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The 25 Most Unbelievable Survival Stories In History

unbelievable survival stories

The human spirit is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. Sometimes, we hear stories of hardship and survival, and wonder how it was physically possible for someone to have overcome something so brutal. Well, we’re here to remind you that many people have survived some pretty crazy situations, despite the odds. Here are 25 of the most unbelievable survival stories ever:

25. The “Gremlin Special”

A plane that was dubbed the “Gremlin Special” crashed into a mountainside in 1945. The accident occurred in what was considered back then to be Dutch New Guinea. 25 soldiers total were in the Gremlin Special, and only three of them ended up surviving, and two were severely injured.

unbelievable survival stories

Not long after the crash, the survivors lived amongst locals of the region, which was pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Not only that, but locals of the area were cannibals. Yikes! The crew spent a whopping 42 days stranded, until they were found and treated for their injuries, and were then rescued finally.

24. Steven Callahan

We’ve all been dehydrated in one way or another, but not to this extent. A man named Steven Callahan went sailing solo from the Canary Islands with the goal of reaching the Caribbean. Roughly a week following his departure, his ship sank during a tumultuous storm, which left Callahan stranded in a tiny raft made of rubber.

unbelievable survival stories

He had no clothing whatsoever, with the exception of one tee shirt, and minuscule amount of both food and water. In these conditions, he managed to survive for 76 days before he arrived to the Bahamas, and was rescued there, and taken care of by locals.

The next incredible survival story was made into a Hollywood blockbuster. Can you guess what it is?

23. Aron Ralston

Aron Ralston is one brave dude, we’ve got to say. He was running through a canyon in Utah, when suddenly he felt a boulder move, which trapped his arm the wall of the canyon.

unbelievable survival stories

Since he was alone, and there was no way for anyone to find him, he was forced to amputate his stuck arm with the only sharp object he had on him: a dull knife. His escape was so epic, that there was literature written about it, and it was the central plot of the movie, “172 Hours”, starring James Franco.

22. Abby Sunderland

Some people really have a thing for sailing, and especially alone for some reason. Abby Sunderland was one of them. In fact, she is known for being the youngest person to ever sail alone, while traveling globally. The even crazier part is that she was only sixteen years old when she did it!

unbelievable survival stories

Once, she was sailing by herself, and got stuck in the middle of the Indian Ocean, where the nearest form of land was 2,000 miles away. This was the result of being struck by strong winds and other pretty unpleasant and terrifying stormy features. Two days after being stranded, she was finally saved by a fisherman who noticed her signaling for help.

The next incredible story is pretty well known for its gruesomeness. Can you guess what it is?

21. Not much of a party

This story is pretty famous worldwide, and not for its happy ending. In the mid-1800’s, there was a group that consisted of pioneers in the United States, California in particular. This group was called the Donner-Reed Party, and they once were delayed while traveling by wagon train, due to a long series of misfortunes. One of this misfortunes included them getting stuck all winter long in The Sierra Nevada Mountains.

unbelievable survival stories

Well, the mountains themselves aren’t so bad, but when you either starve to death because of a lack of resources, or end up having to become a cannibal, things can get pretty gruesome. Only months later was the group found, and even when they were rescued, the rescues happened in increments, and couldn’t save everyone at once. Imagine what that was like!

20. Slavomir Rawicz

So the fact that hiking and walking for long periods of time aren’t everyone’s forte is okay, but this story is just unreal. There once was a cavalry officer named Slavomir Rawicz, who was a soldier in the Polish army. During the war with the Red Army, Rawicz was captured in 1939, and then tortured for a long while.

unbelievable survival stories

After the torture sessions were over, and as if they weren’t enough, he was put on trial in Moscow, and then sentenced to a whopping 25 years at a concentration camp that was located in Siberia. In short, he and his fellow prisoners in the camp walked over 4,000 miles to escape from the concentration camp. If that’s not desperation, then I don’t know what is.

19. Lewis and Clark

Most of you are probably familiar with the story of Lewis and Clark. If not, then you’ve definitely heard their names before. They have a well-known, incredible story about how they traveled and made all kinds of discoveries for two years.

unbelievable survival stories

During their journey, they made friends with natives of the land, and if they didn’t have Sacajawea, their translator, they would have probably been stranded in the mountains somewhere, or would have just starved to death. Also, during the two years, the pair was mugged, hurt in more ways than one, and were on the verge of starvation on multiple occasions. Talk about a long, rough, journey.

The next story is a pretty scary one. Brace yourselves!

18. Jan Baalsrud

When one is stuck behind enemy lines, that usually doesn’t result in anything good. In 1943, there was a group of Norwegian commandos in the Norwegian army. One of these guys was Jan Baalsrud, and he and his team sailed all the way from England to Norway, which was occupied by the Nazis during that specific period.

unbelievable survival stories

Unfortunately, upon their arrival, the crew was attacked by Nazis, and Baalsrud was the only one of them to survive. He was stuck in the mountains, survived a massive avalanche, and was cursed with an array of injuries and illnesses, including severe frostbite, and became blind from the snow. He was on the verge of death before ultimately being saved. Poor guy!

