The great survivors

A British man and his girlfriend were pulled to safety after almost 24 hours in shark-infested waters off the coast of Australia at the weekend. Their extraordinary escape is in the finest tradition of those who are plucky (or lucky) enough to pull through when the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against them. Mark Hughes looks back at some truly amazing escapes

Surviving open water

As they emerged from the water after a day spent scuba diving off Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Englishman Richard Neely and his American girlfriend Allyson Dalton found themselves in a situation that will send shivers down the spine of anyone vaguely familiar with the film Open Water.

The holidaymakers surfaced on Saturday afternoon to find themselves 200m from their boat and being swept further away by powerful currents. After helplessly watching the boat sail into the distance, the pair spent the next 19 hours huddled together in cold waters, which are home to tiger sharks and great whites.

They were discovered by rescue helicopters some eight miles from where they had first disembarked. After being winched to safety, Mr Neely, from Norfolk, said: "I truly thought we were going to die. We just had to stay positive and calm to help each other through the ordeal and not think about being eaten alive."

Upturned but alive

Bristol-born sailor Tony Bullimore was assumed dead in January 1997 when his boat capsized in the ocean near the Antarctic. But, with just "a little chocolate, water and sheer determination" the 55-year-old survived for five days by crouching in an air pocket in the darkness in the upturned hull of his boat, the Exide Challenger.

Mr Bullimore was taking part in the Vendee Globe single-handed non-stop round-the-world race when his boat capsized. A search and rescue mission was launched, but it would be five days before his boat was spotted by the Australian navy.

Rescuers banged on the side of Mr Bullimore's boat and were amazed when he responded by knocking back. Mr Bullimore, who had ran out of water two days previously, was suffering from mild hypothermia and dehydration but was otherwise fine. But afterwards experts revealed that he would have probably exhausted his oxygen supply had he spent just one more day trapped in the boat.

Saved by pain

When, in 1999, he fell more than 2,000 feet off Mount McKinley, America's highest mountain, the Cumbrian climber Steve Ball didn't, by all accounts, have much hope of survival. The plunge left him with a catalogue of injuries, including two broken legs.

With no way of moving, he was forced to build a wall of snow around himself and wait for an unlikely rescue. Knowing that falling asleep would almost certainly mean death, Mr Ball resorted to punching his left leg repeatedly, which was broken in 12 places and would eventually have to be amputated. The pain, he said, was the only thing that kept him from drifting into unconsciousness.

It would be another 30 hours before he was chanced upon by climbers. He was eventually flown off the mountainside but, as well as the left leg amputation, he lost the fingers and thumb of his right hand and part of his left hand, right foot and nose to severe frostbite.

Forced to eat their mates

When Uruguayan Air Force flight 571 crash-landed in The Andes in October 1972, it was assumed that the chances of survival for any of the 45 passengers on board were non-existent. This assumption was underlined by the fact that the search for survivors was cancelled after just eight days.

In the events that would transpire, 16 people were eventually rescued after more than two months on the mountain range, during which they were forced to survive by eating the flesh from the bodies of the dead.

The flight had been carrying the Stella Maris College's "Old Christians" rugby union team from Montevideo, Uruguay, to play a match in Santiago, Chile, when it crashed after clipping the tops of the mountains in bad weather.

A group of three of the 16 survivors went for help and were found by men on horseback. They remaining survivors were rescued on 23 December 1972.

Lost in space

Perhaps the most famous space exploration mission of all time, for all the wrong reasons, is Apollo 13.

Setting out in April 1970, the mission was to be the third moon landing, but an oxygen tank explosion just two days into the journey left the shuttle with no electricity and the three crew members, James Lovell, John Swigert and Fred Haise with little chance of survival. The group was forced to use the lunar module as a lifeboat. But it was only equipped to sustain two people for two days and would now have to sustain three people for four days. Incredibly, after some adjustments by the crew, it did.

The only option to return safely was to alter the trajectory of the lunar module to make it orbit the moon and use the moon's gravity to slingshot the ship back to Earth. It worked and all three men returned safely.

Stalked by crocodiles

Australian farmer David George was forced to take drastic action when he accidentally strayed into a crocodile-infested swamp in August last year: he climbed a nearby tree and stayed there for a week.

Mr George's problems began when he fell off his horse in the Australian outback. Dazed and bleeding he climbed back on to his horse in the hope that it would lead him home. Instead it wandered deep into the water.

Worried that he would become crocodile-feed if he tried to escape, Mr George, 53, climbed the nearest tree and decided to wait for help. It would be a long-time coming.

He survived for eight days on two meat sandwiches. Each night he was stalked by two crocodiles at the bottom of the tree. On the third day his food ran out. On the fifth his horse left. Mr George said he saw rescue helicopters every day, but they couldn't see him because of the dense bush. Eventually, on the eighth day, he was spotted and winched to safety.

Trapped by a boulder

After being trapped for five days in the Utah desert, Aron Ralston was forced to make the kind of agonising decision that has probably been the subject of countless bar-room "what would you rather do..." debates: continue to wait for help that was unlikely to arrive, or cut off his own arm.

Mr Ralston, then 27, chose the latter. He used the boulder as a lever upon which to break his lower right arm then used a Swiss Army-type tool to cut the flesh, using the tool's small pliers to snap the tougher tendons. The decision to cut off one of his own limbs in May 2003 came after five days trapped under the boulder, which had fallen on him during a solo hike.

After running out of water and being forced to start drinking his own urine, he resorted to the "operation", which took him "about an hour".

Mr Ralston hiked a further five miles in the baking sun before being rescued.

Touching the void

While attempting to scale the Siula Grande mountain in the Andes, Simon Yates had lowered his climbing partner, Joe Simpson, down a sheer drop after a fall had left Simpson with a broken leg. But eventually Yates was left with two choices. He could continue, with the likely scenario being that both men would fall to their deaths, or cut the rope and allow his friend to fall to his probable death, while saving himself.

After agonising for an hour, Yates chose to cut the rope and Simpson dropped. Unexpectedly, however, he landed on a snow bridge below. Assuming he was dead, Yates continued down the mountain and was about to leave the base camp when he was joined, again, by Simpson.

It transpired that, despite his significant injuries, Simpson had walked, crawled and slid down the mountain without food and water for three and a half days. The ordeal was re-told by Simpson in his book, Touching the Void.

Stuck under a truck

When Ken Hildebrand found himself stuck out in the Canadian wilderness, the good news was that he had everything with him which would ensure his survival. The bad news was that it was all beyond his reach.

Mr Hildebrand was forced to spend the next three nights trapped under his all-terrain vehicle as temperatures dropped and a hungry pack of wolves circled nearby. "I had everything I needed, but I just couldn't get to it," said the 55-year-old, whose ordeal happened in January as he was collecting animal traps from the woods, south of Calgary.

His truck had rolled over, pinning him underneath. He survived by eating rotten animal meat and dirt, and kept warm by using the corpses of the dead animals he had been collecting. He managed to scare off the hyenas and wolves by blowing on a whistle, and was eventually found by hikers.

News
i100
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsAll just to promote a new casino
News
i100
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C#.NET Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: C#.NET Developer C#, WPF, WCF, ASP.NET, Prism...

Creche Assistant or Nursery Nurse

£8 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: The Job Creche Assistant to start asap ...

Nursery Nurse Level 3

£8 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: The Job Nursery Nurse Leeds We are now ...

Web Developer/UI Developer (HTML5, CSS3,Jquery) London

£55000 - £65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organi...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering