Life is precious. We’ve all heard that saying before, but nature doesn’t seem to have gotten the message. When a tsunami hits or a tree takes out your single-engine plane, the terror is accompanied by a realization that life isn’t only precious–it’s also fragile. Despite that, human beings survive catastrophic situation every day, and these brave souls are here to prove it. We asked people from around the world to share the harrowing story of how they survived a complete disaster.
45. Like A Shaking Noodle
I don’t know if you guys have been on an apartment building during a huge earthquake, but it is like being on top of a wet noodle that moves one side to another constantly. The first thing that got to my head was to stay away from the large windows and go under the table while my friend and his were screaming like heck. I tried to keep them calm by telling them the usual: Everything is going to be ok.
When it finished, I was relieved. I checked if everyone was ok and they were, just scared. I told my friend that we need to get the heck outta there. My friend started to pack up a backpack with some supplies. When he was getting his backpack, his friends just ran out of the place to get to their families. My friend finished packing and we started running to the emergency stairs. We were making our way while using the cellphones to illuminate the hallway, when suddenly, my friend stopped me out of nowhere. I asked him what was wrong, and he just replied, “Look,” and pointed the flash of the phone to the floor. It was just like the movies—the building was split in half.
I yelled and he fell to his knees while looking down. His friends, in their rush, didn’t see the split and fell down. We expected the worst. Ben started crying and I was shook. Just 30 minutes before, I was hanging out with them and laughing—now I saw their bodies down there.
An infinite number of screams and cries created the atmosphere of that night. We made our way down the building and tried to help as many people as we could along the way. The one image that will stick to me forever is the one of a mother hugging her daughter in order to protect her. We found both of them had passed away.
We got to the place where my friends friends fell, and luckily they were still alive, just badly hurt. We helped them to the road to wait for emergency services.
44. A Flawed Boat
When I was nine, we were traveling from our cabin back to town with an open boat. This was right before Easter, about a 45-minute trip. The seas were rough and the boat had a built-in flaw that caused it to break in two pieces due to the pounding on the waves. I sat faced toward the back, so I didn’t see it break. I just suddenly had water up to my waist. When I turned around, the nose was floating a couple of meters away from the boat. My mom’s husband at the time just said, “Jump,” and so we did, into the black two-degree water, as far away from the boat as possible.
This was by far the scariest moment.
Her husband managed to launch two emergency rockets before the boat vanished below him. He was a very poor swimmer, and even though we tried to hold on to him, he got away from us due to large waves constantly covering us. After that, it was about 10 minutes of trying to swim to shore, which was about 400 meters away, before realizing we were never going to make it. After that, we basically dodged waves and made bad taste jokes. We saw people on the shore, cars stopped on the highway. The last thing I remember before blacking out is a boat approaching. Then I woke up in the hospital basically thrashing around from the cramps of my body trying to warm up.
Apparently, I had a temperature of 27 degrees when they brought me in. My mom was awake the whole time. She lost control of her limbs right after I blacked out, and gripped a rope from my lifevest with her teeth so I wouldn’t float away. An old fisherman saw the whole thing and came with his wife to rescue us. We all survived.
43. Not A Pilot Anymore
I was pilot-in-command of a small Cessna, taking my dad out for his first sightseeing ride on an October evening. He’d taken the backseat in one of my training sessions before, but this was the first time the two of us were alone together and at liberty to go as we pleased.
After a while, I noticed that the engine had lost speed. I pushed the throttle to the max… no change. Turned on the carb heat (if I remember correctly)… nope, still nothing. I began heading back to the airport, but as the power slowly diminished, I knew we wouldn’t make it back by a long shot. I had to get that bird down somewhere.
I opted for the only well-lit place in the circumstances: the freeway.
I made my emergency call, got a response, told my dad what I was about to do, and proceeded to fly the airplane. By the time I was on my so-called final approach, the engine was puttering along at a measly 1000 RPM despite a full-open throttle. All I had to do was to follow a slight bend in the freeway to the left, just past a viaduct, and I’d have three open lanes of the road on which to land and probably surprise a few drivers along the way.
Huge black bars suddenly showed up in my field of vision, followed by bright white flashes of light. The aircraft had just struck high-voltage power lines.
By the time I was done screaming, the aircraft had rolled down in a side ditch and slammed itself against a fence.
Ambulances arrived within a minute, pulled my dad and me out, and raced us to the hospital. I awoke in a dimly-lit hospital room—dimly lit because of the city-wide power failure I’d just caused, which I realized once all the other lights turned on late at night and the nurses cheered at getting power back.
I recovered, but I haven’t piloted an aircraft since, and have no desire to. I can be a passenger in an airliner or a commercial small aircraft without a problem, but my days of flying are over.
42. Family In A Fire
I was stuck in a bushfire here in Australia. My significant other, myself, and our infant son were in the car evacuating on the only road out of our small town. We got very little warning as the fire moved so fast. The fire was coming on the right side of the road. Smoke was everywhere; we could hardly see. My significant other was driving and luckily saw the truck in front of us and stopped in time before hitting it. A semi-trailer truck (18-wheeler) was blocking the way. We couldn’t see if anyone was in the truck and I was going to go out and check but the fire was now at the roadside on our right and years of fire safety education had taught me you stay in the car. We had a UHF radio in the car so I tried to contact the truck on that with no response. The fire started to blow across the road and ignite the bush on our left. There were embers raining down on our car, we just stared at them bouncing off the car bonnet. I saw a flashing red glow in the smoke beyond the truck and it took a minute or so to work out what I was seeing—it was a fire service truck.
I had to fight every bit of instinct I had in me which was screaming at me to grab my baby, hide him inside my clothes and run toward the red lights. I doubt I’d have made it, as the fire was literally blowing around in front of us but damn if that wasn’t the strongest instinct I’ve ever felt. I just sat there in the car repeating over and over to myself, “Stay in the car, stay in the car.” My significant other managed to contact the fire department on the UHF to alert them to our presence. They sprayed water over us while a secondary truck drove through the burning scrub around the big truck to reach us and then the rest all was a blur—being transferred to their truck and driving out of there, watching the bushfire raging behind us. I saw the news in the hospital where they reported two deceased people found in that semi-trailer truck. Volunteer firefighters saved our lives.
41. Flying Into The Storm
When I was 10-11, I don’t remember the exact date, I was flying from DC to Florida to see my grandparents. I was with my mom and sister and we were flying out of Atlanta. After about 20 minutes, we experienced some turbulence and 10 minutes later, it was on. Thunder and lightning surrounded the plane and it was shaking like crazy. I didn’t really comprehend it at the time since I was young but looking back on it there was about a 50/50 chance we were all going down. The pilot was turning the plane up and down like crazy and the shaking was happening every couple of seconds. We made a quick emergency landing and barely beat out the total destruction of the plane. I don’t know how we survived but I believe the pilots got some award with the governor for their bravery and safely getting the plane to the destination. I think about it every time I fly and always check the weather we are heading into.
40. Tidal Swimmer
When I was a very young child, I lived in Southeast Asia. One day, early in the morning, I was just playing; my parents must have been doing their morning prayers and the next thing I knew, the entirety of the ocean was spilling over itself. We lived on the coast at this time and it was like the whole ocean had just lifted out. My dad grabbed me and ran toward a block of apartments at the end of the street. I don’t know what happened to my mum, but she must have been unable to run fast enough because I’m pretty sure she got overwhelmed by the tide and survived by holding on to a tree. I’m not entirely sure how she survived actually, because looking back on the extent of the 2004 tsunami, she should have been swept away completely by the force of the water.
So now I’m on the top of this roof and my dad goes back in, swimming to our house to retrieve our passports and documents, while the water keeps creeping up. I think it was a four- or five-story building and the water must have reached the second or third floor. He must have been a really strong swimmer because he got pretty much all of our documents in between the waves (and probably saved my mum as well).
After this, we were able to stay with friends some distance away after this, but everything in the town got destroyed. In fact, I realized the reason why my parents don’t bring up my childhood friends or try to keep in contact with their families is that they’ve passed away. This is pretty much the only really vivid memory I have from that age, and my parents still kind of had a fear of the sea for a long time after that (they still can’t handle videos of flooding).
39. Skid Marks
My dad was flying in an old Stearman Kaydet with his friend who was PIC at the time. On final for the runway, he (Dad’s friend) ground looped the plane and skidded almost halfway down the runway. Dad just said his first concern was if the fuel tanks were ruptured as they had taken off with full fuel and had only flown for an hour at most. They both made it out with very minor injuries aside from soreness and the plane was repaired, flew, and crashed around another two times following.
38. Bad Luck, Good Luck
When I was 19, my buddy and I went fishing is a pretty big lake up in Gainesville, Florida. I was sitting at the very front with the cooler to try to balance out the weight and while we were crossing the middle of the lake in our Gheenoe. We had a paddle strapped to the side and it caught the water while we were going about 20 miles per hour. It threw us probably seven to ten feet and immediately we started sinking. About five minutes before that happened, we decided to put both of our phones in a waterproof box which ultimately saved us bc there was no one else out that day, given it was a little chilly outside. So after we were in the water the boat started sinking fast but my friend and I stayed calm and started brainstorming on what we should do. First thing I did was swim down to the boat and by feel had to find the phones. Once that happened, we called the police but their response time was awful. We were treading in water that was cold enough to give us hypothermia, with the box that had our phones in it over our heads for about 50 minutes until the dispatch lady said they were commandeering someone else’s boat because their’s wasn’t starting. Once we got out, the officers told us that they were expecting to find us gone either from getting stuck on the mushy bottom and drowning or by some of the big gators but luckily we didn’t encounter any of them.
37. Stuck On A Reef
The boat didn’t sink, but we were on a trip to Bermuda. We had a great time, but on the way home, maybe a mile from the coast, the ship’s “autopilot” broke so we hit a coral reef.
We were stuck for maybe a day and a half. When we hit the reef we were eating dinner in front of a huge glass window. It felt like we flipped over if you looked out.
The other cruise ships had to stay as well because we were considered in distress.
36. Kept In The Dark
I was working in Carmel, California when the wildfires raged out there. It’s about two hours south of San Francisco. The first few days of the fire, they were to the south and the wind wasn’t blowing towards us. The fourth day, the wind changed and the fire began racing towards us. Our bosses made us stay, even when the sun looked more like a lone star in a grey sky. The next day, ash began to fall. We ended up getting evacuated three days after the ash began to fall, with nothing but the clothes on our backs. It was night time and we could see the fires about two miles from us. Scary stuff; we were kept in the dark by our bosses as to immediate danger.
35. Up In A Flash
When I was 10 years old, less than 10 days before Christmas time there was a gas leak at my house. We had no idea it was leaking, but it had been building up behind hour wall near the gas fireplace for a while.
