10 Harrowing Survival Stories

By: Allison Klein
wilderness landscape pic
Hundreds of people find themselves in survival predicaments each year. What would you do? See pictures of national parks.
Robert C. Nunnington/Getty Images

It's late October and you and your neighbor are amazed by the unseasonably good weather. To enjoy the day, you decide to go on a hike. You figure you'll be gone on a short trek, so you pack light -- bringing only a few bottles of water, some trail mix and your cell phone.

The scenery and weather are so great that you lose track of time and before you know it, the sun starts to set.  Moments later, disaster strikes. You tumble down a steep hill and break your leg. At 240 pounds (10­9 kilograms), there's no way your petite, 115-pound (52-kilogram) neighbor can haul you out. You're almost out of water, you've eaten your food and your cell phone isn't getting a signal.


Hundreds of people find themselves in similar predicaments each year. What would you do? In this article, we'll take a look at several amazing stories of survival.

10: Lost at Sea

In January 1982, Steven Callahan set sail from the Canary Islands on a small boat he built himself. The boat sank six days into the trip, and Callahan was left adrift on a 5-foot (1.5-meter) life raft.

With only three pounds (1.3 kilograms) of food and eight pints of water, a solar still and a makeshift spear, Callahan managed to survive until his rescue 76 days later. During his two-plus months at sea, Callahan's raft traveled approximately 1,800 miles (2,898 kilometers).


Callahan had to contend with malnourishment, sunburn and repeated shark attacks. When his raft sprung a leak, Callahan was able to keep the raft afloat and managed the leak for 33 more days until his rescue.

Like other survivors before him, Callahan had valuable experience of sailing and shipbuilding to rely upon. However, the most important factor in his survival seems to be his unwavering determination to live.

9: Snowboarding Gone Awry

When Eric LeMarque set out for a day of snowboarding in the Sierra Nevada mountains in March 2003, he had no idea that by night's end he would be lost and moving farther away from safety by the minute. The former Olympic hockey player veered off course along the 11,000-foot (3,353-meter) Mammoth Mountain.

Because he was out for a bit of recreation, LeMarque had little in the manner of supplies. He did, however, have his MP3 player with him. Recalling a scene from a movie, LeMarque used the radio signal from his MP3 player as a compass. During his ordeal, he faced frigid temperatures, and after falling into rushing water, almost careened down an 80-foot (24-meter) waterfall.


LeMarque's seven-day ordeal left him malnourished, exhausted and frostbitten with tissue damage to his lower extremities; both his feet and much of his legs had to be amputated.

8: Hanging by a Thread

Joe Simpson and Simon Yates's journey up the Siula Grande, a 21,000-foot (6,401-meter) mountain in the Peruvian Andes, began without incident; however, their trip soon changed when snowstorms moved in. To navigate the mountain's crevasses, the men decided to rope themselves together. Suddenly, the unthinkable happened. Simpson fell, injuring his leg. They couldn't continue climbing.

Yates decided to lower Simpson down the mountain, and once Simpson had anchored himself, climb down. However, a snowstorm hit, and Simpson was left dangling mid-air. In order to survive, Yates had to do the unthinkable: he had to cut the rope.


Miraculously, Simpson landed in a crevice and was able to use the remains of the rope to lower himself down the mountain. Both men survived the ordeal. Simpson commended Yates for staying with an injured climber and admitted that he, too, would have cut the rope.

7: Rappelling Gone Wrong

What began as a simple day trip from their campsite in Chute Canyon, Utah, quickly turned into disaster for brothers Justin and Jeremy Harris. As the brothers were rappelling down a huge boulder, Justin slipped and broke his leg. With nightfall fast approaching, Jeremy set out for camp four miles (6.4 kilometers) away. Unfortunately, Jeremy made a wrong turn and went two miles (3.2 kilometers) down another canyon.

Eventually, after more than 20 grueling hours, Jeremy made it to the campsite, and he was later treated for hypothermia and shock at a local hospital. Meanwhile, Justin attempted to keep his leg elevated, trapped on a ledge for more than 36 hours.


Rescuers had to tie Justin to lift him 450 feet (136 meters) up a rock cliff. A rescuer put a blanket over Justin's head so he wouldn't see the height during the five-hour hoist to the helicopter waiting above.