17. Beck Weathers

One of the most incredible stories to be recorded in the form of a book was “Into Thin Air”, by Jon Krakauer. The story took place in Mount Everest, where the disaster resulted in the death of 8 people, and is considered to be one of the biggest tragedies to ever occur there, too.

unbelievable survival stories


However, one survivor by the name of Beck Weathers was supposedly dead, although this wasn’t really the case. He was stuck, and suffered from hypothermia, horrible frostbite, among other unpleasant wounds and illnesses, including the amputation of his right hand, as well as part of his left one, too. Luckily for him, he managed to come to his senses and miraculously returned to camp.

16. Nando Parrado and his team

This story is actually quite famous. It started with a plane that consisted of a rugby team from Uruguay. As it was traveling, it crashed into the Andes. A majority of the passengers on board were killed, and no matter how hard the survivors tried to get the attention of potential outsiders, they were out of luck.

unbelievable survival stories

Some even died when trying to simply walk off the mountain, so those that survived, were forced to become cannibals to sustain themselves. Eventually, the remaining survivors were rescued, and the story was retold in detail by Nando Parrado, one of the survivors. He even wrote a book about it in 1974, and it was titled “Alive”.

15. Ernest Shackleton

Sir Ernest Shackleton was a man who didn’t succeed in his attempt to cross Antarctica by foot with a crew that had the same goal. This all happened right before World War I began, and Endurance, which was the name of the crew’s ship, got stuck, stranding them for a ridiculous 22 months! They had no way of communicating with the outside world, yet alone for help, and during this period, remained completely isolated.

unbelievable survival stories

The stuck ship was their shelter for the grueling 22 months, and Shackleton took the gutsy decision of venturing out on one of the spare lifeboats to seek help. He managed to hit an island, but had to go around in order to enter it, simply because he had made it onto the wrong side. At least he got there!

The next story is about a survivor who became a mountaineering legend.

14, Hugh Glass

There are some folks that really thrive off mountains, and the adrenaline rush that they get from climbing them and being near them. Hugh glass was a man who was considered a “mountain man”, and he accompanied Andrew Henry on an adventure of fur trapping in the year 1823. This endeavor became rather dangerous, as when they reached South Dakota, a mother grizzly bear was waiting, and startled, she mauled Glass, and he was badly hurt following the attack.

unbelievable survival stories

The other members were also badly injured, but the crew managed to kill the bear in time to avoid death. Glass was incorrectly announced to have passed away, but the reality was he was able to regain consciousness, although his injuries were incredibly severe. His diet consisted of plants and berries in the environment he was stranded in, and through the help of kind locals, he was able to make it to safety after six weeks of pure purgatory.

13, Yossi Ghinsberg

Yossi Ghinsberg and his three genius friends were traveling deep into the Bolivian Amazon. Naturally, they weren’t exactly prepared for this kind of travel or journey, and after a small amount of time in the Amazon, they realized that they were lost beyond comprehension. In order to attempt to find help, they split off in pairs, and one of the pairs was never seen again.

unbelievable survival stories

A raft was built by the surviving pair, which consisted of Ghinsberg and one of his companions, but they eventually lost one another after their creation got stuck, thanks to a rock that was located on the river. Ghinsberg was stranded alone for 3 weeks, and had no choice but to wander around the area he was stuck in. Thankfully, some locals were able to find his friend first, and then reunite the two. It’s a miracle that both of them survived in the first place.

12. The Robertsons

In 1972, there was a huge group on killer whales not far from the Galapagos Islands that crashed into and destroyed a ship that belonged to Dougal and Lyn Robertson. The couple was stranded in a lifeboat, accompanied by their kids and one friend.

unbelievable survival stories

These survivors were forced to do everything possible to stay alive, including combatting horrible weather. After a little over a month of them being stranded, they finally found help when a Japanese fisher crossed their path and saved them.

11. The Crew from Essex

In 1820, there was a ship called “Essex”, that was crashed into by a whale and sunk in the Pacific Ocean. This incident left 21 sailors stranded between tiny boats, and they had no resources to rely on. The situation was so extreme, that they too were forced to become cannibals, and in order to avoid dehydration, they drank urine.

unbelievable survival stories

In time, the small boats reached a small island that didn’t have many resources on it. Everyone split to find help, but only 8 of the sailors made it. It took a total of 93 days for the 8 crew members to be found.

10. Pierre Viaud

The story of Frenchman Pierre Viaud is pretty incredible. In 1766, he was on a boat, traveling to New Orleans. In the midst of the journey the boat was completely demolished during a nasty storm, and it left Viaud stranded in some swamps in Florida.

unbelievable survival stories

Craig McCausland/Istock

Not only did he and a friend have to resort to cannibalism, but they also survived a brutal attack from an alligator in the swamp. Only days later were they found and rescued. But wow, what a journey!

