11 Amazing Survival Stories Of People Who Escaped Death

Published February 2, 2016
Updated November 19, 2020

These 11 survival stories depict human perseverence in the face of extreme adversity.

Ernest Shackletons Stranded Crew

Frank Hurley/Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge/Getty Images
Ernest Shackleton’s crew playing soccer on the ice floe after their ship is trapped in the ice near Antarctica.

Survival stories are thrilling and terrifying. People don’t understand the extent of their abilities until they find themselves in life-or-death situations.

Take Olympic pentathlete Mauro Prosperi, who spent 10 days lost in the Sahara Desert during the Marathon des Sables in 1994. He survived by drinking his own urine and eating raw lizards before he was finally rescued by Algerian police.

There is also the miraculous survival of Vesna Vulović, a flight attendant who survived after her plane dropped 33,330 feet from the sky. Doctors said she would be paralyzed for life but Vulović was back on her feet after 10 months.

Or what about the steady leadership of 20th-century explorer Ernest Shackleton, who guided his crew through 497 days trapped in the Arctic? The entire crew survived the expedition which — despite its failure — remains one of the most revered survival stories to date.

These amazing survival stories depict people trapped in dire situations. But they are also reflections of extreme perseverance and courage in the face of possible death — proving just how resilient the human spirit can be.

Hugh Glass: The Real-Life Inspiration Behind ‘The Revenant’

Hugh Glass Bear Attack

Wikimedia CommonsA depiction of the bear attack that Hugh Glass survived.

Hugh Glass was an Irish-American fur trader whose name became legendary because of his remarkable survival stories.

In 1822, Glass joined a fur-trading venture made up of 100 volunteers. They were hired to “ascend the river Missouri” toward the Great Plains, where they would trade with the Indigenous tribes of the area. This company of fur traders was known as “Ashley’s Hundred,” a nod to their commander, General William Henry Ashley.

The journey westward was treacherous. Glass and the rest of Ashley’s men trekked through rugged terrain for weeks on end. When the group made it to Fort Kiowa in South Dakota, they split up. Hugh Glass and several others set out west toward the Yellowstone River.

Glass became separated from the main group during a hunting expedition. Alone, he came across a grizzly bear and her two cubs. The bear attacked and Glass fought for his life. He survived — but barely. The enraged beast ripped out a piece of his shoulder, tore at his throat, and mangled his foot.

Hugh Glass managed to kill the bear and survive, but he was severely injured. When the rest of his group found him, they thought he would soon be dead. Two members of the party were allegedly paid a handsome $80 to carry his body back to camp while the rest of the group went ahead. They were sure that he would die within a few hours. But Glass held on and stayed alive for five days.

At this point, the two men decided to abandon the half-dead Glass to avoid an ambush by the Arikara peoples, a local tribe that had clashed with the fur-trading camp in the past. They left only a bear hide to keep Glass’ mangled body warm, assuming he would soon die.

The bear attack Glass survived was depicted in 2015’s The Revenant.

But Hugh Glass clung to life. He tended to his injuries and survived off of berries and roots while making the excruciating 200-mile journey back to camp. He received help from the Lakota tribe along the way and managed to bargain his way onto a skin boat.

After Glass returned to Ashley’s group, he traveled to Nebraska to confront one of the men, John Fitzgerald, who had left him behind. Glass, a former pirate, spared Fitzgerald’s life but made him a deadly vow: if Fitzgerald ever left the company, Glass would kill him. Fitzgerald stayed until the end of his life.

In the following decade, Hugh Glass remained with Ashley’s Hundred. He survived several other skirmishes but finally met his demise during a bloody confrontation with a group of Arikara natives in 1833. Glass’s famous bear fight was memorialized in a monument at the southern shore of the Grand River.

Centuries later, Glass’ gripping survival story was adapted into the 2015 Hollywood film The Revenant. Leonardo Dicaprio starred in the film as Hugh Glass and won his first Oscar.

Hayley Virgil
Hayley Virgil is a writer, literature enthusiast, and adventurer. When she isn't out exploring for a story to capture, she can often be found hunched over her computer monitor in a dimly lit room.