6: Shark Attack

Early one morning in November of 2003, Bethany Hamilton went to Makua Beach on Kauai in Hawaii to go surfing. A 13-year-old competitive surfer, Hamilton often went surfing with her best friend and fellow competitor, Alana Blanchard. On this morning, Bethany and Alana were joined by Holt and Byron Blanchard, Alana's dad and brother. At about 7:30 a.m., a tiger shark, probably 12 to 15 feet (3.6 to 4.5 meters) in length, suddenly bit off Hamilton's left arm just below the shoulder.

After Hamilton was attacked, instead of panicking and possibly drowning, she used her one arm to paddle over to her friends. Along the way, she even made sure to warn other surfers and swimmers nearby, shouting that there was a shark. Many of Hamilton's friends and family attest to her quiet strength, pointing out that she has never cried about the incident. Even her doctors were surprised at her determination.


5: Lost in the Jungle

Yossi Ghinsberg set out with three friends in 1981 to explore the Tuichi River in the Bolivian Amazon. Lost and realizing that they hadn't prepared well for the arduous journey, they broke off into pairs. Ghinsberg and his friend Kevin floated on a raft down river. The other pair was not as fortunate: They were never seen again.

Unfortunately, Ghinsberg's raft hit a rock, and the pair were split up. Ghinsberg spent the next 19 days wandering alone through the wilderness. Local men found Kevin, and they began a search for Ghinsberg. Miraculously, he was found alive. Ghinsberg is now a motivational speaker who inspires audiences with his tale of survival.


4: Cut off Own Arm to Escape

You probably can't even begin to fathom making the decision to amputate your own arm with a dull knife. But on May 1, 2003, Aron Ralston was left with no other choice. An 800-pound (362.8 kilogram) boulder fell on his arm and trapped him in a Utah canyon wall.

After lying pinned to the canyon for five days, Ralston, running out of food and water, thought chances of being found were slim. He leveraged the boulder to make his bones snap, and he then used his pocket knife to cut away his muscles and tendon. Amazingly, he rappelled down a 65 foot wall and walked until hikers found him.


Ralston is truly a testament of bravery and survival. The amputee has since climbed all of Colorado's peaks and is a motivational speaker.

3: Caught in a Hurricane on the Pacific

When experienced ocean voyagers Tami Oldham Ashcraft and her fiancee Richard Sharp set out on a job to deliver a yacht from Tahiti to San Diego, they never dreamed that they would be stuck in a category four hurricane. Hurricane Raymond's 50-foot waves and 140 knot winds put the couple in the middle of a battle for their own survival.

The boat capsized, and Ashcraft, who sought shelter below deck, was rendered unconscious. When she woke up hours later, her fiancee was gone. When the boat righted itself, Sharp's safety line had snapped.


Ashcraft resolutely rationed her supplies, crafted a makeshift sail and mast and figured out a course to Hawaii, a forty day journey 1,500 miles away. Amazingly, she continues to sail.

2: Lost in the Outback

In April 2006, ranchers in a remote area of Australia were shocked when a skeletal figure appeared at their cattle station. The man, Ricky Megee, thought that his car had been stolen after he was drugged by a hitchhiker. The last thing he recalled was breaking down while he was driving along the Buntine highway near the border of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. He told police that he awoke to find dingos scratching at him.

Suffering from exposure and malnutrition, McGee lived off of a diet of leeches, insects, snakes, frogs and lizards for 71 days. He drank water from a dam and constructed a makeshift shelter. Luckily, McGee's ordeal took place during the wet season, and he was able to obtain enough water to drink. He weighed 230 pounds (105 kilograms) before he got lost and weighed 105 pounds (48 kilograms) when he was finally rescued.


1: Pirate Attack

Carol Martini and Jay Barry always dreamed of sailing the high seas and worked to restore a 1960 wreck into a majestic vessel. In 1999, they set sail around the world. Little did they know that their dream would soon turn into a nightmare.

Their ship, the Gandalf, sailed along the U.S Atlantic coast, and to the Panama Canal, Carribean, the Galapagos, Polynesia, Australia and Singapore. When they reached Thailand, they teamed up with several other ships because they knew they were beginning to venture into Pirate Alley.

Soon, two large pirate vessels appeared on the horizon and began shooting at the Gandalf. Sensing that the pirates intended to board the ship, Barry quickly turned the vessel and headed straight for the pirates, ramming into their ship. The pirates weren't used to ships fighting back, and after a brief confrontation, escaped back to sea.

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