9. John Colter

John Colter was a true hero, as well as remarkable survivor. He was the one responsible for guiding and assisting in Lewis and Clark’s Expedition. Unfortunately, for him, he was captured by Indians, and robbed on the spot. He was told to run, so this guy ran like his life depended on it (it literally did).

unbelievable survival stories

When one of the Indians got close to him, he stabbed him with the guy’s spear, and ran some more. He hid near a river for almost 2 weeks, and walked 200 miles back to where he came from, surviving on roots as nutrients.

The next story is about a woman who beat all odds. Can you guess who she is?

8. Juliane Koepcke

93 passengers and crew members were onboard during a crash in the Peruvian rainforest in 1971. One of the survivors was Juliane Diller. Despite the odds, this plane was struck by lightning, and right after it happened, it simply exploded to pieces.

unbelievable survival stories

Juliane was only 17 when this happened, and she really lucked out. While she was still attached to her seat, she fell thousands of feet, and thankfully, the blow of her fall was eased by the softness in the thick jungle that she landed in. Koepcke suffered from various injuries, but managed to follow a stream she saw nearby for 9 days, until she was rescued.

7. Debbie Kiley

A woman by the name of Deborah, along with four other companions ventured off to Maine in order to deliver a yacht to Florida (smart, right?). Unfortunately, they were cursed with intense winds and stormy conditions when they were close to North Carolina, and the yacht ended up sinking. What’s tragic here, is that three of the crew members died.

unbelievable survival stories

Those who survived, which included Debbie, had to drink seawater, which isn’t so great for one’s state of mind. A member disappeared, while another was devoured by a shark. Deborah was a tough cookie, because she made it with one other member, and endured the rough conditions until they were both saved four days later.

6. Lieutenant David Steeves

In the 1950’s, big shot Air Force lieutenant David Steeves was accused of handing over a Lockheed trainer jet to the USSR during the Cold War, which we can all agree, wasn’t cool at all (no pun intended).

unbelievable survival stories

When this was discovered, he was forced to fly the jet to Alabama from Northern California, and both he and plane ended up disappearing. It turns out that Steeves was stuck in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and didn’t eat for 14 days. He was finally rescued and given food, but boy, it wasn’t easy.

5. Hot air balloon troubles

In the 1920’s, some members of the US Navy crashed their hot air balloon in a nature-laden part of Canada. The closest town to where they landed was 20 miles away, but this wasn’t known to them, so they began to venture out on foot through the forest, when it was freezing, without a proper amount of resources.

unbelievable survival stories

The crew stayed strong, and after a week of walking almost nonstop, they finally reached help, and were finally rescued.

The next story took place on one of the driest places on Earth.

4. Captain James Riley

It’s safe to assume that no one wants to get stuck in the Sahara desert, but these guys didn’t have a choice. Captain James Riley, as well as his sailors had their ship destroyed, and ended up on some beach in North Africa. Unfortunately, the region they landed in was a pretty terrible one, because they were sold into slavery after having been kidnapped by locals.

unbelievable survival stories

This all took places in the Sahara desert, and endured unreal conditions throughout their time there. Thankfully, they were all released by a British merchant who had a kind heart, and saw the torture in the men’s eyes.

Coming up, one of the most inspiring survival stories yet.

3. Hiroo Onoda

There was a soldier in the Japanese army who was placed in the intelligence unit, and he also fought in WWII. His name was Hiroo Onoda, and he survived a good 30 or so years in the middle of the Philippine jungles, which is unfathomable.

unbelievable survival stories

He managed to survive, mostly because his cause of not surrendering was keeping him motivated, but also, he met some soldiers in the mountains where he lived.

2. Steve Fossett

Steve Fossett was determined to gain $1 million, for a prize he apparently won having traveled via a helium balloon, but unfortunately he was stopped by a massive storm. His self-made vessel was called the Solo Spirit, and he took it out, only to have it ruined due to the immensity and intensity of the storm.

unbelievable survival stories

Thankfully, despite all of the possible mishaps associated with the Solo Spirit, Steve Fossett made it out alive, and 10 hours after the incident, he was saved, after seeking help on a spare raft. Talk about luck.

The next survivor is someone you probably know pretty well, for various reasons.

1. John McCain

Whether or not you agree with his politics is irrelevant, as John McCain is a true hero and survivor of some crazy circumstances. He was a commander in the army in 1967, in Vietnam, and was captured and beaten by locals after landing from his jump out of an airplane.

unbelievable survival stories

He was then thrown into a Vietnamese prison, and was tortured and interrogated at the same time. Later, he was sent to a different prison, and was sent to solitary confinement. For two years, McCain stayed in this cell alone, and after lots of political ransoms and bargains, he was released in 1973.

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