3 Remarkable Survivals of Freezing Proportions

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As I look at the challenges ahead for me in the next 12 months, I am naturally drawn to research survival in cold temperatures. Whilst reading and learning you cannot help looking at some highly extreme and brave survivors of the cold in the past. Here are 3 great examples which include bravery, leadership and pure survival instincts:

Ernest Shackleton and Crew

How did ALL crew survive?… Shackleton had already made great accomplishments by the time he set of with a crew on his ship, aptly named ‘Endurance’ in Aug 1914. Having heard of Amundsen’s reach of the South Pole he made his new mission, to cross the whole of the Antarctic Continent. Legend has it he released and advert in the London papers that read “Men wanted for a hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.” and that 5000 people applied. What is known however and quite aptly right is that he always chose crew and team members on temperament rather than and in fact more than physical ability.

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In January 1915 approaching Antarctica the ship became encased and trapped in an ice floe. This would mean the ship would stay like that until Spring (September), so he ordered the ship to ice station state. In September the ice started to break BUT then the hull was battered by pressure and movement causing the ship to be abandoned. The whole of the crew then had to make camp on the flowing ice with all equipment off the ship. Extreme conditions even more so for the ship crew.

By hoping the flow of the ice floe would take them to supplies on more Northern Islands they drifted in freezing conditions all the way through to Apr 09 the next year. When 60 miles from their preferred landing their ice floe broke in two and Shackleton gave the order to get in the lifeboats to head for the nearest island.

5 days they spent in boats eventually landing on Elephant Island, their first solid ground for 497 days! During those days he showed still his concern for all is men, selfishly replacing somebody’s lost gloves with his own and suffering severe frostbite himself as a consequence.

Elephant Island was no place to stay to long so he and five of the men set off on a perilous sea journey (on open boat) to seek help at South Georgia in the strongest of the lifeboats.  Storms, threat of capsising or being bashed against rocks made this an amazing 15 day voyage in itself. They landed on the wrong side of South Georgia for civilisation so with 2 men made on foot through the mountains for 36 hours (modern explorers who know the area even to this day do not know how he must have done it in the condition they would have been in). Finally, in August, Ernest Shackleton set off with help to rescue every single man of his crew.

Absolutely remarkable, brave and true leadership.

Anna Bågenholm

The lady that survived having the lowest accidental body temperature! Anna, from Sweden was skiing in Norway in 1999 when she lost control, fell on her back, and went head first through the 20 cm of ice covering a frozen stream. Only her feet and skis remained out above the water, her clothes filled with freezing water and she was trapped under the ice.

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Her friends tried for 7 minutes to pull her out before calling for help on mobile phones. The first rescue team to arrive tried to pull her out with ropes but failed. They could not also break through the ice to get her out. What was also so lucky for Anna is that in her initial struggle in the water under the ice she found an air pocket and stayed conscious for 40 minutes before circulatory arrest. Eventually after a full 80 minutes trapped she was rescued from the water and out from under the ice.

When they checked her the blood was not circulating and she was not breathing, her pupils were dilated. During an hour long rescue helicopter flight they tried CPR and ventilator to no effect. On arrival at hospital her body temperature was 13.7 °C (56.7 °F)! Tests showed no signs of life.

However, one doctor knew what to do to help and knew to warm up the body before pronouncing dead. Using special equipment to warm the blood and other equpiment to improve the lung collapse a team of more than 100 Drs and nurses worked for 9 hours to save her life. It worked, she showed signs of life, then woke up paralysed from the neck down. Eventually after months repairing damaged organs and tissues in intensive care she even lost her paralysis and had no signs of any brain damage. It has been found that Anna’s body reduced its metabolism so much that she did not need that much oxygen at all under the ice plus the CPR and ventilator on the helicopter almost certainly saved her from brain damage.

An amazing story of the body’s survival and medical help. Considering most hypothermia cases die if the body drops below 28 °C (82 °F) then this story along with medical notes on other cases shows that we should never give up.

The Andes Flight Disaster

On October 13 1972 a flight carrying 45 people clipped a high mountain in the Andes ripping off its wing and leaving a gaping hole in the fuselage. It hit a second mountain that took off the 2nd wing leaving just the fusalage flying, wingless. It crashed down at a point above 3,600 metres (11,800 ft) in altitude.

27 of those on board survived initially after the rest died during the crash or from cold and injuries shortly after. In the fuselage they found a transistor radio and learned that after 8 days the search and rescue was cancelled. On October 29 an avalanche crashed and covered the fuselage as they slept, a further 8 died.

These people had no clothing for this area, nothing for snow blindness, no proper footwear and no medical supplies. Importantly they had no food except a few biscuits and chocolate bars. At this altitude calories meant survival.

After trying to eat leather from suicases etc the horrible and only group decision was that they could only survive by eating the flesh of their dead, starting with the pilot. Made even worse knowing that the bodies were their friends.

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In December they decided they had to do something. They had to go for help. A few of the team set off, ill equipped they marched on at high altitude bravely, nearly freezing to death, making improvised sleeping bags from plane insulation. They climbed mountains as high as 4800 m and exhausted they went on for day after day. Eventually after many days they walked below the snowline and found a horseman. He in turn rode for hours to get word to the Army and start a rescue mission. Those back at the fuselage heard on the radio as word spread that the trek had been successful from what had been thought another 2 dead colleagues and finally on 23 December all remaining survivors had been rescued.

A true story of brave choices, human instinct and teamwork to survive the impossible. The story has even been made into a film. ‘Alive’

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