a great storyline, we know the tale never happened and it probably never would have happened. But these fanciful tales aren’t the only stories that authors and screenwriters can tell.

There’s another kind of story that, if well told, can keep us on the edge of our seat and leave us marveling at the tenacity of the human spirit. These are true life survival stories, told by the people who lived them – and they are packed with real hard-learned wisdom. Here are just a few of our favorites, and some of the lessons they can convey to us.

Check out top 20 most amazing survival stories around the word

1.Sailing Around the World

Photo trekbaron
Photo trekbaron

In 2010, Abby Sunderland, a 16-year-old girl, wanted to become the youngest person to sail around the world solo. On her second attempt on her 40-foot yacht, the mast snapped. She was 2000 miles from land and in the middle of the Indian Ocean. She set off two emergency signals. Her boat was still afloat but she was unable to sail it. Much of her equipment was destroyed and so was her boat. Two days later, she was rescued by two fishermen. Recently, in 2019, her yacht was discovered. Abby is now 25 years old, married with four children.

2.Alive In The Andes

The Story: Most of us are familiar with the basic facts of the story: a plane with a Uruguayan rugby team on board crashes into the Andes Mountains; many onboard are killed, and after several weeks without rescue and a few failed attempts to walk off the mountain, the survivors are forced to resort to cannibalism. Nando Parrado, the hero and author of the book, Miracle in the Andes has provided a fresh re-telling of the high altitude plane crash through the lens of the person most responsible for the rescue of the survivors. The original story was recounted in the 1974 bestseller, Alive. Although he suffered a fractured skull, was unconscious for three days after the crash, and was presumed to ultimately succumb to his injuries, Parrado was able to revive. After several weeks of recovery, he eventually devised a plan and led a team over the 17,000-foot peak that trapped the survivors on a glacier, and marched ten days to rescue.

The Takeaway: One (rather grim) lesson we can learn from this story is to use all available resources (even if they are repulsive and unthinkable outside of the situation). This story also reminds me of the importance of getting out while you can. If some of the team had been able to leave the mountain top earlier, more people might have survived. Instead, they waited for a rescue that was never going to come.

3.Hiroo Onoda

The Story: “No surrender!” That was the last order given to Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese army intelligence officer fighting near the end of World War II. Lieutenant Onoda followed his commander’s final order – for almost 30 years. Onoda did not surrender until 1974, spending almost three decades holding out in the jungles of the Philippines – under the belief that the war was still being fought. Onoda continued his campaign well after the war ended, initially living in the mountains with three fellow soldiers. As his fellow soldiers died or surrendered, Lieutenant Onoda refused to believe the letters and notes left for him that the war was over. He finally emerged from the jungle, 29 years after the end of World War II, and accepted his former commanding officer’s order. Onoda formally surrendered, wearing his hand-made, coconut fiber uniform, since his old uniform had long since rotted away.

The Takeaway: There’s something to be said for the “never say die” attitude of this dedicated officer. But let’s get serious. Three decades of your life wasted, playing hide and seek in the jungle with some very confused locals? This man’s tenacity is admirable, to a point. Once that point has come and gone, he’s simply wallowing in a quagmire of his own self-destructive stubbornness. If you can learn to tell the difference between tenacity and stubbornness, it just might save your life.

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4.The Donner Party

The Story: The Donner–Reed Party (often simply referred to as the Donner Party) was an infamous group of American pioneers who set out for California in an 1846 wagon train. Doomed by their decisions and delayed by a series of mishaps, the group was forced to spend the winter of 1846–47 snowbound in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Some of the party resorted to cannibalism to survive, eating those who had succumbed to starvation and sickness. The group became snowed in, near a pass in the high mountains in December of 1846. Their first help did not arrive until the middle of February 1847, almost four months after the wagon train became trapped. Two other rescue parties later brought food, and attempted to bring the survivors out of the mountains. Only 48 of the original 87 members of the party lived to reach California. Survivor Virginia Reed’s haunting letter to her cousin praised God for saving her life, and said “…we have all got through and the only family that did not eat human flesh. We have everything but I don’t care for that. We have got through with our lives but don’t let this letter dishearten anybody. Never take no cutoffs and hurry along as fast as you can.” May 16, 1847

The Takeaway: What a story! How about this for a respectful lesson learned, without the crude cannibal jokes? Don’t be in such a hurry that you throw caution to the wind. This group could have stayed alive and well – by waiting until spring to cross the mountains.

