5 Fall From the Sky
Juliane Koepcke is another lone survivor of a tragic crash, and her story may be even more stunning than Cichan’s. Koepcke was 17 years old on December 24, 1971, when LANSA Flight 508 was struck by lightning and disintegrated in midair over South America. Not only did Koepcke have to survive the initial destruction, she had to survive the two-mile fall to the floor of the Amazonian rainforest. Amazingly, she did just that. Although 91 people died aboard the turboprop plane, Koepcke walked out of the Peruvian rainforest 11 days later.
4 “Sole Survivor”
Sometimes, when a plane crashes, the amazing thing is that anyone survives at all. And when Northwest Airlines Flight 255 crashed and burned on takeoff on August 16, 1987, a little girl became one of the lucky ones. Although 154 passengers and two on-ground bystanders were killed, 4-year-old Cecelia Cichan was thrown clear of the inferno. Cichan lost her father, brother and mother—who was later credited with giving her life to shield her daughter. Cichan survived burns and multiple bone fractures, and grew up to marry, as well as appear in a documentary on plane crash survivors.
3 The Sioux City Tumble
There are times when a pilot cannot prevent a tragedy, but his skill prevents an even greater one from taking place. Such was the case on July 19, 1989, when United Flight 232 was forced into an emergency landing in Sioux City, Iowa. Although Captain Alfred C. Haynes and his crew could not land the plane smoothly, they did everything in their power to prevent a disaster. As a result, although the plane was shredded in what was really a controlled crash landing, Haynes and company – along with the emergency responders—were credited with saving lives, not losing them. Of the 296 passengers aboard, 184 lived.
2 The Miracle on the Hudson
Airplane pilots need nerves of steel. Fortunately, they seldom need to display them for the world. When Chesley Sullenberger was put the test aboard US Airways Flight 1549, however, he passed with “flying” colors. Sullenberger’s plane hit a flock of birds during takeoff on January 15, 2009, and lost both engines. “Sully” quickly figured out he couldn’t reach any area airports, and had to ditch in the Hudson River. This is not nearly as easy or simple as it sounds. But, not only did Sullenberger land safely, he stayed aboard until the last passenger was off the sinking jet. All 155 people on the flight survived what was promptly dubbed the “Miracle on the Hudson.”
When a Uruguayan Air Force flight carrying an amateur rugby team went down in the Andes Mountains on October 13, 1972, it was just the first chapter in a story that eventually led to a hit book and movie. The title of those works is “Alive,” which tells you that, for some of the passengers at least, it was a story with a happy ending. Although struck by an avalanche that killed some of the initial survivors, and forced to resort to cannibalism, a total of 16 survivors were saved after two of them made a 10-day, 40-mile trek through the mountains to safety.