In the morning, I was getting ready to go to school. My mom was almost ready to go to work, and I was tying my shoes to head out the door. My mom comes out of the bathroom and is putting on her earrings, grabbing her cell phone, etc. and is heading toward the door. She tells me to unplug the Christmas tree lights (we love decorating). When I did, the spark from unplugging them ignited the box around the socket, and then the pocket of gas behind the wall. It all blew up.
The wall was destroyed. The mantle over the fireplace flew clear across the room. The Nutcrackers we left on the fireplace flew across the room and two got embedded in the wall. Almost every ornament made of breakable stuff was shattered. The shock wave traveled through the house, down the hallway into my mom’s room and blew out the sliding glass door, and blew it into the pool in pieces the size of pennies or smaller.
All throughout the house were stress cracks in the sheetrock. I got minor burns on my face. I was just off to the side of said blown-up wall. My mom was sitting on a chair near the door, far away from it all. The fireman chief called it a “flash fire”—there was no fire because there was nothing close enough to the hottest part that could ignite. Good thing we got a fake tree that year to save money—if we had not, it DEFINITELY would have blown up.
34. One Lucky Jump
I survived a nearly EF-5 tornado.
A few years ago, living in rural Arkansas, the weather got bad. This is hardly an uncommon occurrence. My now-fiance and I had just gotten a puppy that very day, and we also had two cats at home. We lived in a duplex. In the evening, we got a tornado warning. I threw my cats in the bathroom, while my partner went outside to watch the weather. It was pouring rain. I had never heard such heavy rain before. And then, the rain stopped. He rushed in, threw everything out of the innermost closet, and we hunkered in there with the puppy.
They say it sounds like a freight train, and they’re right. The building was shaking, and there was this roar. I was terrified. Holding the puppy and my phone with one arm/hand, holding my partner’s hand with the other, just waiting for the building to collapse on me. He said he was quite certain we were about to lose our lives.
And then… it stopped. We came out of the closet, and out of the house to look around, dazed, just like the neighbors. Our duplex was fine, some minor stuff only. A tree had fallen within inches of both another duplex and a neighbor’s vehicle. Another tree had fallen on a third duplex. But no one in our immediate neighborhood was lost or injured. A lady in the destroyed one had been luckily sheltering in her bathroom, as the tree came down right over her bed.
We were all unhurt, but it was the most terrifying experience of my life, because the tornado, which did cause several losses of life elsewhere, had literally jumped over our little neighborhood. Had it stayed on the ground, we’d surely be dead now.
33. Melted Seats
I was in a bus fire four years ago. I was sleeping one minute, and being rushed off the bus in the next. The vehicle had been driving slowly and smelled funny, but no one thought anything of it until someone looked out the window and saw smoke. We were evacuated, and managed to run just a few yards when we heard a “BOOM!” I turned around and saw flames surrounding the bus. We phoned 9-1-1 and called our parents, and eventually, another bus from the company rescued us from the side of the road. As we rode by the charred shell of a vehicle, I saw that the seats—including the one I had been sitting in maybe a half hour prior—were melted.
32. Caught In The Slide
I got buried in an avalanche about three and a half years ago.
Three of my friends and I were skiing and the area we were at received about four feet of snow in the matter of a day or two. Long story short, I was behind my friend and he triggered the slide but I got caught in it. We tried skiing out of it but not much you can do. We got flipped over and snow rushed over the top of me. I thought I was a goner. I was stuck and not able to move any part of my body. Fortunately, I was able to wiggle my left-hand free which allowed me to get my arm to move around enough for my friend, who happened to notice what happened, to see where I was and dig me out.
31. The Entire Town Up In Smoke
I got caught in a wildfire in Chile early this year.
Pretty much half the country was burning; we were taking a few days with my family but the wildfires in the nearby towns rained ashes all over the region, you could barely breathe.
We stayed and went to a nearby town, “Santa Olga”, because we heard in the news that the fires were too close to the town and threatened to destroy the entire town and we went there to help with supplies.
Very few firefighters were around because the whole country needed help and people were afraid of losing their houses, honestly looking at their faces I could not just go back home and we decided to help.
When we were trying to put off the fire, a random burst of fire surrounded my family and like 10 more people immediately. It was unreal; I didn’t know fire could spread that quickly.
We had no way out and the fires were slowly going towards us and we were trapped. We got really nervous and it was pretty scary since our proximity to the fire was suffocating us; it was pretty damn hot if you ask me.
I thought that was it, and I actually thought of suiciding somehow because I can’t even take it when I burn myself with a cigarette, being burned down was probably the most painful way to die, but I never had the courage to do anything but to stare at the fires.
We could not run over it since the fire was super deep.
Suddenly, we heard a few planes and they dropped a ton of water that gave us a miraculous path to get the heck out of there. There was still a lot of fire around but it was thin enough for us to run over it.
Also, the water hit us hard—it was a ton of water, but, hey, they saved my life and many others.
We immediately got into our car and got out of there.
That town, Santa Olga, was actually 100% consumed by the fires. An entire town turned into ashes.
30. Grandmother’s Tale
My grandmother was on a smallish sailboat with her husband and another couple out in the Alaskan waters about 70 years ago. They used paper maps to navigate and apparently there was something under the water surface that was worn away in one of the creases of the map. They hit it and the boat sank. Luckily, the coast guard or someone was able to save them before the boat was gone and they drown/froze.
29. Concussions Were The Worst
I was in a plane crash in 2013. Three friends and I had taken a Cessna to interior British Columbia for the long weekend (one friend had their private pilots license).