5.Eating the Dead to Stay Alive

Photo trekbaron
Photo trekbaron

Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa were two of 45 passengers who got on the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 on Friday the 13th in October of 1972. They were on the Uruguayan rugby team that was going to play a match in Chile. Visibility was poor on the flight and the plane crashed into a mountain peak in the Andes. The crash killed many of the passengers but the rest were stranded. They were at high altitude so it was cold and they were dehydrated.

As the days went on with no food, they had no choice but to eat the dead passengers. After 60 days, Nando and Roberto got tired of waiting for help. They started climbing down the mountain and after 10 days found help. Rescuers went to the site of the plane crash. Only 16 of the 45 passengers survived. They don’t feel guilty for resorting to cannibalism. They knew they did what they had to do.

6.A Flight to Forget

Photo trekbaron
Photo trekbaron

On January 26, 1972, Vesna Vulovic, a flight attendant, was pleased with the schedule mix up with another attendant. She had wanted to see Denmark and stay at the Sheraton Hotel and this was her chance. However, this flight wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. There was a bomb on this plane placed there by a terrorist group, Ustashe. The bomb went off over the city of Srbska-Kamenice, tearing apart the plane at 33,330 feet above the ground.

The passengers fell for three minutes. A German man found the wreckage. All the passengers were dead except for Vesna. As a medic in World War II, he did what he could to help her until help arrived. She had a broken skull, three crushed vertebrae, and two broken legs. She received medical treatment and woke up three days later, not remembering anything. She made an almost complete recovery. She holds the world record for surviving the highest fall without a parachute.

7.A Man Left Behind

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Photo trekbaron

In 1985, two climbers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates were climbing the Siula Grande Mountain. Joe had fallen and broken his leg near the summit. Simon was left with the task of getting his severely injured partner down the mountain. Simon had been lowering him 300 feet at a time when suddenly Joe started to slip. Simon felt the rope go taut and knew Joe had gone over the drop. Simon tried to hear his friend but heard nothing.

The snow he was sitting on began to give. He knew he had to get out of there or he would kill both of them. He had no choice but to cut the rope. Simon thought he had surely just killed his friend and went to go back to the campsite. However, Joe had landed on a ledge and was able to crawl to safety. Three days later, Joe arrived at the camp. He was dehydrated and starving. Joe had lost 42 pounds in three days. Simon nursed him back to health.

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8.The Lost Fishermen

The Story: Five men left a Mexican fishing village on Oct. 28, 2005, expecting to go on a several day long shark fishing expedition. Their ill-fated voyage hit its first snag when they lost their heavy shark-fishing tackle. Then, the boat ran out of fuel trying to find the needed tackle. After shore winds pushed them further out, the current caught them, and held them in its grasp for nearly 5,000 miles into the deep ocean. During this ordeal, the boat’s owner, a man known as Juan David, and another fisherman, called “El Farsero,” died of starvation and were buried at sea. A Taiwanese fishing trawler spotted the boat and rescued the fishermen on August 9, 2006 near the Marshall Islands. Unimaginably, they had survived nine months and nine days lost at sea, making their struggle one of longest episodes on record for survival at sea. In the face of a slow death by starvation, the three survivors turned to their trade, fishing, to sustain them, along with the catching and eating of raw seabirds. The small group had some knives and other equipment aboard. And they fashioned hooks from engine parts and lines from cables to make up for the tackle they lacked. Salvador Ordóñez was perhaps the best prepared man onboard, as he brought his Bible, and had taken a course on surviving at sea a year prior to the incident. Ordóñez was given the nickname “the cat”, for his uncanny stealth at stalking seabirds, which would land on the boat at in the evening.

Over the 9 month voyage, Salvador Ordóñez, Jesús Vidaña and Lucio Rendón spent their time fishing and praying. They also learned to live off raw fish and birds, and drink fish blood when rain was scarce. They weathered fierce fall storms, and prevented dehydration by drinking the rain. For entertainment, they sang ballads, danced as best they could on the small boat, pretended to play guitar, and read aloud from the Bible. Their most perilous times came in December and January, when several large storms hit and they were unable to fish, and in legitimate fear of sinking. Their longest stretch without food was 13 days with only one seabird to share among them.

