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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The Dyatlov Pass Incident, 1959

When investigators found the bodies of nine missing trekkers in the Artic tundra half-dressed and away from their tent for no apparent reason, it began perhaps the spookiest mystery in Russian history. Find out what happened here.

It was the depths of winter and 23-year-old Igor Alekseyevich Dyatlov with eight other fit, young men and women arrived at the town of Ivdel in Siberia’s nether regions.

They had come from the Ural Polytechnical Institute to complete a 190 mile (300km) training hike and the whole group were pretty much experts at operating in this harsh, hostile environment. Yet the mystery around their fates has led to no less than 75 theories to account for their demise.

Rescuers first on the scene and investigators of the day pieced together what they could: The group had passed through the Dyatlov Pass in a blizzard and got disoriented and lost. Realising they had taken the wrong route up the wrong mountain, they camped out in a single large tent on a mountain slope, in spite of some woodland being just one mile yonder, perhaps so that the team could practice making camp in the open.

Then something compelled the group to flee so desperately, they cut a hole in the tent side and so quickly, they didn’t have time to dress or even put on shoes to guard against the −30 °C (−22 °F) winter storm outside. They walked to the nearby copse of trees where two of them were found around a small fire in just their underwear.

Another three were found halfway back towards the tent, apparently trying to return once the danger, whatever it was, had passed. All had died from hypothermia. The other four were discovered later in the year once the snow had melted 75m (246ft) further in the woods and down a ravine. They were missing eyes and lips but also with severe chest injuries and a fatal skull injury.

So what had scared the group so much they fled the tent’s sanctuary under-dressed to certain death in the blizzard? Why had they split up? Were the other four’s injuries really due to falling into the ravine? …and why did one of the nine have heavy traces of radiation?

No one knows why the party ran half dressed from their tents into the freezing night (forum.fortyck.pl)

Reports around the event were highly censored, even by the Soviet’s standards and this only fuelled conspiracy theories and intrigue. Another group of hikers about 31 miles (50 km) south of the incident reported strange orange spheres in the sky to the north on the night of the incident. There are also claims military weapon tests may have been conducted nearby, which could’ve panicked the nine.

Other theories include everything from violent katabatic winds, infrasound, high winds blowing one member away and who the others attempted to rescue, to attack by local tribal people or even by a yeti.

The most plausible explanation, however, is that the group were alarmed by a slow-moving wall of snow known as a ‘snow slide’ which might have blocked the entrance and a fear of getting engulfed by the mass of snow forced them out. Regardless, the swirl of mystique around this incident compelled the Russian state to launch another investigation in 2019.

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Lawnchair Larry’s Balloon Flight 1982

To fly is a dream, and every kid imagines acquiring enough helium balloons for a little aerial adventure. Big kid Larry Walters actually pulled off the stunt for real in an epic flight over Los Angeles. Read about how he did it here.

Who hasn’t held a bunch of helium balloons as a kid and imagined the fun they could have if only they could gather enough balloons to lift off, see the world with a bird’s eye view for a brief while before landing again? Larry Walters was one of those kids.

As an adult, he tried to become a pilot but poor eyesight ruled that out, yet the dream to fly remained. Sitting in his backyard one day in Los Angeles, USA he devised a plan. He attached 43 weather balloons to his lawn chair (which he christened ‘Inspiration I’) and filled them with helium.

Perhaps Larry thought the whole endeavour would go like something out of a kid’s movie; he’d float up, enjoy the blissful views, wave at onlookers here and there, then drift down again. And what better than to do so with a nice bite to eat and beer – bliss. 

Suitably kitted out then, and with a pellet gun to shoot the balloons when it was time to descend, his friends cut the cord that anchored him to his jeep. 

What actually happened is he shot into the sky, climbing to 4,900m (16,000 feet) and drifted there for more than 45 minutes, frozen and frightened. He then crossed an aeroplane approach corridor to Long Beach Airport and two commercial jets reported the strange sight.

Eventually Larry gathered the nerve to shoot a few balloons and descended. His balloons caught in a power line, causing a neighbourhood blackout for 20 minutes but he landed unharmed.

Larry attached 43 weather balloons to his lawn chair (groovyhistory.com)

Larry was arrested upon landing and fined $1,500. Talking to reporters, the Police stated: “We know he broke some part of the Federal Aviation Act, and as soon as we decide which part it is, some type of charge will be filed. If he had a pilot’s license, we’d suspend that, but he doesn’t.” 

For his part, Larry declared “It was something I had to do. I had this dream for twenty years, and if I hadn’t done it, I think I would have ended up in the funny farm.” 

He was awarded the title of ‘At-Risk Survivor’ in the 1993 Darwin Awards but sadly committed suicide the very same year.

