Catastrophes — like a plane crash or being stranded at sea — always seem to make you think, Oh, that'll never happen to me.
So here are just 17 catastrophic stories that'll definitely grow a few goosebumps on your arms:
1. "I got buried in an avalanche a few years ago. Three of my friends and I were skiing, and the area we were at received about 4 feet of snow in a matter of a day or two. Long story short, I was behind my friend, and he triggered the slide, but I got caught in it. I tried skiing out of it, but there's not much you can do. I got flipped over, and snow rushed down over the top of me. I thought I was a goner, as I was literally stuck and not able to move any part of my body."
2. "On my 16th birthday, my dad, friend, and I were leaving my friend's ranch in Texas in our family's Piper Cherokee 180 plane after having a guys' weekend to celebrate. All of our friends were lined up alongside the runway, watching us take off to head home. Everything was going fine, and then once we got up over the trees about 300 feet in the air, the wind turned and took all of the lift away from us. So the plane started falling really fast. There was absolutely no lift, so we just fell. There's nothing you can do in that situation in this plane with such little power, either. We hit the trees, and the wing on my side of the plane got completely torn off, leaving a huge hole in the fuselage where I was sitting; then the plane rolled because the wing was gone, and we landed nose down in the woods. The next thing I knew, I was hanging upside down in my seat, and it was the weirdest feeling ever."
"I describe it like in war movies when a bomb goes off and suddenly its silent, ears ringing, everything seems to be in slow motion. That's exactly what I felt like until slowly I started hearing my dad yelling to get out of the plane. I didn't realize his side of the plane was going up in flames very fast. So I went to crawl out of the plane, but my seat belt was stuck on something, and for the life of me I couldn't get it undone. My dad said he looked up and saw my belt buckle stuck on the strap, so he reached up and ripped it off, and out I went. Then my dad went to escape but said he heard my friend yelling that he was stuck in the backseat because the seats wouldn't fold forward. They were jammed because the roof had crashed down on top of them, not allowing them to fold forward and out of the way.
My dad pulled him through the seats and threw him out of the plane. He has no recollection of that. So by this time, the plane’s cabin is completely engulfed in flames, and my dad is still inside. So when he goes to escape, he does a weird dead fish dive out of the side of the plane, and we all took off running. We made it about 40ft away when the gas in the wing on the other side of the plane that hadn't been ripped off caught fire and exploded blowing us all to the ground.
All of this sounds like it took a while, but we were out of the plane in 15 seconds after the crash. I only injured my knee and needed 20 staples and some stitches. I'm completely fine today. The Federal Aviation Administration said they've never seen a crash like ours that, one, anyone has walked away from and, two, that EVERYONE walked away from without almost any injuries. Its a complete miracle that we're alive today!!!"
3. "When I was 9 years old, we were traveling from our cabin back to town with an open boat. The seas were rough, and the boat had a built-in flaw that caused it to break in two due to the pounding on the waves. I sat faced toward the back, so I didn't see it break. I suddenly just had water up to my waist. When I turned around, the nose was floating a couple of meters away from the boat. My mom's husband at the time said 'Jump,' and so we did, into 2-degrees-Celsius water of the North Sea as far from the boat as possible. Her husband managed to launch two emergency flairs before the boat vanished below him. He was a very poor swimmer, and even though we tried to hold onto him, he got away from us due to the large waves constantly covering us."
4. "I survived an airplane crash. My mother owned a few aircraft and hangar planes at our small town's airport. I spent a lot of time at the airport, as I grew up spending summers washing airplanes, sweeping out the hangars, etc. One warm summer afternoon in the mid-1980s, we planned to take a short flight in her Piper J-3 Cub. This plane was built in the mid-1940s and had an aluminum skeleton covered in fabric and tandem seats, one in the front and one in the back. I sat in front due to the better view, and my mom sat in the back. I remember the pre-flight and some taxiing to the runway, but nothing else. Now, I received the rest of the story secondhand, as neither my mom nor I remember anything due to massive head trauma. But what I've heard from family was that on takeoff, we lost power, and the engine cut out. The ambulance drivers who arrived on the scene thought we were done for."
