Real Survival Stories in the Wilderness

wilderness survival

When average people are tested far beyond their wildest dreams in real-world wilderness survival scenarios, the world learns from their inspiring stories. Check out these amazing tales about what motivates people to survive and how incredible the human body and spirit truly are.

Child Survivor

In the fall of 2016, three-year-old Tserin Dopchut was playing outside when he disappeared in the morning with nothing more than a long-sleeve shirt, pants, and shoes. Tserin was lost in the Siberian forest for nearly three days before he was found alive. How did this small, helpless child survive so long in near freezing temperatures with hungry wolves and bears?

It seems the smart boy found a dry spot under a tree to rest and ate some leftover chocolate from his pants pocket to stay alive. Since he's only three years old, a detailed account of the entire incident is not possible.

Double Bear Attack

Hiker Todd Orr has the unusual distinction of being perhaps the only person alive to have been attacked by the same wild bear twice in one day. While out on a typical Montana hike in 2016, Orr came upon a momma grizzly bear with her cubs. He tried all the standard initial safety procedures like yelling out loudly to make his presence known, but the bear charged him. Orr pulled out his bear spray, but it didn't stop the angry mother.

As an avid hiker and hunter, Orr knew to lay face-first on the ground and cover his head and neck as the bear came toward him. This kept his injuries light, and the bear walked away after a few minutes. As Orr ran back to his vehicle, the bear came charging at him again a little way down the trail. Orr assumed the safe position, but this time the bear was much more aggressive, causing major injuries to his head, arms, and shoulders. After the second attack, Orr was able to make it back to his vehicle and drive himself to the hospital.

Teen Plane Crash Survivor

Autumn Veatch, a 16-year-old girl, survived a plane crash followed by two days in the Washington wilderness. After a trip with her grandparents, who piloted the small plane, the trio were on their way home. The plane crashed deep in the woods and Veatch's grandparents didn't survive. Veatch suffered burns and bruises from the crash and her attempt to save her grandparents from the burning plane.

Although she was disoriented and upset, Autumn ultimately used what she had learned from the TV survival shows and followed a stream until she reached a highway. With no food, water, or gear, and only thin clothes on her back, this teen beat the odds and her own mental roadblocks to find her way back home.

Lost Hiker

Madeline Connelly set out on a hike with her dog Mogie while visiting an uncle in Montana. She wasn't familiar with the trail, but nonetheless assumed since it was a marked trail that she'd be just fine. Maddie didn't take any food on the trek and wasn't even wearing a coat as the sun was shining when she set off, intent on being home before dark. It wasn't until nightfall she realized she had gone far off the trail and was nowhere near getting home.

Maddie says she hiked late into the night until deciding to lay down and get some rest, snuggled up with her dog for warmth. The next day Maddie and Mogie hiked the entire day again, but had to spend another night outdoors. Although she lost hope on many occasions, Maddie and her best friend survived seven days in the wilderness drinking creek water and eating glacier lilies before bumping into a search party.

Extended Accounts of Real Survival

Wilderness survival stories are so fascinating and unbelievable, they often serve as the basis for books and movies. While written accounts in the form of memoirs contain true accounts from the survivor's perspective, other novels and movies exercise creative license to make the true story even more exciting.

Books

Years after recovery, some real-life wilderness survivors choose to share their story as a means to inspire and help others. No one expects to be lost or trapped in difficult terrain and no one knows what they'd do in that situation until they've been there. These factual first-hand accounts help readers understand how the mental struggle to survive can be as difficult as the physical struggle.

  • One man and his teenage kids survived an Alaskan shipwreck and their story is told in Four Against the Wilderness by Elmo Wortman. The author is the father from this family and he recounts the story of how they all made it to shore and survived in the Alaskan wilderness in 1981. Since the book is no longer in print, you'll need to look for it at a local library or buy a used copy. Readers on Goodreads give the intense novel four out of five stars thanks to the honesty, suspense, and loving family tie-in.
  • Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home by Nando Parrado details the author's account of survival in the Andes after a 1972 plane crash. Parrado miraculously survived the crash then led fifteen others to safety as they trekked and survived together for more than two months. A new copy runs about $10 with an almost perfect rating from more than 70 customer reviews. This inspiring story was made into the 1993 movie Alive starring Ethan Hawke.
  • What started as the journey of a lifetime between four friends ended as one man's tale of survival alone in the Amazon rainforest in 1981. In Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Survival in the Amazon by Yossi Ghinsberg, the author shares his story about living alone for weeks in the jungle without proper gear or training. Grab a copy for just over $10 then check out the 2017 film Jungle, based on the book and starring Daniel Radcliffe.

Movies

Books and news stories with exceptional examples of true survival are ideal movie plots because they provide suspense and an empathic component. These films focus on one or a few characters in a single location, leaving the actual storyline to drive the movie.

  • Based on the novel of the same name, Touching the Void premiered in 2004 and shares the story of two men on an epic mountain climb in Peru where they faced tough decisions and conditions when everything went wrong. This film is based on the true novel written by climber Joe Simpson who recounts his personal journey from an injury to certain death and then survival.
  • Loosely based on real events, The Way Back follows the 1941 escape and 4,000 mile journey across desert and mountains of seven prisoners from a labor camp in Siberia. Released in 2010, the film stars Colin Farrell and Ed Harris. To this day, there is no concrete evidence who the men involved in this journey really were, but there is evidence to suggest the trek happened. After being published in 1956, The Long Walk became the subject of controversy as people questioned whether the author had actually participated in the journey at all. The film takes inspiration from the novel, but uses fictional names.
  • The survival story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his 28 man crew from a 1914 South Pole expedition is captured in the television mini-series from 2002 titled Shackleton. Based on the explorers own journal entries in his book South: A Memoir of the Endurance Voyage, the show stars Kenneth Branagh.

Where There's a Will

People of all ages are capable of extraordinary feats; that's the message behind true accounts of wilderness survival. For some, the will to survive is key, while others survived off grains of knowledge learned from books, movies, television shows, and news stories. Who knows? Perhaps reading and watching these stories could save your life one day.

Real Survival Stories in the Wilderness