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The Big List: Survival instincts

If there's one thing we can learn from reality TV, it's that human can survive in almost any situation

By Jean-Pierre Mestanza

Friday 23 May 2014, 09:14AM

Rubble rousing

When the Bangladeshi factory building in which 19-year-old seamstress Reshma Begum had been working collapsed in April 2013, killing over 1,100 workers. Begum, however, lived for another 17 days under the rubble with a small supply of dry food and water. The young mother was eventually pulled out of the wreckage by rescue workers after she made banging noises under the ruins.

Not-so smooth sailing

In January 2014, a seven-metre boat carrying Jose Salvador Alvarenga washed ashore on the deserted island of Ebon Atoll – part of the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific. The Salvadoran fisherman said he had been blown off-course during a trip off Mexico and had drifted in the Pacific Ocean for, get this, 13 months. Alvarenga said he survived the roughly 8,046 km journey by eating birds, turtles, fish and drinking urine, rainwater, and bird blood.

Life in freefall

Futsal League 2019

In January 1972, a Croatian nationalist group bombed the Yugoslavian commercial flight that attendant Vesna Vulovic was on. The 22-year-old survived the bombing, as she was in the middle of the plane, and plummeted with the aircraft – a full 10,160 m (a Guinness freefall record). The lone survivor of the flight, she was in a coma for 27 days and had two broken legs. Interestingly, she wasn't even supposed to be on that flight as she was mixed up with another flight attendant with the same first name.

Ice woman

In 1970, Anna Bagenholm lost control of her skis while riding down a steep Swedish mountainside and fell headfirst into a thick layer of ice. Unfortunately, a hole opened in the ice and she was left with just her feet sticking out. It took rescue workers 80 minutes to remove her and, even though she was breathing though a small air pocket, she had no pulse and a body temperature of 13.7 degrees Celsius. After doctors managed to revive her, she became a radiologist at the same hospital where her life was saved.


Harrison Okene survived three days under an air bubble when his tug boat capsised in the middle of the sea off Nigeria. Okene was in the bathroom when the boat began to sink and managed to crouch in an air pocket that provided limited oxygen. Rescue divers were searching for corpses when they felt a hand reach out. Terrified, the divers looked up and found Okene alive but freezing in the frigid waters.



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