When you’re out in the wilderness, the warm weather, beautiful scenery, and the distance between yourself and the stress of daily life in town may seem perfect.
But if you become lost, or if something happens that severely inhibits your ability to walk out, that fine day of hiking can suddenly become a harrowing survival situation.
Your odds of survival could depend on your ability to find food and water, build fire and a shelter, navigate the terrain, signal for help, and treat yourself if you’ve suffered an injury.
If something like this does happen to you, take comfort in knowing that hundreds of other people find themselves stuck in a survival situation each year. Most of them are able to put their survival skills to the test and either walk out to safety or be found.
We’re going to examine five different harrowing and yet true survival stories about real people who found themselves in a dangerous situation, but were able to survive.
Not only should these stories give you the confidence you need to survive, but they should also give you some ideas as to how you can survive as well.
Table of Contents
Lost at Sea
In early 1982, Steven Callahan decided to use a boat he had made himself, to sail from the Canary Islands into the open ocean. Unfortunately, disaster struck when his boat sank less than a week into the voyage. Mr. Callahan was stranded at sea in a life raft that was no more than five-feet long.
In terms of provisions, Callahan had only a few pounds of food and eight pints of water. It definitely wouldn’t have lasted the seventy-six days that he ended up being adrift at sea.
Fortunately, Callahan was able to use a fishing spear and a solar still on the raft to secure more food and water. More importantly, he was already well experienced when it came to sailing. He knew how to keep the raft from sinking, despite repeated shark attacks, one of which caused his raft to begin leaking.
Callahan somehow managed to keep the leak under control for the remaining month that he was adrift at sea. He was determined to make it out alive and he was finally rescued.
Watch Callahan’s story in this YouTube:
Left for Dead in a Shallow Grave
The Australian Outback is a mystical land for many people. It’s a land of vast red deserts, high plateaus, a nearly nonexistent human population, and unusual (and dangerous) creatures.
In those regards, the Outback is easily one of the last places on Earth that you would want to be in a survival situation. But while the Outback may be one of the toughest and most unforgiving environments on Earth, it’s also not a foregone conclusion that you will die if you get lost or stuck out there.
To prove this point, in the spring of 2006, Ricky Megee managed to survive in the Outback for no less than 71 days. Megee became stranded in the Outback when he was drugged by another person, presumably a hitchhiker, who then stole his car and left him for dead.
Luck was on Megee’s side, since spring happens to be the wet season in the Outback. As a result, Megee had an easier time finding water than he would have had in the dry season.
He also managed to construct shelters to protect himself from the beating sun, and to forage for lizards, frogs, snakes, and insects to sustain himself with food.
After seventy-one days of hiking through the Outback and keeping himself alive in this manner, luck again proved to be on Megee’s side when he coincidentally stumbled upon two ranchers in what was still a remote area of the continent.
He had lost over half of his total body weight at this time and was terribly sunburned. But he survived and lived to see another day.
Check out Megee’s interview where he tells the story himself:
Separated and Lost in the Amazon
The Amazon Rainforest is another location in the world where you will not want to be in a survival situation. It’s absolutely lush and gorgeous, but it’s also incredibly humid, thick with undergrowth, gigantic in its size, and filled with just about every kind of venomous plant and creepy crawly creature that you can think of.
That being said, it’s not impossible to survive the Amazon. In 1981, Yossi Ghinsberg (who is now a motivational speaker) and three other friends, decided to explore a region in the Amazon Rainforest, specifically in Bolivia. The group of four split up into groups of two, with one of the pairs never being seen again.
Meanwhile, Ghinsberg and his partner were floating downriver on two rafts that they built. Disaster struck when the raft Ghinsberg was on collided with a rock and he was cut off from his partner.
Ghinsberg washed up on the shore of the river and was forced to travel through the thick Amazon Rainforest to reach safety.
Locals eventually found Ghinsberg’s partner and began the search for Ghinsberg. When they finally located him, he was severely malnourished and had lost much of his bodyweight, but he was alive.
Yossi gave an interview to the Discovery Channel, you can watch it here:
Pinned by a Boulder in a Canyon
Most of us should be at least somewhat familiar with the story of Aron Ralston, from the 2010 Oscar-nominated film 127 Hours. In the May of 2003, Ralston was hiking Utah’s canyons when he decided to descend into one of the canyons. However, a massive boulder fell down at the same time and pinned his arm to the canyon wall, leaving Ralston trapped.
Ralston managed to live off of his food and water supply for five days, trying in vain to pry his arm out from between the rock and canyon wall. However, his efforts were futile.
Knowing that there was little to no chance anyone would find him deep in the canyon, Ralston broke his own arm with the leverage of the boulder, then used a simple multi-tool to sever his muscles and flesh. He then applied a tourniquet to the stump and walked out to safety.