The day we were heading home it was quite hot, and the plane was, according to investigators, over-loaded and over-fueled for the heat/altitude. Once we reached 2000-ish feet above takeoff, we began losing airspeed. The pilot panicked and did some steep turns in an attempt to gain some speed, but it scrubbed nearly all our altitude pretty much instantly. Now at a few hundred feet and descending rapidly the pilot took aim at a farmers field. They managed to level out at around tree-height but we were quickly running out of the field. Maybe a hundred or so meters before the end of the field they dropped the plane to the ground, the nose dug in and we flipped end for end.
The pilot and I walked away essentially unscathed. The front passenger (my girlfriend) took pretty much the brunt of it all. Her seat ripped off the floor, smashing her against the roof. It shredded the ligaments in one side of her neck, compressed her spine, and concussed her badly. The ligaments were bad, and are still causing issues now, five years later. But the post-concussion issues were far worse. Watching someone you love lose the ability to read, remember what they had for breakfast (or whether or not they even had breakfast), maintain any semblance of emotional stability, or even do something like play a board game to pass the time (learning and remembering rules was too stressful) was the worst thing I have ever experienced.
28. Six Stories And Shaking
I was on the top floor of a six-story building in Kathmandu when the almost seven magnitude earthquake hit Nepal in 2015. I was with my girlfriend and I remember the whole building swaying side-to-side as if it was a reed in the wind. My girlfriend screamed and asked if we were being bombed but somehow I knew it was an earthquake and I told her so. I held her under a door frame, like we’d been taught and when the shaking stopped, we ran out like our lives depended on it.
We were lucky. Our building didn’t collapse but so many others did. Thousands of people died in that earthquake. I still have PTSD, whenever my building shakes because of a passing truck or a heavy vehicle, I think instinctively that it is another earthquake.
27. Boat Launching On The Mekong
We were taking the speedboat on the Mekong river from Thailand to Laos. It was getting to be dusk, and our driver hit a rock. I happened to be listening to Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” as our boat launched in the air. It started taking on water and we had to crash land it on a beach and hike an hour or so into a village. It was crazy, and we almost lost our lives because some scammers held us up at lunch. Definitely going to take the bus next time.
26. Felt The Car Lift
In May 1998, a tornado roared through southeast South Dakota, leveling the town of Spencer, taking the lives of eight people, injuring many. Right before the tornado touched down, I was in my car driving on I-90. Rain and wind were severe. Cars were pulled to the side of the road. I thought I could make it home… until my car started moving on its own and slightly lifted off the road. I quickly pulled over near the next overpass. I hurdled the guardrail, ran up the embankment (losing a shoe in the mud), and huddled under the overpass bridge along with about a dozen other travelers.
The tornado passed over us moments later. It was a wall of heavy rain and mud and extreme wind. It next hit Spencer, literally flattened the town.
We were all safe under that bridge. Now authorities say never to shelter under an overpass, but it sure worked on that occasion. A Canadian couple who were there kept screaming “OH, SHOOT! We don’t have tornadoes in Canada! OH SHOOT, OH SHOOT! ” Over and over. Babies were crying, people screaming. Something I’ll never forget.
25. Whale Disaster
I was on a mid-sized fishing charter that sank approximately 100 miles east of Cape Hatteras with about 30 people on board. It ran into a fin whale corpse, of all things, at a fairly high speed, and the impact broke the keel and caused it to capsize. It started to sink almost immediately.
About half the people on board were thrown into the water by the collision, and there were a pretty good number of serious cuts and bruises, but no one was hurt or anything. There was also a fair amount of initial panic about sharks that might be feeding on the carcass, but we were all able to climb out of the water on the sinking vessel until the crew got the life rafts inflated, so nothing came of that. Which is good, because there were sharks—oceanic whitetips, quite aggressive.
We were in the rafts about 14 hours altogether. It seemed longer at the time, because once the ship sank that ocean got awfully big and empty. But we were never out of contact with the Coast Guard, we were amply provisioned, and the rafts were fine, so we mostly just sat there wishing the whale would sink too, because it really stank. At least there were no flies.
24. Conversation As The Wings Came Off
We were on a single-engine Piper with me at the controls and one passenger next to me. We got hit by dust devil just at the point of takeoff from dirt landing strip on pot run. The plane went into the trees spinning and flipping end over end with the wings torn off and came to rest with the door side on the ground. Completely destroyed. I got a scratch/cut on one knuckle from punching an escape route through the windshield and then wised up and kicked it out. Yes, the world moves in slow motion in a big time crash. I could count branches on trees as we went by and both the passenger and I recall a conversation about the wings as they came off.
23. Like Being In A Giant Washing Machine
In high school, I was on a charter bus coming home from a marching band competition. We were in rural Idaho going down the highway at about 75 miles per hour. The bus driver apparently had severe stomach pain but didn’t say anything and eventually passed out from the pain. I was on the back of the bus sitting in the aisle with my girlfriend with our backs against the bathroom.
I couldn’t see out the window because I was on the floor but I remember it started getting bumpy like we were pulling off the road when I heard a girl scream, “WE ARE CRASHING!” My face smacked the ceiling of the bus. I was knocked out but remember waking up as the bus was rolling down the highway and I remember thinking it looked like I was in a giant washing machine and people’s bodies were clothes being tossed around and around and around and then everything went black again.
