Considering what we’ve accomplished as a species, it’s easy for people all over the world to sometimes feel invincible. This feeling of invincibility is not warranted, and in many cases will be rewarded with death, dishonor and dismemberment. When humanity squares up against nature’s wrath, the smart bet is on nature. But despite all the creatures, boulders, weather and general awfulness that can can be visited upon humanity, some challengers break the mold. No matter what the odds against survival are in any given situation, someone somewhere could — and has — wiggled their way out. Here are fifteen people who survived nature’s wrath.
Everyone likes to hike, right? Aron Ralston liked it more than most. In 2002, he left his job to climb all of Colorado’s fourteeners (a series of mountains with peaks 14,000 ft. or more) during winter. He wasn’t afraid of much and succeeded without incident. A year later, he was out canyoneering in Utah when a boulder dislodged and crushed his forearm against the canyon wall. Ralston realized that no one knew he was out hiking and prepared to die. For five days he slowly sipped what little water he had left, eventually using his own urine to hydrate. Ralston tried to free his arm, but it was impossible. He carved his name and birthdate into the boulder for whoever found his corpse, and videotaped goodbyes to his family. And then he decided he wasn’t going out like that. Ralston twisted his arm on a chockstone, breaking the radius and ulna bones. However, he was still stuck and realized that it was time for the arm to go. Using a multi-use hiker’s tool which he described as “the extra gift that comes with a cheap flashlight”, he cut, plied and generally severed contact with his pinned arm.
That stuff was tough, but then he proceeded to repel down a 65 ft. wall with one arm, then climbed an 800 ft rock face, and walked a few miles until he was finally rescued. On his way, some family blessed him with water and two Oreos — not exactly the best sustenance. Ralston was eventually rescued by helicopter, and even went back to the boulder afterward to spread the ashes of the arm he lost under it. Soon James Franco will play him in a movie, but will be nowhere near as badass as the reality was.
They call him Tumbleweed — he proves that you don’t even have to be a grown-ass man to come upon nature’s wrath and pull a fast one. In 2008, Kyson Stowell was a month shy of his first birthday and hiding from a tornado with his 23-year-old mother Kerri Stowell. As they cowered in a bathtub, the tornado ransacked their house, throwing them both hundreds of feet in the air. Kerri was killed instantly, but Kyson was discovered alive in the wreckage by a firefighter 500 feet away from the house. He was lying face-down in the mud, and his little body was so limp that at first the fireman thought he was a doll, but somehow only suffered scratches, bruises and one collapsed lung that was soon re-inflated. His grandparents came over soon after he was discovered, and despite the loss of their daughter they have said they feel extremely blessed due to Kyson’s survival. Before her death, Tumbleweed’s mother was planning a lavish first-birthday party for her son, and her parents, Tumbleweeds new guardians were only to happy to pick up where she left off. The guest of honor? David Harmon, the firefighter that saved their grandson’s life.
Brazenly getting in the way of nature’s menacing and destructive agenda (with your moustache) is one thing, but being quietly innocent in a lean-to at a popular campground before a black bear shows up to maul the shit out of you sucks way more. Earlier this summer, Jay Vinden, a 57-year old man from B.C., Canada was attacked by a black bear while camping. “He was intent,” Vinden said. “I thought that I was a goner.” Vinden and his friend Bruce Doyle were able to fight the bear off, but not before Vinden suffered significant injuries to his back and skull. His head injuries required serious surgery, something the man probably realized when he “…heard a crunch,” letting him feel “an indentation in [the] skull.” However, Vinden definitely doesn’t get any bonus survival points for enlisting his friend in the two-on-one showdown with the bear, nor for the fact that the pair actually scared the bear away multiple times in the days prior before it got clever enough to sneak up on them when they least expected it.