Ralston’s story is equally as harrowing as it is incredible. But his willpower to survive and willingness to give up his own arm to make it to safety are what stand out the most. Just ask yourself, if you were in Ralston’s situation, what would you do?
Here’s Aaron describing the amputation:
Lost in the Sierra Nevada
The Sierra Nevada mountains of California are a region of unspoiled beauty. In the winter season, they are absolutely perfect for skiing and snowboarding.
That’s why snowboarder Eric LeMarque headed there in the spring of 2003. He certainly didn’t head there knowing that he would accidentally steer off the normal course and far into the wilderness. In a matter of minutes, the Sierra Nevada winter wonderland had turned into a frigid and unforgiving environment.
Over the next week, LeMarque would suffer from excessive exhaustion, malnourishment, and frostbite to his legs. On one occasion, he slipped and fell into ice old, rushing water and nearly died from hypothermia.
However, it was LeMarque’s navigational skills that got him out to safety. He used an MP3 player he had on him as a compass in order to guide himself to civilization.
When LeMarque reached safety and was taken to a hospital, both of his feet had to be amputated as a result of the frostbite. But even so, he survived and lived to tell his story.
Watch Eric’s interview:
A 200 Foot Plunge Over a Coastal Cliff
In July 2018, 23-year old Angela Hernandez was driving from Oregon to Southern California when she swerved to avoid an animal and drove her Jeep right off an oceanside cliff.
She plunged 200 feet down the side of the cliff. Surviving the impact, she awoke in agony, her mangled Jeep folded nearly in two and resting in the surf. But her story doesn’t end there.
With water rising over her legs, and despite having a broken collarbone, fractured ribs, and a collapsed lung, Angela managed to crawl out of the wreckage.
And make it up the shore before passing out. When she awoke, help seemed tantalizingly nearby, as traffic went back and forth on the road high above. But no one saw Angela on the rocky shore nor could they hear her cries.
For the next several days she roamed the beach looking for help, but none was forthcoming. Every night, seriously injured, she was forced to climb the cliff as high as she could to stay out of the encroaching surf.
Increasingly dehydrated and ailing from her wounds, her incredible will to survive kept her going until she was found. Two passersby had seen the wreckage of her vehicle and started searching the beach looking for survivors. After giving her water and comforting her, she was soon airlifted to safety.
While it’s impossible to say what you would do in a survival situation like this, Angela’s experience shows us that anything is possible after surviving what should be certain death. If you find yourself in a difficult situation, remember to stay calm and think clearly.
Angela survived by problem-solving as best she was able under the circumstances, accomplishing one grueling task at a time, no matter how difficult.
Stranded in the Antarctic
In 1913, Australian explorer and geologist Sir Douglas Mawson led an expedition to Antarctica.
During one ill-fated leg of the exploration, one of Mawson’s companions, Belgrave Ninnis, fell into a crevasse after his weight collapsed a snow bridge covering it.
The depth of the crevasse was unknown, but extraordinary. The result was an abject disaster for the expedition.
Into the crevasse went Ninnis, his body never seen or found along with six of the party’s best dogs, many essential supplies and the majority of the food for man and dog teams alike.
Far below, the body of a single dog was seen unmoving on a ledge. Mawson was now stranded in the Antarctic with insufficient supplies to return to base and only his companion Xavier Mertz. The pair turned back immediately but the outlook was grim.
The two men faced starvation and exposure to the deadly cold with minimal supplies for a journey well and excess of 100 miles back to their base camp.
After eating the remaining dogs, including their livers containing dangerously high levels of vitamin A, Mertz succumbed to madness or malnutrition and died.
Against all odds, Mawson managed to make it back to safety after falling through another crevasse but he was a changed man.
The ordeal had taken a toll on his mind and body, and he was never the same. In his book, “The Home of the Blizzard,” Mawson recounted his experience and the lessons that he learned from it.
“In all my life, I have never been through such an ordeal… It teaches one what can be accomplished by a determined will; how little suffering there really is when all is lost; and how much may be borne with fortitude.”
Mawson’s account is proof that the human spirit is capable of enduring almost anything no matter how devastating.
If you find yourself in such a survival situation, never give up hope and keep pushing until you die or are rescued. Endurance in the face of overwhelming adversity might make the difference between life and death, though at terrible cost.
Hypothermic on a Life Raft
In November 1958, the SS Carl D. Bradley, a Great Lakes freighter, sank in a terrible storm on Lake Superior off the coast of Michigan.
The aging and poorly maintained freighter, badly in need of overhaul, suffered catastrophic structural integrity failure due to heavy seas and subsequently exploded when the frigid lake water reached the hot boilers in the engine room.
Frank Mays was one of the 33 crew members on board. He was rescued from the water after spending 12 hours clinging to a life raft with two other men.
The other 32 crew members perished in the sinking or shortly after, including his two companions on the life raft: one after attempting to swim for shore and the other from hypothermia.
