The World’s Toughest Survivors

22 Nov

The List: The World’s Toughest Survivors

by brendan leonard on November 20, 2012 · 5 comments


Was traffic unbearable this morning? Boss not appreciative of your work? Did that damn barista put too much foam on your latte?Cool, maybe some of these folks will sympathize with the hard day you’ve had. Like the Chilean miners who spent 69 days underground after the mine they were working in collapsed, or the guy with the broken leg who crawled five miles back to camp after he was left for dead.

How tough are you? Probably not this tough:


Ernest Shackleton
When the going got tough: In 1914, Shackleton’s crew intended to attempt the first Trans-Antarctic Expedition, a crossing of Antarctica over the south pole. Then their ship, the Endurance, was trapped in pack ice in the Weddell Sea, stranding 28 men.
The tough: Hung out for nine months, but then the ice crushed their ship, so they took lifeboats and camped on the ice for six months eating seal meat and eventually the expedition dogs, until an ice floe suddenly split and they were forced to take the lifeboats to nearby Elephant Island, in freezing water and -20 F temps. From there, Shackleton and five men took four weeks’ worth of supplies and launched a 22.5-foot lifeboat for an 800-mile trip to South Georgia Island, where they hoped to get help at a whaling village. After 16 days of navigating based on dead reckoning, the men landed on South Georgia, but on the wrong (unpopulated) side. Shackleton and two other men crossed the then-unmapped, unexplored island in 36 hours. After several attempts over the course of three months, Shackleton eventually returned to Elephant Island to rescue the rest of his crew. All crew members survived. The first Antarctic crossing would not happen for another 40 years.



Aron Ralston

When the going got tough: In 2003, Ralston was descending Blue John Canyon, a technical slot canyon in remote southern Utah, when a chockstone shifted, smashing his right arm and trapping him.
The tough: Stood in place with his arm stuck behind the boulder for 127 straight hours, running out of food and water and eventually drinking his own urine. Cut his own arm off with a dull, cheap knockoff multitool, rappelled with one arm, and hiked many miles out of the canyon.



Joe Simpson

When the going got tough: In 1985, Simpson and Simon Yates climbed the then-unclimbed west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes and, on the descent with more than 3,000 feet to get to safety, Simpson slipped and broke his leg. Yates tied their ropes together and began to lower Simpson, which went well until he unknowingly lowered Simpson off a cliff. Hanging free from the face, Simpson tried to communicate with Yates, who couldn’t hear him in a worsening storm. Pinned in his stance and slipping, Yates eventually cut the rope between the two, dropping Simpson 150 feet into a crevasse below. Thinking his friend was dead, Yates dug a snow cave for the night, and descended and returned to camp the next day. Simpson, however, was not dead.
The tough: Unable to climb out of the crevasse, Simpson rappelled deeper into the glacier, where he was able to escape through a small ice roof. Then he spent three days crawling and butt-sliding the five miles back to camp without food and water, at times hallucinating.



Beck Weathers

When the going got tough: Weathers attempted to summit Mount Everest in 1996, part of the fateful disaster that year. He was unable to see and stopped at the South Col, waiting for guide Rob Hall to return and take him back down the mountain. But Hall was stranded higher on the mountain and never returned.
The tough: Open-bivied high on the mountain in a blizzard. His exposed hands and feet were severely frostbitten, but he was able to make his way back to Camp IV, where Anatoli Boukreev found him and alerted fellow climbers to put Weathers in a tent. Seeing the condition Weathers was in, the climbers thought he would certainly die and tried to make him comfortable in his last hours. He spent the night in the tent, unable to feed himself, drink water, or rearrange the sleeping bags he had been given to keep warm. The next day, he was found still alive, and was helped to walk to Camp II. After one of the highest-altitude helicopter rescues ever, Weathers had his right hand, all the fingers on his left hand, parts of both feet, and his nose amputated.



“Los 33” Chilean Miners

When the going got tough: In 2010, a copper and gold mine near Copiapo, Chile, caved in, trapping 33 miners 2,300 feet underground.
The tough: Waited. They made their emergency rations, intended to last two to three days, last two weeks. Seventeen days after the collapse, a drilling team started to bore holes to attempt a rescue, and when their drill bit came back up from one of the holes, they found a note attached to it, reading “”Estamos bien en el refugio, los 33″ (“We are well in the shelter, the 33″). The men organized and decided on a democratic, one-man/one-vote system, and worked together to keep morale up. After 68 days underground, rescue efforts paid off and a capsule was sent down to retrieve the first of the miners. Over the next 24 hours, all of the men were returned to the surface. All survived without long-term health effects.