I woke to my girlfriend screaming to get off her. I was laying on broken windows as the bus stopped rolling on its side. I stood up and saw the seats up in the air and remember thinking, “something is not right here.” As my mind pulled everything together into the reality of the crash, I looked over and my friend was covered in blood screaming “I’M BLEEDING!” The roof of the bus crushed in and another friend of mine had her legs pinned underneath. I tried to lift the bus off her and in my adrenaline-filled mind it seemed logical, but I started getting pissed that the bus wouldn’t budge. I remember her being very calm and saying, “Dude you can’t lift it, we will have to wait for the firemen to lift it off.”
Once I got to the hospital and the adrenaline started to die down, I realized my injuries which were I had bit through my tongue and had a bruise that looked like a huge blood blister from my butt to my knee out in the perfect shape of a bus seat armrest. I’m 24 now and can drive without issues. The only exception is on the freeway when I’m next to a semi-truck. I start to panic that it’s going to roll over and kill me. Luckily, my wife has caught on and will speed pass the evil semi-trucks for me.
22. Clearly Remember The Quiet
The plane crash happened when I was six. My father had relatively recently gotten his pilot license to fly single-engine planes. We were flying with a couple of my parent’s friends from our home to a university (Purdue) a few states away. As we were flying, we were making good time and apparently not using too much fuel. At some point, my father passed an airport but decided not to refuel since we should have had enough to make it to Indiana.
After that, the headwind picked up and we began to burn more fuel. The fuel was getting lower and lower as we neared our destination, and it finally gave out some miles from the airport we were headed to.
Little four-seater planes are pretty loud and it can be hard to talk to each other in them. When the engine cut out, it got very quiet and you could just hear the wind going by outside.
It was night and my parents were trying to remain very calm (partially for my sake), but I remember my father saying, “Mayday,” on the radio as he relayed our situation.
We could see the airport lights in the distance, but we were dropping in altitude as we silently glided down. Mostly there were trees below us (though it was hard to see because it was totally dark out).
It became clear that we were not going to make the runway as we got closer. We did clear the trees , but crash-landed in the dark area before the hill.
As it turned out, the dark area was a reservoir that had been recently drained after being full for 20+ years. Instead of water, there were about two feet of mud and the plane kind of stuck into it when we hit. The landing gear was torn off and the plane ended up nose forward in the mud.
21. Left Everything Unrecognizable
I was living on Japan’s Tohoku coast when the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami hit.
I was taking a bath when the earthquake hit. I can’t even tell you how intense it was; I literally couldn’t stand up. It was the first earthquake that had actually frightened me since I came to Japan (I grew up in Alaska, so they were nothing new to me), and it was the first one that actually shook things down from my shelves.
I knew it was a bad one, so I got out of the bath and dressed as quickly as I could. I was already getting ready to leave when the “Get to higher ground” tsunami alarm started. I threw a few necessary things into a bag, pulled on my winter coat, and headed for the hills, quite literally. There were already officials on the ground directing people to safe places (the Japanese have this earthquake thing wired), and I ended up high on the hillside at a community rec center with a few hundred of my neighbors.
Twenty minutes after the quake, the tsunami hit. It was unreal, the sheer volume of water that came in, and the power of it. I watched it destroy my neighborhood.
I had to spend the night at the rec center because it wasn’t safe to go down. It was one of the more miserable nights of my life.
I walked out the next day. There’s no way to describe the destruction. I didn’t even recognize the place I’d lived for over two years. My apartment building was completely gone.
20. Happy Birthday!
It had been very windy for the past several days and would be the following day when we were supposed to fly. I call our pilot and he says there is nothing to worry about. Trusting his decades of experience, I say, “Ok, we’ll see you at the airport in the morning.”
Skipping past the obvious excitement for the day’s adventure, photos next to the plane, hearing more of the pilot’s stories, aiding his preparation for the flight, etc., we take off out of Carson City and begin to climb. Our pilot, who has done this route dozens and dozens of times before, takes a direct path towards the pass. From my perspective, I see we are over the tree, then closer to them. I assume we are along a valley wall. I looked around the cabin and at our pilot who showed no sign of distress. As I look back out the window I see a manzanita bush and realize we are crashing.
At this moment, we crash and scream. The plane lands on a relatively flat area between the rolling peaks. We learned, in retrospect, this is what our pilot was silently searching for. While his straight trajectory to Spooner Pass was aggressive, the problem was emphasized when the foothill of the Sierra Mountains created three large down gusts which took out all our speed and lift. Hence the relatively sudden crash.
As soon as the pilot turned the electronics off, he/we ask each other if we’re injured and, seizing the moment, the pilot turns to my girlfriend and says, “Happy Birthday.”
The pilot grabs his essentials—a weapon, and a satellite phone. We had no service there so this phone came in handy. We move approximately 20 yards uphill to a fire road as we wait for assistance. Humorously enough, a 4runner with two young girls, blaring music, windows down, goes flying past us on a nearby fire road… and they don’t see the shattered plane and crash path directly next to the road. Not only once… but twice: 30 minutes later, they drive back and miss us again. It was shocking.
We wait for another 30 minutes, and up come to the fire department to our rescue.
19. Rookie Mistake
When I was 10-11 years old, I was involved in a “scary” sailboat mishap. My father and I rented a small sailboat to take on the local lake. It was a nice day, however, in the middle of the lake, there were strong wind gusts. It is important to note that my father is not an experienced skipper despite his exuberant confidence.
While trying to be like his New England buddies, my father had me get on the same side of the boat that he was on. Shifting all the weight to one side. Grave error. Suddenly, a burst of wind tipped us right over, and as we fell the boat came over on top of us into the water. Now stuck under the boat, I had to swim through the sail and rope blocking my path to the surface. I am still amazed to this day that I did not get tangled in the rigging, potentially drowning myself.