Mays was not far behind the latter, and after being repeatedly tossed into the lake by waves and wind, was certain he would die. He and another were eventually found by the Coast Guard and another freighter in the area.
Mays attributed his survival to luck, but also to his years of experience working on the Great Lakes. He knew how to stay calm in a crisis and he was able to think clearly despite the dire circumstances. After being rescued, Mays spent several weeks in the hospital recovering from hypothermia and exposure.
In an interview with The Detroit News, Mays said, “I was just lucky, that’s all. The other guys were good men and they didn’t deserve to die.”
This survival story illustrates in shocking detail that, should you find yourself in an “unsurvivable” situation, sometimes all you can do is hang on for as long as you can.
Trapped in a Sunken Ship
In May 2013, Harrison Okene was working as a cook on a Nigerian tugboat when it capsized due to heavy seas. 11 crew members perished in the sinking.
But Okene, submerged and in total darkness, groped his way into a compartment on the boat with a substantial air pocket. There, he could breathe but he was deathly cold and utterly terrified.
With nothing else to do, he fashioned a small platform from debris floating in the compartment with him in order to keep his body up and out of the frigid water as much as possible.
The cold was slowly sapping his strength and sending him toward hypothermia.
Hallucinating, losing strength and certain that he was going to die when the air in his compartment ran out or it finally filled with cold, black water, Okene could only pray to God for salvation.
His prayers were answered. Trapped inside the sunken ship for 60 hours, nearly three whole days, he was finally rescued by divers who were sent to the site of the wreck to investigate and to retrieve bodies of the crew members.
The entirety of the crew were presumed dead. Seeing the light of one of the divers, he reached for him and nearly gave his rescuer a heart attack in the process.
After being fitted with a diving helmet for transfer into a bell and return to the surface, Okene was later taken to a hospital in Abuja where he was treated for dehydration and exposure.
He was the only survivor of the shipwreck, and one of precious few people on earth to survive going down with and being trapped inside a vessel lost at sea.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Okene said simply that he gave all thanks to God for preserving him. Mr. Okene’s testimony is indeed a miraculous tale of survival in what should have been, once again, certain death.
Stranded in the Jungle after Plane Crash
On December 24, 1971, Juliane Koepcke was on a LANSA Flight 5087, en route from Lima to Pucallpa, Peru. The plane was struck by lightning and subsequently broke up in mid air before crashing into the rainforest.
Koepcke was the only survivor of the ordeal, though other passengers also miraculously initially survived plummeting to the earth.
Her terrifying journeyl began with her, still strapped into her airline seat, free falling thousands of feet through the sky.
The dense canopy of the rainforest slowed her sufficiently that she did not die instantly upon hitting the ground. With a significant laceration to her arm and other injuries, she had no idea where she was, no supplies and no survival skills.
The only thing she did have was a single piece of jungle survival lore given to her: namely that a person, when lost, should always follow a river or stream as it would almost invariably lead to contact with people using it.
Koepcke did exactly that. With her injuries plaguing her and a wound becoming infested with maggots, she set off in the river.
After nine days of walking through the nearly impenetrable jungle, she came upon a small camp with a canoe. Assuming that whoever put it there would eventually return to it, she treated her wounds as best she could and waited for rescue.
She was subsequently found by some lumberjacks who took her to civilization and safety.
Juliane Koepcke’s story is a remarkable testament of human durability and perseverance.
Sometimes when faced with nothing but “unknowns” it is enough to rely on what you do know, no matter how trivial it might seem. In her case, she was able to leverage that single survival fact to her benefit and survive her ordeal.
Would You Survive Any of These?
Hopefully with each of these stories, you have realized that it is very possible to survive even in the most unforgiving of the world’s environments.
If you’re just an ordinary citizen living in the United States, the chances of you being stuck out in any one of the above scenarios is probably slim.
If the survivors of these stories were able to survive for months and make it out to safety after being adrift in the Atlantic Ocean, stranded in the Australian Outback, or trapped in the Amazon Rainforest, what reason is there for you to not make it out should you ever become lost out in the woods?
The fact is there isn’t. And what each of these survival stories share in common is one thing, the real life people at the center of these stories had the willpower and the determination to survive.
Yes, they possessed important survival skills and they put them to the test, but those skills would have been meaningless without the willpower to survive.
Aron Ralston had the willpower to amputate his own arm in order to walk out to civilization. Rick Megee had the willpower to trek across the vast desert of the Australian Outback.
Eric LeMarque had the willpower to push on through the winter forest even after falling into a river of rushing ice water. As long as the willpower to survive is on your side, there is very little that will stand in the way of making it back to the safety of civilization.
Nick Oetken is a prepper, outdoor enthusiast but, most of all, he is our in-house firearms expert. Look out for his articles on guns to find out which ones you need for your survival.