"So, with a relatively slow airspeed and no thrust from the engine, we changed from being a beautiful flying machine to a brick rather quickly. Well, we dropped like a brick and proceeded to hit the ground in a rather quick manner. Things did not look good for us. But after a helicopter ride to the nearest trauma center a hundred miles away, we are still alive and breathing today. I spent about five weeks in the hospital but only remembered the last two. To remind me what happened, I have nasty scars on my lower lip and chin and a dent on the side of my head. I find myself wondering if I had the chance to relive the whole thing over again, would I want to remember? At this point in my life, I can say I would not. Such things are not worth remembering. And did we ever fly again? You bet. As soon as my mom was able to pass a flight physical, we were both up in the air again."
5. "When I was 10 or 11 years old, I was involved in a scary sailboat mishap. My father and I rented a small sailboat to take on the local lake. It was a nice day; however, there were strong wind gusts in the middle of the lake. It is important to note that my father is not an experienced skipper despite his exuberant confidence. While trying to be like his New England buddies, my father had me get on the same side of the boat that he was on, shifting all the weight to one side. That was a grave error. Suddenly, a burst of wind tipped us right over, and as we fell the boat came over on top of us into the water."
6. "I was stuck in a bushfire in Australia. My S.O., myself, and our infant son were in the car evacuating on the only road out of our small town. We got very little warning as the fire moved so fast. The fire was coming on the right side of the road, and smoke was everywhere, so we could hardly see. My S.O. was driving and luckily saw the truck in front of us and stopped just in time before hitting it. The fire started to blow across the road and ignite the bush on our left. Embers were raining down on our car; we just stared at them bouncing off the car bonnet. I saw a flashing red glow in the smoke beyond the truck, and it took a minute or so to work out what I was seeing; it was a fire service truck. I had to fight every bit of instinct I had in me, which was screaming at me to grab my baby, hide him inside my clothes, and run toward the red lights."
"I doubt I'd have made it. A semi-trailer truck (18-wheeler) had jack-knifed in the road and was blocking the way. We couldn't see if anyone was in the truck, and I was going to go out and check, but the fire was now at the roadside on our right, and years of fire safety education had taught me you stay in the car.
The fire was literally blowing around in front of us, but damn if that wasn't the strongest instinct I've ever felt. I just sat there in the car repeating over and over to myself, 'Stay in the car; stay in the car.' My S.O. managed to contact the firies on the UHF to alert them to our presence. They sprayed water over us while a secondary truck drove through the burning scrub around the big truck to reach us, and then the rest all was a blur, being transferred to their truck and driving out of there watching the bushfire raging behind us. Saw the news in the hospital where they reported two deceased people found in that semi-trailer truck. Volunteer firefighters saved our lives."
7. "I remember being a young child on vacation with my family in cottage country. My whole family, around nine of us, tried to fit on a tiny little motorboat. Not too long after we left the shore, everyone realized something wasn't right with the boat. Within five minutes, the boat began to sink. I did not know how to swim, and neither did my dad. My dad grabbed onto me because I was the only one wearing a life jacket. His heavy body weight began to pull my little body down despite having a life jacket. I began to panic because I thought my dad was going to drown."
"My sister tried to swim around to get all of our fishing gear and everything we lost on the boat. We all survived, and in the end, everything was OK; but my dad never went on a boat again (it’s been almost 15 years), and I never learned how to properly swim because of the fear of drowning. I have swum with a life jacket on, and I still get horrible anxiety over it. I’ve gone on vacation to Cuba several times, and I can’t get into the water because I’m afraid the waves will take me under."
8. "My brother, dad, his friend, and I went sailing one day. The plan was to sail a few miles out round an old oil platform and back. My dad's friend was at the helm and was pretty inexperienced. My dad and I were down below making tea when all of a sudden, WHACK. There was this horrible bang and scraping sound. We had hit an illegal lobster pot, and its anchoring line had wrapped around both our rudder and propeller. We were stuck with no steering and full sails up. We had to quickly lower the sails as we were being practically capsized by the wind blowing the sails. The stern of the boat was being dragged under, and we were slowly taking on water. Of course, we put out a mayday call straight away, and all we could do was wait to be rescued. As we were waiting, the tide was coming in, and we were slowly being dragged underwater."