The Three Mexican Fishermen

When the going got tough: In October 2005, Lucio Rendón, Salvador Ordóñez, and Jesús Vidaña and two other men set out from San Blas, a small Mexican fishing village near Puerto Vallarta, in a 28-foot shark fishing boat without a radio. They ran out of fuel and drifted out to sea. For nine months.
The tough: Drank rainwater, caught fish with engine cables, ate raw seagulls, played air guitar, sang ballads, and tossed overboard the bodies of the two other crewmembers, who they say refused to eat raw fish and starved to death. In August 2006, a Taiwanese fishing boat saw the boat on its radar and went to investigate, then pulled the men onboard.



Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa

When the going got tough: In October 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed into the Andes, killing more than one-fourth of its passengers. Twenty-nine people survived, then eight of those were swept away in an avalanche. Survivors were left with little food and no source of heat, at an altitude of 11,800 feet. WIth much trepidation, the eventually resorted to eating the flesh of some of the dead. They survived two months.
The tough: Trekked for 10 days through the Andes with little “food” and a homemade sleeping bag to find help and initiate a rescue for the remaining survivors.



Sophie the Cattle Dog

When the going got tough: Jan and Dave Griffith were in their family yacht off the coast of Queensland, Australia, when their boat was caught in a storm. Sophie Tucker, their cattle dog, fell overboard. The Griffiths turned the boat around and backtracked in the rough waters, and couldn’t find any sign of Sophie.
The tough: Swam five nautical miles through shark-infested waters to St. Bees Island, a tiny remote volcanic island ringed by reefs. Sophie, a house dog, roamed the island for four months, apparently living off baby goats until rangers saw and caught her, reuniting her with the Griffiths a few days later.



Juliane Koepcke

When the going got tough: LANSA Flight 508 left Lima on Christmas Eve, 1971, flying into a storm over the Peruvian Amazon. A lightning bolt hit one of the plane’s fuel tanks, ripping its right wing off. As the plane started to go down, 17-year-old Juliane Koepcke’s mother turned to her and said, “This is it!” Koepcke’s row of seats ripped out of the disintegrating plane at about 10,000 feet.
The tough: Regained consciousness in midair, falling headfirst toward the canopy of trees. Koepcke woke up on the floor of the rainforest with only a concussion, a broken collarbone, a gash on her leg, and a small cut on her arm. But she had lost her glasses and one sandal, and was wearing only a thin dress with a broken zipper. She started to walk, looking for a creek and following it downstream, eventually finding wreckage from the plane and some of the crash victims. All of the other 91 passengers died. After 10 days of walking through the forest, she found a small shelter with a boat, and waited there, cleaning her maggot-infested wounds with gasoline. After a few hours, lumber workers found her at the shelter and took her seven hours by canoe to a lumber station, where she was airlifted out.



Tami Oldham Ashcraft

When the going got tough: Tami Oldham Ashcraft and her boyfriend were 19 days into a 30-day crossing of the South Pacific in 1983, delivering a sailboat from Tahiti to San Diego, when they ran into a Category 4 hurricane. The boat rolled and flipped end over end. The main mast snapped, Ashcraft was knocked unconscious below deck, and when she regained consciousness, her boyfriend was gone, his safety line severed. The boat’s electronic equipment didn’t work and the boat was partially flooded.
The tough: Wanted to die. Weak from blood loss, Ashcraft sat for two days, then got out a sextant, figured out her bearings, rigged a makeshift sail, and tried to find currents to take her to Hawaii. Forty-two days of solo sailing and drifting later, she pulled into Hilo Harbor.



Julian Ritter, Laurie Kokx, and Winfried Heiringhoff

When the going got tough: Painter Julian Ritter launched his 45-foot yawl from Santa Barbara on February 2, 1968, fulfilling a lifelong dream of traveling by sea and drawing inspiration for his paintings. He picked up various guest crew members during his travels, and when he left the South Pacific island of Bora Bora on June 17, 1970, the crew was Ritter, Laurie Kokx, and Winfried Heiringhoff. They planned to reach Hawaii in 30 days. Then things started going less than smoothly: The motor, starter coil, oil pump, generator, battery, and radio all broke down or died. The boom fell and barely missed Ritter. The stitching on the sails started to loosen. The boat started to leak and take on water.
The tough: Pumped 75 to 250 gallons of water out of the boat every day. Ran out of food after 40 days adrift. They scraped algae from the hull and made soup from it, and caught a few jumping fish and squid to eat. After 87 days adrift, a U.S. Naval ship spotted the boat  and rescued Ritter, Kokx and Heiringhoff, who they described as “living skeletons only four days away from death.”


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