18. Like D-Day
On a summer vacation where all seven of us stayed in a little tiny cabin at a tourist park whose name I forget, there was a freak weather system that spawned a gigantic tornado out of absolutely nowhere in the middle of the night. When someone noticed it coming straight at the park the alert was put out every way they possibly could. CB radio, rural 9-1-1, state trooper radios, red rocket flares, literally everything they could think of.
The first clue we had of anything was waking up at the dead of night to a park ranger shouting at us to get up and evacuate. We got our shoes on and some jackets and BOOKED IT like we were charging up the beach on D-Day, complete with sirens screaming and the sky a sickly green and the wind roaring. Everyone got herded to the only available shelter within miles; a concrete official building of some kind (I remember a poster for food stamps because it had a picture of a kid who looked my age).
That was one of the few times dad or mom got genuinely scared in front of us kids, and that included other times we woke up to tornadoes at midnight. Hundreds of strangers were all packed in, chattering and trying to look decent in their PJ’s (mom was mortified). Someone had brought a big black dog who was taking things quite well and all us kids petted him.
The tornado ended up swerving and chewing along the edge of the park property (IIRC) instead of tearing right through the park proper. Some people got broken windshields but our van just got a few dings from thrown rocks. Things could have easily gone a LOT worse.
17. Argon Explosion
I was working in a lab full of compressed gas and many chemicals. I always followed safety protocol which definitely saved my life that day. I was asked to return a nearly full 6,000-pound Argon tank to the chemistry department that day. We had not been trained in cylinders, and my understanding was that screwing the valve closes the bottle. The delivery company had tired of returning cylinders so they had put a special bypass around the regulator to make refills easier. Long story short—I basically detonated a 6,000-pound explosive next to my face.
I remember a small hiss, and thinking, “Now that is strange, I don’t recall that ever happening…” The next thing I remember is waking up in the hallway in the fetal position, screaming in pain. I had been knocked completely unconscious and the Argon had displaced all the air on the floor. A lab mate dragged me out by my arm. I had sustained a severe concussion. So much Argon had been forced through my skin and into my brain, when I touched my skin it was like foam, full of tiny sacs of Argon. I required an overnight stay in the ICU and 20 staples to my head. The metal had just grazed under my chin, cutting it. My throat was nearly ripped through by a piece of metal moving with the force of a slug (my lab mates calculated that for me!). The explosion was so loud, I could not hear anything for at least several minutes and my ears ring to this day, years later.
16. Dog And A Log
My husband survived a four/five rating tornado that went directly over his back.
He was driving on the highway. Rural Wisconsin. He noticed a funnel cloud barreling down behind him. He could not out-drive it.
He pulled over, grabbed his dog, lay down as flat as he could beside the highway, clutching a log and protecting the dog.
He said the debris pelted his body. The trees nearby were plucked up vertically and sent horizontally like arrows. The high tension wires failed and flailed. The wind/suction picked up his truck four feet off the pavement and moved it 20 feet ahead.
The wind/suction picked up his legs like a baby, flailing above his head as he continued to clutch the dog and the log.
He said he had enough time to contemplate if he could hang on any longer. The thought of losing his dog made him hang on until it was over.
When he got to his truck, all the windows were imploded. When I saw him the next day, every square inch over his entire body had shrapnel marks. His dog lost her hearing. He lost partial hearing in one ear.
His truck was like a Monet. From far away, it looked fine! Close up, every single inside and outside surface had dings and scratches complete with the grass/straw wedged into and sticking out of unusual crevices that defied logic. Totalled.
15. Falling And Sinking
I was in a plane crash when I was nine. It was a small plane, with only my dad and I being the only ones in the plane. We were about 1000 feet over the San Francisco Bay, and the engine quit. The plane proceeded to fall, as would be the case. We approached the water, my nine-year-old brain coming to grips with the concept of the afterlife and such.
We hit the water, the plane skipped a few times, and water began to flood through the floor. My dad and I got out and sat on the wing of our sinking plane for about 30 minutes before the plane was too sunk to stay sitting on, so we had no choice other than to swim toward shore.
The shoreline was miles away at least, however, we had no other options. As we were swimming, (mind you, the water was freezing in October), another recreational pilot in a helicopter flew overhead and attempted to drop life jackets. One was horribly off the mark, but we were able to grab the other.
After swimming for half a mile in t-shirts and shorts, we came across a mud flat and dragged ourselves onto it.
We were waiting there for a while, and a department of fish and game boat trolled by, looking for illegal hunters. This led to our rescue!
When I got home, I took the best shower of my life.
14. Drove Through The Fire
I survived the Los Alamos/Cerro Grande Fire (New Mexico). We were camping up near Jemez springs at the time, and the forest service was doing a controlled burn a ways away from our campsite. Controlled burns are necessary to prevent really bad fires, but there hadn’t been one in a while, and it quickly grew out of control thanks to excessive kindling (dry trees and pine needles) and high winds.
Luckily, we were in a marked camping spot, and we got woken up at four a.m. by some forest rangers or sheriffs. They said we needed to pack up and be out in 30 minutes, a giant fire was headed our way. They said they were extremely serious and if we weren’t leaving by that time they would drag us out and leave our stuff there. That really got me woken up. We gathered all the stuff we could find (in a panic now) in the dark with our flashlights, and threw it in, and hit the road.