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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)

Hiroo Onoda’s Final Orders, 1974

The tale of the Japanese soldier’s WW2 tour of duty that did not end in 1945, instead went on for an epic 20 years longer. Find out why Lieutenant Onoda refused to surrender and how he was finally coaxed out of hiding.

It was a surreal moment for book store owner Yoshimi Taniguchi; it was 1974 and fate had led him to a tent on a Filipino island – he had entered a time warp of sorts. Reprising his role as Major Taniguchi from three decades earlier, he waited to rendezvous with a man who’d gained a sort of mythical status in their Japanese homeland. 

That man was named Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda. At the prearranged time Onoda emerged from the jungle carefully camouflaged, still vigilant against an enemy who had long since disappeared. The two men saluted then Tanigushi read out an order: ‘In accordance with the Imperial command, units and individuals under the command of Special Squadron are to cease all combat activity and place themselves under the command of the nearest superior officer.’ Onoda then handed over his still perfectly working rifle, ammunition, grenades and katana sword.

His commanding officer had finally fulfilled a promise he made back in 1944: ‘Whatever happens, we’ll come back for you’. Almost three decades late, Onoda’s mission was finally over and his life could now restart.

Onoda finally surrenders after 30 years at war (montereyherald.com)

Onoda’s story is perhaps one of the most remarkable exhibitions of fealty and devotion to duty, ingrained in Japan’s Samurai culture and inherited by Japan’s armed forces in the Second World War. During that war, Allied and Japanese forces were pitted against each other across a vast archipelago of islands in the Pacific Ocean. Lieutenant Onoda had been trained as an intelligence officer and in 1944 he was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines and was ordered to do all he could to hamper enemy operations there. He vividly remembered his commander’s words “You are absolutely forbidden to die by your own hand. It may take three years, it may take five, but whatever happens, we’ll come back for you. Until then, so long as you have one soldier, you are to continue to lead him”.

So, once the war ended in 1945 Onoda and his small squad of three became ‘holdouts’, ignoring leaflets dropped in 1946 informing them the war was over and to surrender because they suspected a cheap trick by the Americans.

Onoda and his companions carried out guerrilla activities and engaged in several shootouts with the police whilst living in the jungle. One of the four surrendered in 1950, another was killed in a shootout in 1954 and the last soldier under Onoda’s command was shot in another gun battle in 1972.

Eventually a Japanese man, named Norio Suzuki, who was travelling around the world, looking for ‘Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order’ coaxed him out of hiding to surrender. He received a hero’s welcome once he returned home yet left a bitter legacy in the Philippines due to him and his squad killing 30 people during their campaign. Onoda would go on to open a ranch and survival school in Brazil. He died in Tokyo in 2014.

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Man Cuts off Own Arm to Save Life, 2003

Adventurer Aron Ralston found himself in a heck of a pickle when a boulder landed and trapped his arm while out hiking. With no help coming, he knew he’d have to do the unthinkable if he wanted to live; cut off his own arm.

It was May 1st, 2003 and a man named Aron Ralston found himself well and truly between a rock and a hard place.

He was alone at the bottom of Bluejohn Canyon starving, dehydrated, beginning to hallucinate, and was in the grip of death’s maw.

All this was because his right hand was pinned to the canyon wall by a 360 kg (800 lb) chockstone and it refused to budge or break no matter what Aron tried.

After five days of this predicament he’d come to accept that, in order to ever see his family again, he and his hand were going to have to part ways.

The problem was how to break through the bones to do so. How the hell had he got into this predicament anyway?

27-year-old Aron Ralston had once worked as a mechanical engineer for a few years but found himself burned out working in a large corporation. In 2002 he quit and moved to Aspen, Colorado in order to pursue a life of climbing mountains.

He’d actually had a brush with death before, surviving a major avalanche on Resolution Peak, Colorado.

Now, five days earlier, canyoning down the dark nether-regions of the Bluejohn slot canyon a suspended boulder was dislodged as he clambered over it and smashed his left hand before crushing his right against the canyon wall.

Aron was alone, hadn’t informed anyone of his plans, and had no way to call for help.

Audio from Aron Ralston’s video footage

He spent five days slowly sipping his small amount of remaining water and eating his small amount of food while repeatedly trying to extricate his arm, but his efforts were futile.

By the fourth day he came to terms with the fact that he had to cut through the arm bones, but his dull 5.1 cm (2 inch) pen-knife was not up to the task.

Eventually, delirious, he had the epiphany to break his radius and ulna bones using torque against his trapped arm. He did so and used his pen-knife to cut through the rest.

Aron hiked out of the canyon, came across a Dutch family who gave him food and water before calling in a rescue chopper and he was rescued just four hours after amputating his arm. Aron Ralston went on to write a book of his harrowing experience, became a motivational speaker, got married and had 2 children. A movie of his incredible tale was made called ‘127 Hours’.

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