Child Drowned for an Hour but Survives, 1986

Read of how a little girl survived a 1-hour submersion in freezing creek water one Summer in Utah.

On a hot June day the birds were singing, the bees buzzing, and mum’s voice on the phone wafted through the warm air, so warm after a late start to Summer.

Her reassuring tones set her blond-haired toddler at ease to range the backyard’s expanse and soak up its lush colours.

The green foliage was offset by a beautifully painted butterfly, drifting into focus for the keen-eyed child.

Two and a half-year-old Michelle Funk’s eyes sparkled in awe and the eyes on the butterfly’s wings waved back. She lunged to grope the floating beauty to hold it. The butterfly flittered on towards the sound of gushing water.

Could the intrepid infant reach the insect before the forest of grass which marked the garden boundary end the chase? Her mother’s voice was now almost drowned out by the babble of icy cold water below.

She got her break; in a chance moment the butterfly dipped in time for Michelle to swing her little arms up and capture her quarry.

But the ground treacherously slipped downwards; her face an instant of triumph turned to alarm as she vanished under the grass blades towards the water’s edge …Michelle’s alert older brother hared back to the house.

At the Bells Canyon Creek-bank Michelle tumbled down through the grass then plunged over the edge. There was no one to respond to her gurgled cries. As the warm sun rays glistened off the mountain meltwater Michelle slipped under, lost.

Michelle drowned in the Bells Canyon Creek for over an hour (thisisgoodgood.com)

The minutes ticked by; her skin now a ghostly white and her flame barely flickering. After 66 minutes a rescuer finally hauled her blue, lifeless form from the 4 Celcius (40 Fahrenheit) water. Could she be saved at all? If there was even the smallest chance it was worth the try.

They rushed her to hospital where a Dr Bolte was waiting. The extreme time Michelle had been submerged had surely drowned her. Many doctors, knowing how long she’d been submerged, would have declared her dead on arrival — indeed some of them thought Bolte crazy for even entertaining the notion she had a decent chance.

Yet one factor was in her favour; instead of sealing her fate, the icy submersion had slowed down her metabolism to the extent her body’s oxygen needs were suspended. What’s more by happenstance, Dr Bolte had been preparing for such an emergency for months. He and his team went straight to work.

They started injecting warm fluids into Michelle’s veins and stomach and squeezed warmed air through a tube into her lungs, but three hours after the child had fallen into the creek she was still lifeless. Meanwhile, Michelle’s parents and doctors feared her resuscitation would merely bring her back to a vegetative state. They persevered.

However it was when her body reached 25 Celcius (77 Fahrenheit) that Bolte allowed himself to think there was hope for the poor little thing yet. She gasped; moments later she opened her eyes; then her pupils, responding to the bright lights in the operating room, narrowed — a sign of returning brain function. And then, to everyone’s cheers and high fives, a faint heartbeat was detected.

Michelle was saved and made a full recovery with no lasting cognitive damage. Even the staid Journal of the American Medical Association described the case of Michelle Funk as “miraculous’’.

Her treatment went on to form the protocol for treating previously deadly cases of drowning.

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US Airforce Almost Nukes Spain, 1966

The time the US accidently dropped not one, but three nuclear devices on Spanish soil.

The imagery of a nuclear fireball inspires awe and terror in equal doses; we all understand the capacity a massive ball of rising red flame, seen on the horizon, has to turn flesh to dust and obliterate anything in its proximity. The nuclear bomb’s destructive energy is a byword for the collapse of civilisation into Armageddon.

Thus handling nuclear weapons is delicately done with many safeguards …but accidents are inevitable.

It was January 1966 and the Cold War was at such an icy stage US B52 strategic bombers were being kept constantly airborne, ready to rain death and destruction on the Soviet populace at a moment’s notice.

These big bombers were armed with four B28 nuclear bombs with a total explosive force of 6,000,000 tonnes of TNT; if any airborne accident were to occur the result of those nukes being destroyed could potentially kill millions and make vast tracts of the earth below uninhabitable.

The day was 17th of January and one of those massive, lumbering eight-engined birds vectored into rendezvous with a KC135 air tanker at 9,450m (31,000ft).

They were currently over Spain as the B52 took on its first of two refuels as part of a mammoth flight from its airbase in North Carolina, across the Atlantic and on to the Adriatic Sea, before returning.

The B52 came in behind the tanker, but too fast and the two aircraft collided with the nozzle of the refuelling boom striking the top of the B-52 fuselage.

The airborne fuel tanker erupted into a massive fireball, killing all four of its crew and three of seven of the bomber’s crew, with the remaining three bailing out in time.

Yet, four nuclear bombs plummeted down with the plane wreckage. One of the highly lethal weapons plunged into the sea but the other three smashed into land.

Was Spain’s Andalusia province transformed into a radiated wasteland? Two of the bombs’ conventional explosives did detonate on impact, contaminating 1.0 sq mi (2.6 square kilometres) with radioactive material yet safeguards were in place to block a nuclear fusion reaction that would release the bombs’ destructive energy.

The Andalusians came very close to utter catastrophe and still had a serious incident on their hands.

The US Govt took responsibility for the recovery of the nukes and cleaned up the affected area by removing 6000 barrels of contaminated soil to the USA.

Soon after the Spanish government formally banned U.S. flights over its territory that carried such weapons, and such long-range B52 sorties were ended two years later.

Where the bombs fell in Spain (dailymail.co.uk)
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Train Crash for Publicity, 1896

What’s the best way to promote train travel to Texas? Stage a train crash for people to come and see there, of course! Read about what happened on the big day when the guy in charge of health and safety took the day off.

We know that one to two hundred years back, people’s faith in God and hardy living standards made them much more immune to the seductions of health and safety; they could be pretty casual about accidents occurring and should someone get killed in an construction project, for example, then that was what your faith was for.