As we were leaving the fire crossed the road and we had to drive through it. I never want to do that again. We were basically driving through the smoke blindly for about 20 seconds as the fire was on both sides.
We stopped for gas and grabbed a gas station breakfast before sitting in traffic for three hours and the sun came up, and the fire was cresting over the last hill right as we left the town and got into the freeway and headed south towards Espanola/Santa Fe. It was very harrowing. We were VERY lucky those sheriffs/rangers woke us up; thank god for those hard working folks.
13. Pieces Of Our House Gone
I have lived my entire life in the tornado alley but wasn’t directly hit until 2012. There was a thunderstorm earlier in the day and severe weather was still in the forecast, but hey, that’s a regular occurrence during April around here. Fast forward to around seven p.m.: I was in the house while the rest of the family was in the front yard. I was looking out a window towards the south while they were on the north side of the house. The sky suddenly turned a yellowy-sickly green toward the south with strange purple highlights. My stomach drops. I’ve never seen the sky look like this before but I know it’s bad news. I open the door and scream to my family to come inside. Typical Midwestern attitude, “It’s fine. Stop worrying.” I start hysterically crying and run to the basement with my dog.
About five minutes later, the wind picks up from five miles per hour to gusts of 80. My family runs in and joins me. We peek out the window to see GIANT hail—slightly under soccer-ball sized. We hide out in the bathroom with the radio blasting to cover up the gut-wrenching sounds coming from outside. Thirty minutes later, we get the all clear. We open the bathroom door and get hit with another eerie feeling. We walk upstairs and see that patches of our house have literally been ripped off. A rather large tornado descended on JUST our block. Weird. So weird. Terrified of storms now.
12. Plays Over And Over In My Head
I was in a Ford Explorer that hit a guardrail after getting sideswiped by another car while going 65 miles per hour. It flipped twice in the air and the car ended up landing on the roof. My mom was trapped in the wreckage for over two hours after getting dragged along the concrete. If the roof had given even an inch more, my head would’ve been crushed. I climbed out the back window and dragged an unconscious kid out over broken glass after freeing him from his locked seat belt. For years every night before I would go to sleep, I would feel myself being thrown around in the air and would have a lot of dreams about it. It’s weird when you are confronted with an overwhelming sense of panic everything goes numb like in my head I knew there was nothing I could do but ride it out and it really made me confront my mortality at an early age. I still remember the exact feeling of flipping sometimes it replays in my head like a movie and I can still see every little detail.
11. Under The Boat
I went overboard in a storm once working on a gill net salmon boat in Alaska. The current swept me under the boat, I ended up pinned face down to the underside of the hull by my life jacket. My crewman saw my rain jacket hood sticking out of the hull, grabbed it and pulled me out.
10. An Unusual Trip To The Lake
I was involved in a freak car accident. I was going out with my friend and her family. I was 19 at the time. We were going to a lake. The children were playing, there was a family on the right side of the lake with their daughter playing in the area between both groups.
I heard a noise that confused me and turned around to look up at the road. I saw was a car flying off the edge and falling into the small valley, wheels still turning, it hit the gravel ground and flipped a couple of time over my friends family. They had ducked to the ground because there was no time to move. It finished flipping and was coming towards me, I was frozen just watching, not processing any of this. I suddenly felt a push and I fell into the lake.
The driver got out of the car in full army dress, he closed the door, opened it again and got his wallet out of the car and stood there.
Then came the screams and wails. There was a little girl laying on the ground between my friend’s family. At first, we all thought it was her young cousin (five to seven years old) but then realized it was the girl from the other family. She probably was hit at the moment the car hit the ground and flew several feet to land between us.
She was bleeding from her nose and ears; her family was hysterical. We were all shocked and they kept trying to pick her up and flailing her about in panic. My friend’s parents convinced them to give her to them because we didn’t know how badly injured she was.
While we waited for the police and emergency vehicles to show up. The girl was taken to her mother, where she passed away five minutes before the ambulance arrived.
9. A Dam Break
I survived a dam break and flooding on top of a tornado a few years back.
I live in rural Iowa but travel 30 minutes to my job at a nursing home. That day was super normal. It was nice outside and we took a few residents to the courtyard to enjoy the warm sun. After supper, it was getting cloudy outside and it was very dark all around us—which is strange because usually you can see the storm coming in from one direction and the opposite is still sunshine and white clouds. Not today—every direction was pitch black.
A little while later, we start getting emergency warnings. By now, we have stopped putting residents in their rooms, have closed all blinds, and put blankets around them. We are watching the news and there are six active tornado cells in our small county.
My coworker and I go to the window overlooking the south to see if we can see any funnel clouds/tornados in that direction when we see something else. The drain in our parking lot down to the city sewer is PUMPING out water. Within the next 30 minutes, our parking lot is flooded; most of the cars are almost completely under water and it’s still rising closer to the front door.
The police or someone calls our nursing home and orders an evacuation—except there’s one problem—we can’t get out, let alone get disabled old people out. The parking lot is completely flooded. A couple of hours pass by and the parking lot has emptied enough (water must have run downhill and the sewer, stopping pumping it in) that an ambulance could come in. We evacuated all the residents and went home around midnight.
8. Can’t Buy Brains
Sitting in a boat three miles from shore with five friends in a Great Lake on Labor Day just about dusk when along comes some idiot in a boat he could afford but not drive and t-boned us good and square. On our boat, we had a broken pelvis (this guy was later told by a doc he also broke a vertebra) and cracked ribs on another. Frankly, we’re lucky to be alive but proof positive that money can’t buy brains. They were crushing with the trim so badly adjusted they could even see what they were coming upon. Though that detail (bow of the boat and excessively high in the air) is probably what saved us from death.
