6 True and Unimaginable Survival Stories

Why go on an epic, life-threatening adventure when you can easily lazy up with a real-life survival story? Tales of people’s life-threatening escapades and how they miraculously survived, are truly unimaginable. Yet somehow, a number of men and women have faced our biggest fears (think abandonment in mysterious jungles or below-freezing mountain tops) and pulled through to tell their epic tales of survival. This list includes some of the most unbelievable, but true, tales of survival that will keep you on the edge of your comfy seat!

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff 

During WWI, a plane carrying twenty-four Americans intrigued by the beauty of the dense and mysterious jungles of Dutch New Guinea was shot down in the Valley of Shangri-La. Three people survived the crash and unusual to many published survivor stories, one was a woman. Each survivor, injured and unfamiliar with the jungle, navigate the dangerous creatures lurking in the dense New Guinean jungle, as well as camouflaged Japanese soldiers and cannibalistic locals. This is an intriguing story of three interesting characters and a remarkable rescue mission that the world forgot about until Zuckoff re-visited the story. Lost in Shangri-La is an impressively well-researched story. Zuckoff interviewed the survivors as well as the New Guineans they interacted with in order to present the facts of this true-live adventure. Prepare for a true page-turner. 

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer 

Jon Krakauer is perhaps most famous for recounting the wilderness travels of Chris McCandless in Into the WildInto Thin Air follows Krakauer’s own experiences climbing Mount Everest, an adventure that turned deadly.  What started as a commercial expedition for Krakauer, an experienced climber, and a group of amateur climbers, ends with the group fighting for their lives. The chilling tale reveals how the climbers made decisions based on the frightening circumstances they faced atop the freezing mountain, decisions that led to survival and death. While this is a story of incredible survival, Krakauer does not forsake the tragedies of those lost on this journey as well as past mountaineers who never made it back home. Into Thin Air is a fact-filled, stunning adventure story of luck, strength, and perseverance. 

 Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracles That Set Them Free by Héctor Tobar 

In 2010, the world was captivated by the story of thirty-three Chilean miners trapped underground after the San Jose mine collapsed- for a record-breaking sixty-nine days. International news closely followed the story of the rescue mission, but Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Héctor Tobar went below ground to capture the dangerous experiences of the thirty-three miners, known as “los 33”. Deep Down Dark presents the exhausting emotional and physical reality of mining and being caught in the dark underground. The story is inspiring as we learn the personal history of the miners, their family’s determination and ability to call politicians to help, and how “los 33” worked together so they could all see the light of day again.

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard 

In 1912, after his two-terms as President of the United States and loosing his bid to run for an unheard of third term, Theodore Roosevelt set out on a physically-grueling adventure deep in the Amazon jungle. Along with his son, Kermit, one Brazilian guide, and a group of companions, the excursion quickly becomes beyond dangerous as the men face whitewater rapids, illness, starvation, Amazonian animals, and betrayal. With little preparation, Roosevelt explored the previously unmapped Amazon and, not surprisingly, came head to head with some truly frightening things (including a nightmare-ish fish known as candiru). The outstanding writing of The River of Doubt portrays Roosevelt’s charismatic leadership and is reveling as to his contribution to American history.  

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

The story of the wreck of whaleship Essex, inspiration for the climax of Moby Dick and a recently released movie, is pretty much unbelievable. But, alas, it is a true and historic tale. In 1820, after 15 months of whale searching and deep in the South Pacific ocean, the 240-ton ship with twenty crew sunk after an enormous bull sperm-whale repeatedly rammed into it. Combining entertaining whale lore with the fascinating story of surviving aboard three small boats, Philbrick’s deeply researched historical-biography wonderfully portrays how men came to battle nature. He details issues of race and class as well as the truth of how the men aboard the Essex lived and died. 

Desert Flower: The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad by Waris Dirie and Cathleen Miller  

This story is the epitome of inspiring. Waris Dirie’s autobiographical story of a her dangerous trek through the Somali desert in order to escape her oppressive life is a bit different than the other survival tales on this list. Now a world renowned fashion model as well as a human rights ambassador for the United Nation, Dirie escaped from a harsh patriarchal nomadic world, multiple rape and murder attempts, and survived female-genital mutilation. She details her odyssey from childhood, through the desert to Mogadishu, then as an immigrant in Europe, to her advocacy for and dedication to women’s rights. Time after time Dirie persevered through and beyond tremendous obstacles. She  loses so much along the way, and yet she eloquently powers through. She has taken a lifetime of trauma and turned it not only into a fascinating read, but also into motivation to help change the lives of women globally. 

Featured image courtesy of Contendos