10 People (and Animals) Who Never Should Have SurvivedOctober 6, 2021
Humans are sometimes known for their resilience and ability to survive horrendous situations. Some people may call it a miracle or divine intervention, but we may never know what enables some people to triumph when faced with life-draining accidents or intentional acts of violence and pain.
It makes us wonder what we might be capable of surviving. How could someone survive days in a sunken ship? Is it possible to survive getting sliced in half by a moving train? Can someone live through having their throat slashed? Yes! Learn about 10 remarkable people (and animals) who experienced pure horror and lived to tell the tale.
10 Tim Lancaster
Shortly after 8:20 am on Sunday, June 20, 1990, the co-pilot of British Airways Flight 5390 handed control of the aircraft to 42-year-old Captain Tim Lancaster. It was a flight bound for Málaga, Spain, from Birmingham, England.
Not long after take-off, one of the windscreen panels separated from the plane’s fuselage. The decompression was so strong that it pulled Lancaster from his seat and propelled him headfirst out of the cockpit window. But the position of the flight controls meant that Lancaster’s legs had become lodged behind them, saving him from being expelled from the aircraft altogether.
The stewards took turns holding onto Lancaster. After a while, most believed that the captain was dead—after all, the rushing air meant that his head had been hitting the plane’s fuselage for some time. But the co-pilot feared that letting go of Lancaster could cause detrimental damage to the plane and endanger everyone’s lives.
They continued to hold onto him. And their persistence paid off. When the plane finally landed, Lancaster was alive. Miraculously, the captain escaped with only bruising, fractures, and some frostbite. Within five months, he had returned to work and was back in the cockpit.
9 Finn the Dog
Finn is a dog who, on Wednesday, October 5, 2016, was acting as a police dog on call with his handler, PC Dave Wardell, in Stevenage, England.
They were searching for a suspect who was thought to be armed. The pair soon found him—and armed he was. In an attempt to stop him from running away, PC Wardell shouted a warning to the man, but he continued to flee. PC Wardell then released Finn, who caught up with the suspect and seized his leg.
Flying into a rage, the suspect plunged a knife into Finn’s chest and took another swipe at the dog’s head, but the dog never let go of the man’s leg. PC Wardell eventually caught up and was able to disarm the suspect.
Finn was rushed straight to a veterinarian. He underwent emergency surgery and had to have a portion of his lung removed. But despite his injuries, Finn made a full recovery and returned to duty as a police dog just 11 weeks later. After the attack, no charges were pressed against the 16-year-old culprit, so PC Wardell worked to pass Finn’s Law in England and Wales, which does not allow someone who injures a service animal to make a claim of self-defense.
8 Putney Bridge Woman
On Friday, May 5, 2017, in London, England, CCTV captured something extremely disturbing. A jogger running along Putney Bridge pushed a woman—a woman he likely didn’t know and who had done nothing at all to provoke him—into the path of an approaching bus.
The footage shows the woman hitting the ground and falling backward into the street, just in front of the wheels of a double-decker bus. But due to the driver’s exceptional reaction speed, he was able to swerve and dodge the woman entirely.
She escaped with no serious injuries. Frustratingly, the man who pushed her has never been identified.
7 Jennifer Morey
On the evening of Saturday, April 15, 1995, Jennifer Morey, of Houston, Texas, got ready for bed as she had done so many times before. But this wasn’t going to be a typical night.
Hours later, Morey became aware that there was somebody in her bed with her. The intruder had a knife in their hand and was holding it against Morey’s throat. She started to scream, but the man on top of her told her repeatedly to shut up. And he used her name. (Remember this. It’ll be important later.)
The man clearly knew her, but she didn’t recognize his voice. She continued fighting, but eventually, the man slashed Morey’s throat and fled the apartment. Morey, who had miraculously survived this frenzied attack, dialed 911 and soon received the help she needed. And it took the police no time at all to determine that her attacker had been the security guard for the apartment complex. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and Morey made a full recovery, later opening her own law practice.
Ironically, Morey had chosen to live in this particular apartment complex because she felt it was a “safe” option.
6 Charla Nash
On Monday, February 16, 2009, a chimpanzee named Travis attacked a woman named Charla Nash in Stamford, Connecticut.
Travis had lived with Sandra Herold since he was just three days old. He had been involved in a few incidents in his time—most notably getting loose from a car, chasing a pedestrian, and holding up traffic in 2003. But six years later, Sandra’s friend Charla, with whom Travis was familiar, would suffer catastrophic injuries at the hands of the chimp. Upon seeing Charla exit Sandra’s house holding his favorite toy, Travis became angry and launched a devastating attack.
Despite Sandra attempting to prevent Travis from causing any more harm to Charla by stabbing him in the back with a butcher’s knife, the attack only ended when a police officer shot him. But by that time, Charla had suffered extreme injuries. Travis had torn off her hands, ripped off her eyelids, nose, and lips, and destroyed several of the bones in her face.
Travis died that day, but—against all odds—Charla didn’t. She underwent several surgeries after the ordeal, including a face transplant in 2011, and is now living on her own with a some part-time care help.
5 Harrison Okene
Harrison Okene probably thought that Sunday, May 26, 2013, would be his last day on Earth.