When nature allows you to survive its wrath, it seems she often wants a limb as both payment and tribute to how close you came to losing life. Take Bethany Hamilton for example. In 2003 Hamilton, a very talented Hawaiian teenage surfer, was lying sideways on her surfboard with her arm dangling in the water when a fourteen foot tiger shark swam by and decided he was hungry. He bit her left arm off from the shoulder down, causing Hamilton to lose more than half her body’s blood. Not only did she survive, she thrived, returning to surfing only a month later. In 2004, ESPN presented Hamilton with the ESPY award for Best Comeback Athlete of the Year. A movie about her is in development, based on her already-successful autobiography Soul Surfer.â€¨
A 55-year-old Saskatchewan miner named Fred Desjarlais survived an attack by a wolf on New Years Eve 2004. Ironically, the attack occurred not while he was not working at his highly dangerous job as a miner, but rather when he was enjoying his much needed off-time from work. Those damn wolves have no respect. After work at Cameco’s Key Lake uranium mine and some supper, Desjarlais went for a jog. Not long into his fitness routine, Desjarlais heard an ominous growl. “I’m thinking gosh…a wolf,” said Desjarlais. He was bit repeatedly on his right arm and torso, but wrestled the wolf to the ground and held it by its windpipe as co-workers ran to his rescue. Soon after, a wolf suspected of being the same one that attacked Desjarlais was killed. That made him feel a little bit better. â€¨ â€¨
Teasing and eventually killing bulls in a fenced in area isn’t very natural at all. What is natural is getting the horns of that bull impaled through your throat. Earlier this year in Madrid, Julio Aparicio stumbled and lost his footing when a half-ton bull named Opiparo decided it had other plans for the 41-year-old bull fighter. The bull punctured Aparicio’s throat with one horn, stabbing him clean through his gaping mouth. It was immediately the worst piercing of all time. Aparicio was lifted off the ground and required multiple surgeries including a tracheotomy, as well as reconstructive surgery on his jaw and tongue, which had been destroyed by Opiparo’s offensive horn thrust. The most recent reports on his condition list him as being in grave condition, although after an infection that has complicated his already horrible injuries, he is now breathing normally.
Roy Sullivan, a Shenandoah National Park Ranger, was hit seven times throughout his life by lightning and survived them all. He was struck first in 1942 while hiding from a thunderstorm in a fire lookout tower, and sustained minimal injuries. The next time he was hit was in 1969 while driving his truck on a mountain road. It knocked him unconscious, but his car stopped on its own before a cliff ledge. That’s just ridiculous. A year later, he was struck on his front yard while merely trying to have a short walk outside without being hit by lightning. The fourth time Sullivan was hit by lightning, he was working at Shenandoah National Park and his hair was set on fire. He had to put it out with a wet towel, and decided then that there was someone or something out to get him. Four times is four too many to be struck by lightning. A year after the fourth strike, in 1973, Sullivan saw a cloud that looked pretty evil, so he took off in his truck. It followed him. When he got out, he was struck again. This time his hair was set on fire again, as well as his left side. Sullivan always kept water with him for these occasions, and he used it to put himself out. No biggie. Three years later in 1976 Sullivan thought he was on a roll, but instead his ankle was struck by lightning for a change of pace. And finally, while fishing in 1977, Sullivan was struck a final time. He was hit on the head once again in what had gone from a terrifying experience to just a generally unpleasant one. In 1983, at 71, he died of a self-inflicted gun shot wound to the stomach, not because he was sick of getting bitch-slapped by nature, but rather over an even greater tragedy: an unrequited love.
Marathons are pretty rough, but running them on sand is just masochistic. Apparently, to some people, a marathon is 6 days and 233 km (144 miles)… but across excruciating sand. In 1994, Mauro Prosperi, a Sicilian police officer and marathon runner, entered the Marathon des Sables (Marathon of the Sands). On day three, he was steered off course towards Algeria. He kept running in that direction, surviving on his own urine as well as animals that he would catch and eat raw such as bats, snakes and lizards. Over the proceeding days he spotted both an helicopter and a military aircraft, but unfortunately for Mauro, neither managed to spot him, despite the fact that he had spelled out SOS in the sand with his belongings. When he was found by a nomadic family on day nine he was 186 miles off-route, had lost 30 pounds and was on the verge of liver failure. “I love the desert,” Prosperi revealed. “I am a competitor.”
Sometimes, in the olden days, nature was used to put people in a serious time out. In 1704, Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish troublemaker, was kicked off of an expedition ship and left on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific Ocean. All he was given was a musket, gunpowder, carpenter’s tools, a knife, a Bible and some clothing. By 1704 standards, that’s a wealth of stuff. When his clothing eventually wore out, he just made some more from the skins of wild goats, which he was also hunting and eating with a knife he made out of a barrel. Selkirk loved goats. Selkirk was there for four years and four months in solitude. During this time he hid from Spanish ships for fear of being captured, but discovered an English boat in 1709 and was rescued.