9. "In August 2012, five friends and I rented a penthouse and stayed in San José del Cabo for a month. On our second day there, we rented a speed boat for our much-anticipated wakeboarding excursion. The majority of the ride was fantastic. We followed the shoreline from San José del Cabo to Cabo San Lucas. Mid-point in our trip, we went to flip a U in a harbor close to the Holiday Inn. Then all hell broke loose. At the apex of our turn, we lost power. That meant that the front of our boat was facing the beach, and the back was facing the ocean. The Mexican undercurrent is fast, and the water deepens very quickly. The tide pulled us into the waves. With every surge, the water pushed the boat’s tail (where I was sitting) up while tilting the nose down. As soon as I noticed that tilt, I knew impending doom was coming. Surely enough, the next push of the water tilted the nose far enough down to be caught undercurrent, thus throwing me straight up in the air."
"At this point, the boat hadn't flipped yet. When the receding wave brought the boat back level, gravity returned me to my seat on the boat. I landed on my feet, but felt a shock up my back and an immediate, smashing warmth in my spine, then BAM! I fell forward in between the seats and COULDN'T FEEL A FUCKING THING below my chest. Meanwhile, the boat was on the verge of being flipped vertically. My friend Kati jumped on top of me and holds on to the railing with all of her strength, so I didn't fly off or get dragged away.
Another wave pounds... This time, water slammed into the boat, smacking Kati in the back. The force of the water pounded her nose right into the back of my head, breaking her nose. When this happened, I think I blacked out for a sec. I'm a very strong swimmer, so when I finally felt the boat getting sucked out from under us, I remember thinking, I HAVE TO SWIM AS HARD AS I CAN OR I'M GOING TO DIE. So I did. A local surfer, Juan (I hope to thank this guy again someday), saw it all happen and swam out with his board and helped me to shore. My friend lost her wallet, and I lost my reentry visa. I lost my favorite dress in that damned accident too.
I spent the rest of the month and my budget for what would have been fishing, golfing, drinking, stuff, with my friends...on food, tequila, hour-long massages, and Mexican over-the-counter pain pills. The doctors there were fantastic. I had a T5–7T compression injury with bruising in my lumbar. He said I was extremely close to a serious, SERIOUS injury. I still feel it five years later. I have PTSD from the accident, for sure...boats make me sweaty."
10. "I was in a plane crash in 2013. Three friends and I had taken a Cessna to interior British Columbia for a long weekend. One friend even had their private pilot's license. The day we were heading home, it was quite hot, and the plane was, according to investigators, over-loaded and over-fueled for the heat/altitude. Once we reached maybe 2,000 feet above takeoff, we began losing airspeed. The pilot panicked and did some steep turns in an attempt to gain some speed, but it scrubbed nearly all our altitude pretty much instantly. Now at a few hundred feet and descending rapidly, the pilot aimed for a farmer's field."
11. "I was in a plane crash, but luckily it wasn't catastrophic. It was about 10 years ago, and I was flying from Seattle to a small airport in the Pacific Northwest in a tiny airplane. It was winter and raining. It was also very cloudy. There was so much turbulence; the place rocked the whole ride. Somewhere along the way, in the clouds, we crossed paths with another flight. The tail of the plane I was on hit the top of the other plane. Shit was insane. The plane lost stability and started dropping altitude so fast! The air masks deployed while we were just falling."
"Everyone put them on. Wanna know the strangest part? No one said a fucking word. Silence. Descent. Anxiety and fear. People were praying and just not saying anything. The plane continued to fall; however, the pilot eventually and luckily regained control. You know how in Fight Club, Tyler Durden says no one spoke of the masturbation session? It was like that; no one said a word on the small flight until we landed. I guess we were all afraid that something would happen again. Accepted death as a possibility. Very surreal experience. I have a lot of anxiety about flights to this day. I used to drink before flights. Now I just accept death as a possibility every time I get aboard a giant metal craft defying gravity."
12. "In high school, I was on a charter bus coming home from a marching band competition. We were in rural Idaho going down the highway at about 75 mph. Apparently, the bus driver had severe stomach pain but didn't say anything and eventually passed out from the pain. I was in the back of the bus sitting in the aisle with my back against the bathroom. My girlfriend was sitting next to me, and we were watching a movie with a laptop in the seat. I couldn't see out the window because I was on the floor, but I remember it started getting bumpy like we were pulling off the road when suddenly I heard a girl scream, 'WE ARE CRASHING,' and like 0.5 seconds after that registered, my face smacked the ceiling of the bus."
13. "I was in a bus fire a few years ago. I was sleeping one minute and being rushed off the bus the next. The vehicle had been driving slowly and smelled funny, but no one thought anything of it until someone looked out the window and saw smoke."
