In every community, there are a handful of people who, when faced with a crisis, react in extraordinary ways. Through ingenious efforts, death-defying deeds, or even reckless acts of self-sacrifice, they save their fellow citizens—or even sworn enemies—from all but certain death. Some are successful, some not so successful—but, hey, it’s the thought that counts, right? Here are 24 heroic facts about daring rescues.
24. Human Chain
There’s nothing like a crisis to bring people together. The Ursey family were enjoying a day at the beach in Panama City, Florida, when all six of them got caught in a powerful riptide. Their plight caught the attention of dozens of Panama City beachgoers that day, who formed an 80-person human chain and handed the family, one by one, to safety. Grandma Ursey suffered a heart attack during the ordeal, but she has since recovered and the whole family is doing fine. We’re guessing that they probably don’t go to the beach for family vacations anymore.
23. William Jackman
Sealing captain William Jackman had been visiting friends on the coast of Spotted Island, near Labrador, when he saw the Sea Slipper floundering in a sudden and brutal storm. With sure disaster at hand, and the sea was too rough for a rescue boat, Jackman tied a rope around his waist and dove in. 27 times he swam out, 27 times he swam back, 1,000 feet each time, and rescued every soul onboard.
22. Cabanatuan Rescue
Tens of thousands of US soldiers had been marched along a grueling stretch of jungle in the Philippines in what was known as the Bataan Death March. Waiting for them at the end of their was the notorious Cabanatuan POW camp, where prisoners were subjected to forced labor and torture. General Douglas MacArthur decided this had gone on long enough: in a daring midnight raid, the US Army Rangers swarmed the prison. The whole attack took less than half an hour and freed more than 500 POWs.
21. Wait, What?
Only three people survived the plane crash in the jungles of New Guinea in 1945. Luckily, they were able to signal for help. Not so luckily, the jungle was too dense to walk out of, let alone land a plane in. A rescue team was parachuted in—who then realized they themselves didn’t have a way out. Finally, they hit upon a plan: a giant slingshot. The stranded survivors were given some very rickety DIY gilders which they assembled and used to launch themselves to safety.
20. Subway Savior
When a strong and sudden gust of wind sent a woman’s baby stroller barreling toward the subway tracks, Delroy Simmonds sprang in to action. He leapt on to the tracks, lifting the stroller and its precious nine-month-old cargo to safety, missing the train by the skin of his teeth. All the excitement caused Simmonds to miss a job interview; luckily for him, the manager of an airport’s janitorial department saw Simmonds’ story and offered him a job on the spot.
19. Close Call
While waiting for the subway, Cameron Hollopeter had a seizure and fell off the platform on to the track. With the train coming, Wesley Autrey dove in on top of Hollopeter and covered him as the train passed a mere inch above him. Once the train passed, Autrey helped Hollopeter back on to the platform, and then went to work like it was no big deal.
In 2002, Jo Ann Altsman agreed to pet-sit for her daughter. That’s how she wound up with LuLu, a 150-pound potbelly pig. LuLu might have made for an unusual houseguest, but Altsman was awful glad to have her when she suffered a heart attack. LuLu barreled through the fence and lay down in the middle of the road. When a passing motorist stopped to investigate, LuLu jumped up and led the stranger back to Altsman house. Paramedics were called, Altsman was saved, and LuLu became a highly-demanded TV guest.
17. Mystery Caller
To this day, Altsman has no idea who LuLu led back to her house. He left shortly after paramedics arrived and never left a name. Altsman and LuLu have even appeared on Unsolved Mysteries in efforts to track down this Good Samaritan.
16. Operation Jericho
During WWII, while French Resistance fighters languished in the Amiens Prison, the Royal Air Force hatched a plan to free them: they would bomb the walls around the prison, leaving the prisoners unscathed. It was risky—bombers at the time were not precise—but the French rebels agreed they would rather die this way than at the hands of the Nazis. The attempt was, at best a mixed success: several prisoners died, and of the 258 who managed to escape, more than half were swiftly recaptured.
15. Russian For Oops
When a team of Chechen rebels took 850 people hostage at the Dubrovka Theatre in 2002, Russian forces were quick to act: they pumped an undisclosed gas through the vents, in hopes of knocking out the rebels. It apparently hadn’t occurred to the Russian forces that hostages are just as susceptible to crazy poison knock-out gas: not only did all the Chechen rebels die, but 130 of the hostages as well.
14. Patron Saints
The slobbery St. Bernard dog is named for Great St. Bernard’s Hospice, high in the Swiss Alps. Since the 1660s, monks at St. Bernard’s have been training the massive pups to work as guides and search dogs for mountaineers. One St. Bernard, Barry, saved more than 40 people—an impressive record that led to him being interred at the Natural History Museum in Berne.