The Takeaway: Upon their rescue, their hometowns and family greeted them as folk heroes, and their religious leaders hailed this story as proof of the power of faith. However you view this tale, it is a story of amazing seamanship and survival against the odds. But since this entire ordeal was preventable, I’d say this story is also a good reminder to bring some extra fuel when you’re out on the water.

9.438 Days Lost At Sea

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Photo trekbaron

In January of 2014, Jose Salvador Alvarenga was discovered by coconut farmers on the shore of Ebon Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Jose, a fisherman, said he had been drifting in the Pacific Ocean for 13 months. He had been with his fishing partner, Ezequiel Cordoba, who had died six days into the unexpected trip. He had only planned on being on the water for 30 hours so he had limited supplies.

He had a 7-meter boat that had been blown off course during a five-day storm. Jose’s equipment was damaged as a result. He survived by eating birds, turtles, and fish and drinking his own urine and rainwater.

10.Stuck in a Volcano

In 1992, Michael Benson was shooting aerial footage for a movie in Hawaii with his colleague, Chris Duddy. Their helicopter wrecked over Kilauea, an active volcano. The pilot, Craig Hosking, fell inside the volcano crater, just missing the lava.

Hosking and Duddy were able to get to safety just the next day. However, rescuers couldn’t find Benson through the noxious clouds of fumes. Benson was stuck inside the crater listening to the lava below. Two sleepless days passed and he was finally able to reach the rescue net that was dropped down.

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11.The Runaway Missing For Too Long

In December of 2012, Matthew Allen decided to run away from home. Like a typical teenager, he didn’t like the restrictions put on him by his parents. Unfortunately, he didn’t pick the best time to be rebellious. No one could find him.

The 18-year-old boy was missing for nine weeks. He was discovered by hikers in the Australian Outback. He was unable to stand and was extremely disoriented. He had lost half his body weight and was living off creek water. He decided to run away during a record-breaking heatwave. He was lucky to have lived so long.

12.Across Antarctica On Foot

Right before the beginning of the First World War, Sir Ernest Shackleton went out with a crew to try to get across Antarctica on foot. However, before they got there, their ship got stuck on ice in the Weddell Sea. There were 27 people on board with no way of communicating for help. They were stuck there for almost two years. The ice slowly began to destroy the ship and the crew had to go out onto the frozen sea.

They worked their way on built sledges and got to Elephant Island, a deserted spot of land. Most people had assumed the crew had all been killed by this point. They knew rescue probably wasn’t going to happen. Sir Ernest Shackleton made the decision to take a lifeboat across the sea 800 miles to South Georgia Island. He landed on the opposite side of the island and had to work his way over the mountains to get to the whaling station there. He survived and got help for the rest of his crew.


If you have your own kayak, there are countless opportunities to get out in the water on the island. Go out into the saltwater from one of the beaches or check out one of the many lakes on Whidbey Island.

If you do not have your own kayak, there are a variety of companies on the island that will rent them and many will even do guided tours. This is a fun way to further understand the lay of the land and learn more about local wildlife.

14.Island County Historical Society Museum

Learn more about the history of Whidbey Island by stopping into this museum. Go back in time to the ice age and learned how the geography of the area was formed. Peek into the lives of early indigenous people and the first settlers who called this area home.

Watch a film, go on a guided tour, and don’t miss the Native American cultural exhibits in the downstairs area. There is also a neat gift shop that offers some great mementos from your time on Whidbey Island.

15.Whidbey Island Center for the Arts

If your journey takes you to Whidbey Island in September, check to see if DjangoFest Northwest will be going on. This music festival that celebrates gypsy jazz starts in the center for the arts but also spills out into the streets and cafés in Langley. It is an epic week to be in Langley. In addition to this festival, this theater presents many concerts and theater performances throughout the year. Stop in for a show if you are visiting. The ticket prices are reasonable and the ambiance of the venue is very quaint.

