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Top 10 Amazing Survivor Stories

VO: Chris Masson
Script written by Joseph Jo Against all odds and with a slim chance of survival, you're either history or you make history. Join as we count down our picks for the top 10 amazing survivor stories. For this list, we're sharing the most incredible accounts of unfortunate individuals who managed to cheat death. Special thanks to our user Calvin Zhang for submitting the idea using our interactive suggestion tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Script written by Joseph Jo

Top 10 Amazing Survivor Stories

Against all odds and with a slim chance of survival, you’re either history or you make history. Welcome to and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 amazing survivor stories.
For this list, we’re sharing the most incredible accounts of unfortunate individuals who managed to cheat death. Whether it was luck, an act of God, or the will to live, these survivors shocked the world by shooing off the reaper.

#10: The Donner Party

It wasn’t an easy feat and surely wasn’t easy on the feet back in the day when pioneers were seeking better lives. In May 1846, James F. Reed and George Donner led a group of Americans by wagon train to California. Hoping to reach the state before snowfall, they took a new route and reported shortcut called the Hastings Cutoff, despite it being ill-advised by others. Though it should have been an easy route, the Donner-Reed party ultimately found themselves snowbound in the Sierra Nevada Mountains during the winter of 1846 to 1847. Their food slowly became scarce, which meant that some of the pioneers turned to cannibalism. In the end, only 48 of the 87 members of the party survived to tell this riveting tale.

#9: Hugh Glass

This American frontiersman lived a life with a high tolerance for pain. In 1823, Hugh Glass was on a fur-trading venture with dozens of men when he encountered a grizzly bear that started his journey of agony. He killed the bear, but at a price of multiple flesh lacerations and a broken leg that had the rest of the expedition consider him a goner. Glass was promised a proper burial after his death when the leader of the expedition asked for 2 volunteers to stay behind, but he was instead deserted and betrayed. Glass then took a rain-check on the burial and crawled his way to the nearest camp. It took 6 weeks, but he managed to survive by consuming berries, and preventing gangrene by letting maggots eat his infected flesh.

#8: Beck Weathers

Those that tread Mount Everest have two goals in mind - and they are reaching the summit and staying alive to tell the tale. On May 10th, 1996, 49-year-old Beck Weathers was suffering from health problems during his climb to the summit. After going almost entirely blind, he stopped his ascent and was waiting for his guide when a massive blizzard struck. Throughout his time on the mountain, he slipped in and out of consciousness, separated from the group and spent multiple hours in the subzero temperatures, and was left for dead on numerous occasions. Though he managed to walk down to Camp and survive these extreme conditions, Weathers didn't come out unscathed, as he ended up losing his nose and amputating most of his left hand and his right arm.

#7: Brad Cavanagh & Deborah Scaling Kiley

What started off as a simple sailboat delivery from Maine to Florida quickly turned into an absolute nightmare after bad weather shipwrecked a crew of 5 in October of 1982. Sailor Deborah Scaling Kiley was hired to crew a sailing yacht named the Trashman when the heavy rain and winds of a sudden storm unexpectedly hit, and things go from bad to worse. After the boat sinks, the crew members begin to lose their minds and their wills. Meanwhile, sharks, dehydration, and infections from injuries threaten their lives. Five days later, only Kiley and Brad Cavanagh remain alive – barely – and they are rescued by Soviet cargo ship that just happens to be passing by.

#6: Phineas Gage

On September 13th, 1848, Phineas Gage was in charge of blasting rocks for railroads, when he accidentally aligned his face with the blast hole after being distracted by his workers. This allowed for the over 3 foot tamping iron just enough time to shoot through his face and out through his head. Even after the debilitating accident, Gage was conscious - and while he was being examined by his physician, he reportedly lost a chunk of his front brain when it fell onto the floor. Although he recovered, Gage was left emotionally unstable, which sparked discussions of personality changes linked to the damage of the frontal lobe.

#5: Aron Ralston

In this story, the impractical becomes practical, even if it means shedding some blood. In April 2003, Ralston went on an ordinary hike through Blue John Canyon. After a boulder unexpectedly dislodged while he was descending, his right hand was crushed against the canyon wall. For five days, he struggled to set himself free, all while slowly eating away at what little food he had and even drinking his urine when he ran out of water. With no one aware of his whereabouts, Ralston ultimately did the unthinkable. Using a multi-tool, he amputated his right arm with a dull blade, which took about an hour. It may have been as a slow and painful process, but it turned out to be a decision that saved his life.

#4: José Salvador Alvarenga

While Olympic runner and WWII prisoner of war survivor Louis Zamperini also survived drifting at sea for 47 days, it’s the story of the Salvadoran man who survived 13 months adrift in the Pacific Ocean that makes our list. In November 2012, two fishermen, Jose Salvador Alvarenga and Ezequiel Cordoba departed from the coast of Mexico, but were thrown off course after a storm. Losing the will to survive, Cordoba stopped eating and died, leaving Alvarenga to consider suicide for many months. Surviving on urine, seabirds, turtles and fish, it was on the 438th day of his voyage that Alvarenga spotted an island of Ebon Atoll Island to which he swam and from which he was ultimately rescued.

#3: Nando Parrado

On Friday 13th in October of 1972, the Uruguayan rugby team, along with their family and friends, was flying over the Andes Mountains en route to an upcoming match. Terrible weather conditions caused the plane to crash on a peak now called the Glacier of Tears, with a dozen people killed due to and following the crash itself. An avalanche will ultimately kill several more survivors. Meanwhile, with few sources of food, multiple injuries, and tons of snows, those left alive were forced to turn to cannibalism. After two months in the mountains, Nando Parrado and a partner eventually sought help, treking for ten days through the Andes until they made contact with a Chilean man. A rescue team was finally sent, though only 16 of the 27 that had survived the original plane crash were still alive by then.

#2: Ernest Shackleton

Although built to maneuver through ice, the ship known as the Endurance found herself lodged in the ice of the Weddell Sea. Her skipper, Ernest Shackleton and his crew converted the ice-bound vessel into a winter camp. However, as spring arrived the hull began giving away and the ship sank, leaving the crew to set up camp on the drifting ice. Shackleton led his men from ice floe to ice floe with the hopes of arriving to safety at Paulet Island, but a month into this journey and just 60 miles from the Island, the ice broke forcing the men into lifeboats. Just days later, the adventure came to end at Elephant Island, for a total of 497 days at sea.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

- Bethany Hamilton
Survived Shark Attack While Surfing

- Corporal Margaret Hastings, Sergeant Kenneth Decker & Lieutenant John McCollom
Survived Gremlin Special Skytrain Crash in New Guinea

- 2010 Copiapó Mining Accident Miners

#1: Vesna Vulović

Few people have survived airline crashes, but nothing compares to the momentum of Vesna Vulovic’s fall. In January 1972, flight attendant Vesna Vulović was on a plane when a bomb exploded while they were in mid-air. Though Vesna fell over 33,000 feet , she has no recollection of the landing. It did leave her with a fractured skull, broken legs and broken vertebrae that left her temporarily paralyzed – as well as with the Guinness Book of Records title for the survival of the highest fall without a parachute, however. Following the fall, Vulović was in a coma for 27 days, and only discovered upon waking up that she was the sole survivor of the crash.
Do you agree with our list? Or do you have other amazing stories of survivors you’d like to share? For more gut-wrenching lists of top 10s published every day, visit


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