St. Bernards aren’t the only animals specially trained to rescue mountain climbers. Wolverines, evolved to sniff out prey burrowed deep in the snow, have been trained by Alaskan wildlife officers to find avalanche survivors.
12. An Act of Heroism and Futility
During WWII, while stranded in No Man’s Land, German Lieutenant Friedrich Lengfeld could see an American soldier. He had stepped on a landmine. In a moment of pity, Lengfeld ordered his men not to fire, but allow the American to be rescued. When no rescue came, Lengfeld realized it was up to him to save the young American, and strode into the minefield. What could have been a noble, humane gesture in the midst of a terrible war blew up in Lengfeld’s face, literally, when he stepped on a landmine of his own.
11. Aboard the Finback
Forced to abandon his aircraft, a young Navy lieutenant waited for four days in a life raft until he was rescued and brought onboard the U.S.S Finback. The lieutenant was grateful for the rescue and spent the next month aboard the Finback, participating in the submarine’s daily duties.
10. Looking Presidential
Footage of the rescue resurfaced years later when it was used by the young lieutenant, George H.W. Bush, in one of his campaign ads. The ad presented Bush to the American public as a hero, willing to sacrifice his life for his country, and helped him win the 1988 election.
9. Ross Perot’s Strike Force
Billionaire Ross Perot, a two-time independent candidate for president, held the opinion that government was all talk, no action. Perot wasn’t just running his mouth off – he knew first hand. In 1978, when two executives of Perot’s EDS Corporation were thrown into an Iranian jail, Perot asked for immediate intervention from the US government. When that intervention failed to arrive, Perot organized his own team of army vets and mercenaries to break into the Iranian jail.
8. The Plan
Perot’s plan was worthy of any Hollywood movie: first he went to Iran, posing as a journalist, to get a sense of the prison. Next, an Iranian EDS employee was tasked with causing a literal riot outside the prison to create a diversion. While the riot was going on, Perot’s strike force broke into the prison, freed the EDS executives, and escaped into Turkey.
7. The Canadian Caper
In 1979, a group of Iranian students stormed the US embassy in Iran and took dozens of American diplomats hostage. Freeing them depended on a joint effort between the CIA and the Canadian government. The team infiltrated Iran, posing as location scouts for a sci-fi film called Argo. The hostages were then given real (Canadian-government issued) yet fake passports and documents, and slowly added to the “film crew,” who then flew peacefully out of Iran.
6. Eagle Claw
While “the Canadian Caper” was successful in getting one group of Americans out of Iran, others remained trapped at the US embassy. The US Army had a relatively simple plan: fly into Iran, cut the lights, storm the embassy, free the hostages. Easy-peasy. But of eight helicopters selected for the mission, three were unfit for service, a fourth broke down, and a fifth got caught in a sandstorm. The mission had to be aborted and added to the public opinion that the government was mishandling the crisis.
5. Operation Credible Sport
When Operation Eagle Claw failed, the US government had a back up: weld a butt-load of rockets onto a massive Hercules cargo jet, land it in the soccer stadium across the street, rush the hostages onto the plane, and then blast off to freedom. Crazy enough to work, or just plain crazy? The plan was abandoned when the Iranians agreed to let the hostages go.
4. Just Like We Practiced
Rick Rescorla was a safety-first kind of guy. He had been a Vietnam vet (his is among the faces on the cover of the book We Were Soldiers, Once, and Young), and drilled his employees at Morgan Stanley on emergency safety measures. So when Port Authority officials told Rescorla not to evacuate his office after a plane hit the World Trade Center, Rescorla told them to shove it, and marched all 2,700 workers in his office out of the building to safety while singing “God Bless America.”
With his employees out, Rescorla did the unthinkable: he raced back into the building to lead more people out of the building before it collapsed. Rick Rescorla was never seen again.
2. Despondent Doggos
In the days and weeks after the 9/11 attacks, it became increasingly difficult to find survivors in the rubble of the World Trade Center. This took a particular toll on the trained search and rescue dogs, whose whole purpose was to save people in situations like this. To keep the dogs’ confidence up, firefighters would hide in the rubble, letting the dogs “find” them, and breaking the slump.
1. Queen of the Jungle
When a 12-year-old Ethiopian girl was abducted, authorities spent a week looking for her. They had begun to fear the worst when they found her, sitting in the jungle, alone except for the three ferocious lions who stood guard around her. The lions not only chased off her kidnappers, but stood watch until the police arrived.
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