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The Three Top Survivors of 2013

December 26, 2013

We all know that disaster can strike at any time. However, with solid
preparation, some survival grit, clear thinking and a little luck,
people are capable of beating the odds and surviving some incredibly
perilous situations.

That is exactly the case for’s Top Survivors of 2013. A
ship’s cook swam past dead crew mates to find the one pocket of air in
his capsized tugboat. An elderly hunter survived nineteen days alone
in the frozen forest. A Canadian woman survived twelve days despite
grizzlies, a broken jaw, and the violent advances of her fellow man.

Here’s what happened — and here’s how each of them survived.

How a Ship’s Cook Survived Sixty-Two Hours on the Bottom of the Ocean

Ship’s cook Harrison Okene, 29, survived alone in an air bubble on the bottom of the ocean — without diving gear.

He was a ship’s cook for the tugboat Jascon 4 off the coast of Nigeria when the ship suddenly overturned and capsized. Harrison heard his shipmates shouting, then falling silent as the ship filled with water. Okene fled to a compartment, navigating around his lifeless shipmates, and shut the cabin door to stop the water from rushing in.

Okene happened to be in the right place at the right time, as a small but breathable air bubble formed. He improvised a crude raft from two mattresses.

The air bubble was only four feet tall. Okene found a bottle of Coke and two flashlights, but the torches gave up after less than one day. Okene was left in total darkness.

He spent his limited air praying nonstop in the dark for two long days and nights, bargaining with God for his life. If rescued, he promised he’d never return to the sea again.

On the third day, Okene finally abandoned hope. He was cold and wet and completely alone, with no drinking water. He’d seen no light at all for two days. The air was slowly becoming less and less breathable. The cook resigned himself to death.

Then, after sixty-two nightmarish hours, Okene heard noise. Air bubbles began to rise around him, and he saw light from the water below. He realized divers must have entered the ship.

Rescue seemed imminent, but then the light moved away and Okene realized he had to get the divers’ attention. Holding his breath, he dove through the dark waters and managed to tap a diver, no doubt terrifying the man — the Jascon 4’s entire crew had been presumed dead.

The spooked diver assumed he’d brushed against a drifting corpse. It was only when Okene grasped at the diver that they realized they’d found the sole survivor of the Jascon 4’s disaster.

After sixty more hours in a decompression chamber, Okene finally returned to solid land. Understandably, he still suffers nightmares about his ordeal, and his wife says he wakes at night believing that their bed is sinking.

Okene showed impressive psychological endurance and fast, intelligent action in one of the harshest situations any person could face. For that, we give Harrison Okene a nod as one of our top survivors of 2013.

How an Elderly Man Survived Nineteen Days in the Snow

72-year-old Gene Penaflor got separated from his buddy while hunting deer in Mendocino National Forest, California. Penaflor slipped, hitting his head, and lay unconscious for an indeterminate length of time.

On waking, Gene acknowledged that he was disoriented and hurt, and recognized that he needed to hunker down and take care of his basic survival needs. It proved to be a smart decision.

Penaflor survived by hunting and eating small game: frogs, squirrels, lizards and a snake. He scooped up algae and drank creek water. The temperature dropped to 25 F and a snowstorm postponed rescue efforts, but Gene endured the storm by building a fire and nesting in a dry shelter he’d constructed under a fallen tree.

Finally, after nearly three weeks in the bush, Penaflor’s cries for help reached the ears of a hunter who called 911. The operator tracked the hunter’s GPS coordinates to dispatch a rescue team.

His ordeal had lasted nineteen days, but by nightfall, Penaflor was giving a thumbs-up from a hospital bed.

For weeks, Gene single-handedly met his own survival needs in rough terrain. His survival story proves that with good physical fitness, basic wilderness knowledge, a stubborn will to survive, and a calm mindset, a person of any age is capable of making the best of a bad situation.

How a Canadian Woman Survived Bears, a Broken Jaw, and Her Fellow Man

A 25-year-old Canadian woman — unnamed out of respect for privacy — was traveling in Alberta with four others when their truck broke down. Three of the others split away to find help, leaving the woman alone with a man she barely knew. The man allegedly used the opportunity to sexually assault her. He punched her in the face and the woman fled into the wilderness with a badly broken jaw. She quickly became lost.

She made her way through the wilderness, painfully munching on berries and drinking from a river. She encountered grizzly bears several times while lost; at one point one wandered directly into her shelter and sniffed at her. The woman remained still, and the bear eventually wandered away.

In the end, this remarkable woman survived for nearly two weeks with nothing but scraps of knowledge she’d picked up from survival shows and a few tricks her hunting father had taught her.

For escaping assault, then hiking through the wilderness for an amazing twelve days with no supplies and serious injury, this woman deserves our admiration and respect.

Her assailant faces charges of sexual assault, aggravated assault, and obstructing police. The woman’s jaw required reconstructive surgery, but she saved her own life.

Are You Prepared for 2014?

Accidents and misadventures can interrupt your life at any time. There are many things in this world you can’t control, but what you can do is ensure that you’re physically prepared, knowledgeable, and well-stocked with suvival supplies for your vehicles, your home — even your pocket.

Stack the odds in your favor—just in case you find yourself holding your own life in your hands someday. Stay safe out there, and if the worst happens, remember the stories of these courageous men and women.

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