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16.Shackleton’s Arctic Expedition

The Story: Just prior to the start of World War I, Sir Ernest Shackleton set out with his crew in an attempt to cross Antarctica on foot. But before the expedition was even able to reach the continent, their ship (the Endurance) became stuck in an early ice floe in the Weddell Sea. The crew of 27 had no means of communication or hope of outside help, and was to remain isolated for the next 22 months. The men lived within the bowels of the ship for almost a year before the ice destroyed it, forcing the expedition to move out onto the frozen sea. Several months later, the expedition built sledges and moved to Elephant Island, a rocky deserted spot of land just beyond the Antarctic Peninsula. At this point, no one knew what happened to the expedition, or where they were. Most people assumed they had been killed. Knowing that a rescue wasn’t going to happen, Shackleton made the decision to take one of the open lifeboats and cross the 800 miles of frigid sea to South Georgia Island where a small whaling station was located. Incredibly, he landed on the wrong side of the island and was forced to trek over the frozen mountains to reach the station. The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition is a compelling book about Sir Ernest Shackleton’s failed attempt to cross Antarctica.

The Takeaway: Endurance indeed! These guys win the award for longest sub-freezing survival scenario. Shackleton’s leadership skills must have been superhuman, to keep his men alive and organize self-rescue – after nearly two years in a very frosty version of hell. Leadership can be a key survival skill, in both small and large groups.

17.Lost in the taiga book cover

The Story: In 1936, a Russian family of four fled into the Siberian wilderness to escape religious persecution. Taking a few homesteading possessions and some seeds, Karp Lykov, his wife, Akulina, their 9-year-old son, and their 2-year-old daughter retreated into the forests. They built a succession of primitive huts as they traveled, until reaching a habitable spot near the Mongolian border. The couple had no contact with the outside world, and became completely self-sufficient. They had two more children, born in the wilderness, who had never seen a person outside their family until a geology team found their home in 1978. For sustenance, the family of six spent their days hunting, trapping, and farming by saving seeds each year to replant next season. The Lykovs had brought a crude spinning wheel and they grew hemp to produce the fiber for their clothing. Their staple food item was potato patties mixed with hemp seeds and ground rye. They lived this way, deep in the forests, for nearly five decades. The Lykov family survived in no small part due to their devotion to God and to each other. They also grew as much food as the land allowed and rationed it carefully. Each winter, the family would creep close to starvation, but they still held a council meeting to determine whether they should save their seeds to replant, or eat them all. Each year, the family saved their seed stock for the next season—even though one winter, it cost the mother her life.

The Takeaway: Teamwork and devotion are two central pillars in this story. Their devotion to each other and their religious views fueled them for decades in the wilderness. Their teamwork as a family allowed them to survive. Remarkably, the story hasn’t come to a close just yet. Even though she is an elderly woman now, the youngest child of the Lykov family still lives at their remote Siberian homestead today.

18.A Beam of Good Luck

In 1978, Anatoli Bugorski, a researcher working at the Institute for High Energy Physics, was looking at a piece of equipment that was malfunctioning. It was a fairly routine procedure that ended horribly. A proton beam struck his head. The beam went through the back of his head and came out his nose. He states he felt no pain, only saw a very bright light.

His face swelled up and he was rushed to the hospital. No one expected him to survive. Surprisingly, he lived. He wasn’t left unharmed though. He has hearing loss in his left ear and a paralyzed face just on the left side. Anatoli also suffers from occasional seizures. These are fairly minor considering he should have died from the accident.

19.Not Just Another Day On the Job

In Cleburne, Texas, switchman Truman Duncan, a father of three, came to work expecting just another day of refurbishing and fixing trains. There was nothing unusual about the day at first when tragedy struck. It was June in 2006 when a slight mistake almost took Truman’s life. He fell and landed between moving railroad freight cars. He got up and the car hit him and trapped him under the wheels.

The wheels not only cut off his legs but sliced through the pelvis bone. Miraculously, Truman stayed conscious and he took his phone from his belt. He called 911 and waited for help to get there. It isn’t known how he survived. It is possible the weight of the car prevented him from bleeding out. Truman lost his legs, pelvis, and a kidney.

20.Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Aron Ralston went hiking in Utah’s Bluejohn Canyon in late April of 2003. While working his way through a narrow sandstone slot, an 800-pound bounder dislodged and pinned Aron’s arm. He was pinned by the boulder for five days. He was now out of all the food and water he had brought with him. Aron knew he had to get out of there soon. Seeing no other option, he cut off his own arm with a multitool. He lost a fourth of his blood in the process. He then hiked out of the canyon, climbed down a 65-foot cliff, and hiked six miles until he ran into a family. They gave him food and water until help arrived. He survived the ordeal and went on to live a full life missing half an arm.

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