Bull hippos are one of nature’s greatest weapons. Paul Templer, a British Army veteran who was raised in Zimbabwe, decided to begin a career as a river guide. A bull hippo overturned a canoe on one of his tour trips and Templer dived in to rescue. Instead, he simply drew the ire of the hippo. His head was swallowed for a while, his arms were bitten, his foot was ripped, his ribs were broken and holes were torn in his back and chest. The hippo was extremely thorough and fair about its distribution of damage. After a seven hour operation including having his arm amputated, Templer began recovery. He still leads river tours, as well as acting as a spokesman and fundraiser for the children’s charity “Make-a-Difference.”
Sometimes getting trapped by nature makes a great commercial. During the 2010 winter in Colorado, a 31-year-old Indiana man named Jason Sede was trapped by deep snow in his SUV for three days. His survival tactic? Mountain Dew and snow. Sede kept hydrated with the Dew, eventually switching to melted snow when he ran out of the Dew’s delicious lemon-limeness. He had gotten trapped after attempting to follow a shortcut that was actually not a shortcut, AKA the beginning to every bad horror movie ever. Eventually he realized he needed to get help, so he walked 7 miles until he found another road, where he was then rescued. Was that so hard?
Occasionally, a person is just living their technology-centered life, minding their own business when all of a sudden some nature takes over. Thomas Wopat-Moreau, a 22-year-old college graduate was driving home near Albany during the summer of 2010 when he swerved to avoid hitting a deer and consequently smashed through a guard rail, careening 500 feet from the highway and into the swamp. Of all of nature’s domains, the swamp is perhaps the closest to purgatory (Artex, don’t give in!). No one wants to go there. In Wopat-Moreau’s case (and often), the victim is completely dependent on someone going in there to perform a rescue operation. Wopat-Moreau spent four days in the swamp without food or fresh water, drinking from the swamp. When he was found he had no use of his lower extremities and was covered from head-to-toe in bug bites. But he survived. Barely.
Even the elderly can get mixed up on nature’s bad side and wind up swimming under a car. A 74-year-old East Texas woman named Hertha Whatley was camping with her family friends in Arkansas’ Albert Park Recreation Area, as she did every year. Outside of her camper, flood water began to accumulate. She looked out to see it about ankle height, and by the time she was out the door it was up to her waist. Her grandchildren were scared to death, but she told them that they should remain calm and head to higher ground. Soon after, Whatley was sucked underneath a floating car. This was especially a problem because she didn’t know how to swim. Fortunately, her son swam under the car and dragged her out. She and her family linked arms and doggedly shuffled up a hill to higher ground. In the process, Whatley tore several ligaments in her legs — a small price to pay for survival.
Stanley N. Williams
Volcanoes! Those are pretty dangerous. Stanley N. Williams, a 40-year-old volcanologist learned this the hard way. In 1993 he and six other colleagues were studying the Galeras volcano in the Colombian Andes. They were trying to discover better ways to predict when volcanoes will blow up when a crater they were examining erupted. Obviously, they weren’t making too much headway in their investigation. Williams’ six colleagues were killed instantly. Williams was on the other side of the crater, away from the eruption. “I turned and ran as fast as I could,” said Williams. “I didn’t make it very far, only about 20 meters below the rim.” He was battered and bruised, but survived.
Very, very occasionally, technology trumps natural disaster. Take, for example, Dan Woolley. When the earthquake struck Port-au-Prince earlier this year Woolley was staying at the Hotel Montana, which collapsed. He was trapped in the building’s rubble and sustained serious injuries to his foot and head. Immediately, as any American would do in such circumstances, he pulled out his iPhone; there was an app for that. He used a medical application he had downloaded to diagnose his injuries, and from that information he was able to prevent himself from going into shock. He wasn’t nearly done. Woolley then used the light from the phone, as well as its camera to map his surroundings and figure out the safest place to await rescue. Sixty-five hours later that rescue appeared, and Woolley was whisked to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, where he made a full recovery. It seems that the iPhone saved his life, but this whole scenario begs the question: why couldn’t he just phone for help? Maybe it was an iPhone 4…â€¨ â€¨ â€¨