It was 1896 USA and a marketing guru was tasked with promoting train ticket sales to Texas. What genius idea did he pull out of the bag? To stage a train crash, of course!

Sounding like a scene that should’ve made it into ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’, the stunt was be held in the specially built town of Crush and the idea was to sell tickets so that people could visit the state and make a jamboree of it, with amusements and sideshows to the main event – 50,000 people attended.

The organisers weren’t dismissive of health and safety however, they took it seriously big time. Spectators to the crash rail track had to stay a whole 180m (200yards) back and reporters half that – I bet they couldn’t even make out the names on the drivers’ name badges they were so safely far away.

A specially built track was laid and the stage was set; two 32 tonne steam locomotives would be driven at each other, with time given for the crews to jump off before collision.

A local newspaper report described the scene: “The rumble of the two trains, faint and far off at first, was like the gathering force of a cyclone…They rolled down at a frightful rate of speed… Nearer and nearer as they approached the fatal meeting place the rumbling increased, the roaring grew louder

Then the trains impacted: “…a crash, a sound of timbers rent and torn, and then a shower of splinters… There was just a swift instance of silence and then, as if controlled by a single impulse, both boilers exploded simultaneously and the air was filled with flying missiles of iron and steel varying in size from a postage stamp to half of a driving wheel…

Debris was blown hundreds of metres into the air and panic quickly broke out as the crowd turned and ran. Some of the debris came down among the spectators, killing three people and injuring dozens.

Crowds clamber around the train wreck of America’s deadliest ever stunt (southernmysteries.com)

In the aftermath the train company involved had to pay out tens of thousands of dollars in compensation to the crash victims as headlines of the spectacular event flashed across the country.

Ultimately, the company profited enormously from the botched stunt, however, which goes to show that infamy is often as good as publicity.

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Woman Survives 10,000m Freefall, 1972

Find out how one woman survived a 10,000 metre freefall when her plane was blown out of the sky by terrorists.

It was 2:30pm on the 26 of January, 1972 and Serbian flight attendant Vesna Vulovic was at Copenhagen Airport waiting to board a DC 9 aircraft of JAT Flight 367

I saw all the passengers and crew deplane.” She remembered “One man seemed terribly annoyed. It was not only me that noticed him either. I think that was the man who put the bomb in the baggage.”

Airborne ninety minutes later Vesna’s life would be turned upside down and she’d enter the record books in the process.

Vesna was in the back of the aircraft with a food cart when the aforementioned bomb, planted by Croatian Nationalists, went off. It tore through the luggage compartment 10,000m (33,000ft) mid-air, ripping away the tail section. Sadly, the other 27 passengers and crew perished as the plane disintegrated.

Surely the massive plunge to earth was a fatal one, yet Vesna’s fate wasn’t for her to join her late colleagues. Vesna was incredibly fortunate in that, whereas the others on the plane were sucked out of the fuselage, she was pinned inside the tail by the heavy food cart.

The tailpiece plummeted to earth and landed at an angle in a heavily wooded and snow-covered mountainside in Czechoslovakia, which cushioned the impact. Vulović’s physicians later concluded that her history of low blood pressure caused her to pass out quickly after the cabin depressurised and kept her heart from bursting on impact.

Vesna probably didn’t feel incredibly fortunate when she regained consciousness; she had sustained two broken legs, three broken vertebrae, a fractured pelvis, broken ribs, and a fractured skull. She couldn’t recall the event at all but eventually went on to make a good recovery. Vesna’s 10,000m free-fall without a parachute is a world record.

Image showing how Flight 367 plunged to earth in Czechoslovakia (twitter.com)

HMS Curacoa Tragedy, 1942

The story of the light cruiser that was sliced in half by the colossal Queen Mary transatlantic liner.

It was late 1942 and the Battle of the Atlantic – the struggle to ferry millions of tonnes of equipment, war materials and men through a deadly gauntlet of U-Boat submarines – was in full flow.

When 10,000 men of the US 29th Division were needed across the Atlantic it was the RMS Queen Mary (QM) that was chosen for the task – a huge ship but also the fastest passenger liner of its age, holding the record for fastest Atlantic crossing from 1946 to 1952.

If that ship were to be torpedoed and sunk, the loss of all those men would be an absolute catastrophe, so the Queen Mary’s orders were to sail full speed ahead and in a ‘Zig-Zag’ formation to make it extremely hard for any submarine to sink her. This wasn’t just an operating procedure, naval regulations forbade her to slow down under any circumstances.

On the 2nd of October, she rendezvoused with an escort, HMS Curacoa, off the Irish coast and there a calamitous misunderstanding occurred. Each captain had different interpretations of ‘The Rule of the Road’, believing his ship had the right of way.

As the QM continued to zig-zag her officer of the watch saw that she and the Curacoa were getting too close for comfort and took evasive action. Yet the QM’s captain then intervened; disastrously he told his officer to: “Carry on with the zig-zag. These chaps are used to escorting; they will keep out of your way and won’t interfere with you.

QM started to turn starboard; Curacoa’s captain saw what was happening but by then it was too late; QM struck Curacoa amidships at full speed and sliced the cruiser in two ‘like a piece of butter, straight through the six-inch (15.2cm) armoured plating’.

The fatal moment of impact (news.daily.com)

The rear end sank almost immediately, but the rest of the ship stayed on the surface a few minutes longer. 

To imagine the mood on the QM’s bridge in the minutes after; the captain’s dismay and taut figures at station.

Acting under orders not to stop due to the risk of U-boat attacks, QM steamed onward with a damaged bow. She radioed the other warships of her escort and reported the collision.

101 survivors, including the captain, were eventually picked up yet 239 officers and men went down with their ship.

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