7. Listen To The Children
I was four years old and we were in the sea with my family when my cousin started to call out for my uncle’s attention. After she was shrugged off a couple of times, things got serious when we saw a flip-flop floating nearby me and my mom in the boat. It was 25 minutes of pure panic while the adults tried to scoop the water off the small fishing boat, calling the coastguard and getting us all to safety. I remember my mom embracing me as the boat sank more and more. There were too many of us who couldn’t swim for the grownups to take care of. We now have plenty of lifejackets handy when we go out for a ride.
6. An Illegal Lobster Trap
I survived a boat sinking.
My brother, my dad, his friend, and I went sailing one day. The plan was to sail a few miles out around an old oil platform and back. My dad’s friend was at the helm and was pretty inexperienced. My dad and I were down below making tea because, you know, we’re British. All of a sudden, WHACK! There was this horrible bang and scraping sound.
We had hit an illegal lobster pot and its anchoring line had wrapped around both our rudder and propeller (not spinning at the time). We were stuck, with no steering and full sails up. We had to quickly lower the sails as we were being practically capsized by the wind blowing the sails. The stern of the boat was being dragged under and we were slowly taking on water.
Of course, we put out a mayday call straight away and all we could do was wait to be rescued. As we were waiting the tide was coming in and we were slowing being dragged under. There was not much we could do but prepare for the worst.
The lifeboat arrived as most of the stern was under water and they boarded our boat with an awesome looking scythe thing to attempt to cut the line that was wrapped around our boat. Unfortunately, they couldn’t free us and by this point, water was almost flowing into the cabin down below so they evacuated us onto the lifeboat. We never saw that yacht again.
5. Tossed Overboard
When I was a kid, we lived in Chicago and owned a trimaran, a sailboat with three hulls. Some trimarans are goofy looking or really small, but ours looked a lot like a perfectly ordinary sailboat with two smaller sailboats attached to the sides. We used to go out sailing on Lake Michigan.
Between Ohio Street Beach, on the north side of Navy Pier, and Oak Street Beach about a half a mile north, the shore of the lake is a concrete lip. There’s a breakwater to reduce wave height, and wakes are illegal. A lot of boats drop anchor there so people can swim.
We were approaching the area when we were hit by a motorboat. The collision broke off the struts connecting one of the outer hills to the main body of the ship. Unbalanced, the ship immediately began to roll over.
Fortunately, my parents were sticklers for lifejackets. Onboard were me (five), my sister (three), my parents (34 and 33). My father grabbed the broken off hull to try and keep the boat together. My mother picked me and my sister up and tossed us overboard, as far as she could throw us, then jumped in after us. She held onto us to prevent us from drifting away.
Lifeguards from Oak Street Beach rowed our to get us. The Coast Guard came and towed the boat to the beach.
Our next boat was a single hull.
4. We Kept A Souvenir
We were coming back from a recreational trip to the Bahamas. Our single-engine Cessna had been our means of travel there numerous times. On this trip, however, the landing gear would not deploy.
We tried and tried to get it to come down, to the point one of us opted to open the cabin door and try to pull the gear out by hand.
After all failed attempts, and fuel dangerously low, we had no choice to make an emergency landing on the belly of the craft.
I have to say, those final moments before you touch down a plane with no landing gear out are terrifying. The instant you touch down and hear metal grinding on asphalt, sparks flying and the propeller curling up from the tips is something I hope no one ever has to endure.
Everyone walked away with minor injuries, we still have the propeller in our backyard as a conversation piece.
3. The Family That Drowns Together…
I remember being a young child on vacation with my family in cottage country. My whole family (around nine of us) tried to fit on a tiny little motor boat. Not too long after we left the shore, everyone realized something wasn’t right with the boat. Within five minutes the boat began to sink. I did not know how to swim, neither did my dad. My dad grabbed onto me because I was the only one wearing a life jacket. His heavy body weight began to pull down my little body despite having a life jacket. I began to panic because I thought my dad was going to drown. My sister tried to swim around to get all of our fishing gear and everything we lost on the boat. We all survived in the end. Everything was okay, but my dad never went on a boat again (it’s been almost 15 years) and I never learned how to properly swim because of the fear of drowning. I have swum with a life jacket on and I still get horrible anxiety over it. I’ve gone on vacation to Cuba several times and I can’t get into the water because I’m afraid the waves will take me under.
2. Winter Crash
My father (thirty-two) and I (nine) crashed in a Cessna 120 (built in 1946) a few days before Christmas in 1971—due to icing. We were both injured, but I less so, and I made my way over snowy fields (at night) to the small local airport clubhouse where I called for help. My dad was in the hospital a lot longer than I was.
1. Head-On At An Airshow
I was at an airshow when I was 14, riding co-pilot in a twin-engine Piper Seneca. We dropped off some skydivers, then came back down to land. As we were taxiing down the length of the runway back to the hanger, an Ultralight was taking off and stalled—it literally fell out of the sky and smashed directly into our plane head-on; went right through the props. It was like crashing a Pinto into a Bugatti ($4,000 versus about $500,000). There were two people in that Ultralight (the guy didn’t have a license, and you need it to carry passengers). Amazingly, no one was hurt. I guess he told the airport he was going to get a truck and come back. I’m told he never came back, and just left the plane. I’m sure they eventually found him, but I don’t know what came of it.