"We were evacuated and managed to run just a few yards when we heard a BOOM. I turned around and saw flames surrounding the bus. We phoned 911 and called our parents, and eventually, another bus from the company rescued us from the side of the road. As we rode by the charred shell of a vehicle, I saw that the seats, including the one I had been sitting in maybe a half-hour prior, were melted."
14. "When I was 19, my buddy and I went fishing in a pretty big lake in Gainesville, Florida. I was sitting at the very front with the cooler to try to balance out the weight, and while we were crossing the middle of the lake in our Gheenoe boat, we had a paddle strapped to the side, and it caught the water while we were going about 20 mph. It threw us probably 7–10 feet and immediately started sinking. About five minutes before that happened, we decided to put both of our phones in a waterproof box, which ultimately saved us because there was no one else out that day, given it was a little chilly outside. So after we were in the water, the boat started sinking fast."
15. "I once crashed a hang glider. I was being towed up behind a pickup truck and got turned around. Imagine the hang glider as a kite and the truck being you as a kid yanking on the string to make the kite do loops; then imagine being the GI Joe doll you taped to the kite. A coupling called a 'weak link' attached the glider to the payout winch on the truck. It was supposed to break when a certain amount of strain was placed on it, preventing the scenario described previously. The link didn't break, so there I was about 250 feet up, being towed backward."
"I got out my hook knife to sever the line manually. I'm not quite sure if it broke on its own before I could saw through it, but the end result was that I was finally free, albeit rather stationary at a fairly low altitude. The only thing I could do was put the glider into a steep dive to get some airspeed and hope I could pull out in time to land safely. Almost worked too. I got enough airspeed not to die when I crashed into a nearby bean field. I almost broke my wrists and seriously sprained my thumbs (which is WAY more painful than it sounds and takes way longer to heal than you'd imagine). But that's OK because I had to work for a few months to pay for the repairs to my hang glider."
16. "I was in a plane crash when I was 9 years old. It was a small plane with four doors and a propeller, with only my dad and me in it. We were about 1,000 feet over the San Francisco Bay when the engine quit. The plane proceeded to fall. We approached the water as my 9-year-old brain was coming to grips with the concept of death and such. We hit the water, and the plane skipped a few times as water began to flood through the floor. My dad and I got out and sat on the wing of our sinking plane for about 30 minutes, and the plane was too sunk to stay sitting on, so we had no choice but to swim to shore."
17. And finally, "I was in a plane crash when I was 6 years old. My father had relatively recently gotten his pilot license to fly single-engine planes. We were flying with a couple of my parents' friends from our home to Purdue University, a few states away, for our parents' homecoming weekend. As we were flying, we were making good time and apparently not using too much fuel. My father passed an airport at some point but decided not to refuel since we should have enough to make it to Indiana. Shortly after that, the headwind picked up, and we began to burn more fuel. The fuel was getting lower and lower as we neared our destination. Even though I was 6, I remember it very clearly when the engine cut out."
"Little four-seater planes are pretty loud, and it can be hard to talk to each other in them. When the engine cut out, it got very quiet, and you could just hear the wind going by outside. It was night, and my parents tried to remain very calm (partially for my sake). Still, I remember my father saying 'mayday' on the radio as he relayed our situation. We could see the airport lights in the distance, but we were dropping in altitude as we silently glided down. Mostly there were trees below us. Ahead, there seemed to be a big dark area that didn't seem to have trees in it, a hill up to the runway, and then the runway. It became clear that we were not going to make the runway as we got closer.
Luckily, we did clear the trees but crash-landed in the dark area before the hill (though again, the side of the hill would have been a bad thing to "land" into). As it turned out, the dark area was a reservoir that had been recently drained after being full for 20-plus years. Instead of water was about two feet of mud, and the plane kind of stuck into it when we hit. The landing gear was torn off, and the plane ended up nose forward in the mud. Surprisingly, the only injuries were a broken pinkie on my dad's friend, and my mom broke her nose on my back when we hit (I was sitting in her lap since there were five of us in a four-seater plane).
Since my father had already alerted emergency services on the radio, the fire department and ambulances were already there. They threw a rope down the hill and waded through the muck to come to get us. They then put us in an ambulance and took us to the hospital. I ended up spending the night so they could make sure that my back didn't get injured in the crash. But I was fine."
Do you happen to have a wild story about a catastrophe you survived? Feel free to leave it in the comments below.
Note: Entries have been edited for length and/or clarity.