Okene was a cook working onboard a tugboat that had been assisting an oil tanker in the Atlantic Ocean. But the sea was rough that day, and the tugboat capsized. Eventually settling on the seabed 30 meters (98 feet) below the surface, the capsized tugboat claimed the lives of 11 crew members. Okene was the only survivor.
But how had he managed to survive this catastrophic incident? He had managed to find his way into a room that seemed to have enough air to help him stay alive. When inside, he created a platform that enabled him to keep most of his torso above water, which he knew would delay hypothermia and drowning. But he also knew his time would be limited.
Okene was eventually saved by a group of divers, and he went on to make a full recovery. He originally swore that he would never enter the ocean again, but just two years later, Okene gained a diploma in commercial diving. (And the man who found and saved him was the one who presented him with the certificate.)
4 Phineas Gage
How anyone could survive a long iron pole penetrating their cheek and moving through their eye socket before exploding out of the top of their head is difficult to imagine. But that’s exactly what happened to Phineas Gage.
In 1848 in Cavendish, Vermont, Gage was working as a railroad employee exploding rocks in order to clear a path for a new rail line. When the pole impaled Gage’s head, it destroyed most of the frontal lobe in his brain. The frontal lobes are the parts of our brain that control our personalities, behaviors, and emotions. And after his injury, many who knew Gage would report that his personality underwent some drastic shifts.
John Martyn Harlow, who treated Gage’s injuries, reported that he became “fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity, which was not previously his custom.”
Gage lived for another 12 years after this accident. But it’s widely believed that the seizure that eventually killed him was connected to the injury that changed his life more than a decade before.
3 Truman Duncan
Like Phineas Gage, Truman Duncan was also a rail worker. And in June 2006, in Cleburne, Texas, Duncan suffered a similarly catastrophic injury.
While riding on the front of a train car, Duncan lost his footing and fell onto the tracks below. He tried to outrun the vehicle, but it eventually caught up with him and started to drag him underneath the wheels. By the time this horrific ordeal was over, the train had dragged him 23 meters (75 feet) and essentially cut his body in half at the waist.
But unbelievably, his injuries didn’t quell his drive to survive. He reached for his phone and dialed 911. While waiting for help to arrive, Duncan thought of his wife and kids. And whenever he felt himself starting to get sleepy, he’d try to move around and keep his strength up.
Help eventually came—about 45 minutes later. By that time, Duncan had lost over half the blood in his body. But against all odds, he survived. He underwent over 20 surgeries, had his left leg amputated at the hip, and had his right leg amputated above the knee.
Duncan soon returned to work at the rail yard but took up a role in an office instead—probably for the best.
2 Mary Vincent
In the 1970s, it was very normal to hitchhike. Many people believed it was a safe experience. But some weren’t so lucky.
On Friday, September 29, 1978, 15-year-old Mary Vincent from Las Vegas, Nevada, hitched a ride with Lawrence Singleton. She had been waiting for a ride with two others, but Singleton said he only had room in his van for one person. (Are alarm bells ringing for anyone else yet?)
After a while, Singleton stopped the van and got out to urinate. Vincent joined him, using the opportunity to tie up her shoelaces. But before she could stand upright again, Singleton had attacked her with a hammer. He threw Vincent back into the van, tied her up, and raped her repeatedly. She eventually lost consciousness. When she finally woke up, Singleton was dragging her away from his van.
Vincent started to struggle with Singleton, but he was armed with a hatchet. He swung at her left arm, severing her hand and forearm. He then cut off her right forearm. He threw Vincent down a steep embankment and into a drainage culvert, leaving her for dead. However, Vincent had survived her ordeal. With every ounce of strength and courage she could muster, she climbed back up the embankment and managed to get help from a young couple.
After being rushed to the hospital, Vincent recovered—physically if not mentally. Singleton was sentenced to only 14 years in prison and served only eight of those. Upon his release, he moved to his home state of Florida, where he stabbed a woman to death in 1997. He was convicted, and Vincent testified at his sentencing, facing her attacker after twenty years. Singleton was sentenced to death but died of cancer in 2001, awaiting execution.
1 Alison Botha
Alison Botha’s story is one of the most horrific and remarkable in living memory. Her attack happened near Port Elizabeth, South Africa, on Sunday, December 18, 1994.
Alison was returning home from a friend’s house when a man with a knife approached her car and forced his way inside. He told her to move out of the driver’s seat. Already fearing for her life, she obeyed his orders. The man began to drive. He told Alison he needed to borrow her car for a couple of hours. But when the man stopped to pick up a friend and continued driving to a remote area, Alison knew she was in very real danger.
In a clearing, the two men—named Frans du Toit and Theuns Kruger—raped Alison and stabbed her more than 30 times. But they didn’t stop there. Concerned that Alison would survive the attack and go to the police, Toit and Kruger had nearly disemboweled her and cut her throat so deeply that they nearly decapitated her. Then, satisfied that Alison was dead, the men left her in the clearing.
But Alison wasn’t dead. Incredibly, she was conscious enough to make her way to a nearby road and flag down help. She later reported that she had to hold onto her nearly severed head to keep it from falling backward. Despite the atrocity of the attack, Alison recovered, telling her story in a book and lecturing about her survival. And Toit and Kruger were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.