When the OL Survival editors asked me to rank my Ten Favorite Survival Stories of 2011, I thought it would be a fairly easy set of choices…

But once I started digging, I actually had a hard time deciding which stories grabbed me the most this year. We saw tales of bravery, faith and endurance this year. We also heard about bad luck, stupidity and hairy run-ins with rogue wildlife.

In the end, I decided to hit all those targets and give you “My Year In Survival”. Enjoy.

#10 The Logger Who Cut Off His Toes

We received a lot of comments on this story, about a gentleman who didn’t waste any time deciding to amputate his own toes to free himself in a semi-remote area. This Colorado logger got his toes pinned between two metal surfaces when his trailer slipped. He only waited thirty minutes before he sent his little piggies to Toe Heaven. The parts of this story that catch my attention are the man’s timing and his choice. How long would any of us wait to be rescued if we were trapped somewhere? And would we be tough enough to chop off our own body parts to free ourselves?

#9 NC Hiker Breaks His Leg In

This story made me scratch my head the most this year, and question whether some of the human species is capable of surviving at all. A man who liked the scenery in the movie 127 Hours, decided to travel alone to the dangerous canyon in Utah where the real Aron Ralston story unfolded. Our hiker missed the key theme of the Ralston movie — don’t go to hazardous places by yourself. Ralston had to cut his own arm off when he got pinned by a boulder in Little Blue John Canyon. Ralston’s copycat didn’t do much better, breaking his leg in the treacherous canyon and almost dying of dehydration on his solo crawl out to find help.
#8 Frozen Beer, And A Lucky Rescue **

A Nome, Alaska resident survived being stranded in his truck on a deserted, frigid road for 60 hours. His name was Clifton Vial and his main source of nourishment? Frozen cans of beer. Vial’s truck slipped off the road and became buried in a snow bank. He was grossly underprepared for the Alaskan emergency, wearing only jeans, a light jacket and a pair of sneakers. The 52-year-old man was able to stay alive in -17 degree temperatures until help arrived. The always punctual employee, Vial was missed by his boss and co-workers, who initiated the search, which saved Vial’s life. I’ll chalk that up as one more reason to show up for work on time.

#7 Russian Bears Play With Their Food

This viral video doesn’t give us much back story to go along with the clip, but as they say “a picture is worth a thousand words”. A Polar bear tossed around some poor Russian lady like a rag doll, in this video that swept the web. Thankfully, both she and the bear survived the encounter.

#6 Coast Guard Cook Saves Girl From Drowning

On September 10th, Petty Officer 2nd Class Leon Doniphan selflessly leapt into the Columbia River to save a young girl from drowning. The girl, about 11 or 12-years-old, was swimming in the river near a large navigation buoy chained to the river’s shore. The girl had tried unsuccessfully to swim against the current and was panicking. Doniphan jumped in and rescued the girl, letting her take hold of him while he swam to the buoy’s chain. He then climbed the chain hand-over-hand, pulling the girl to safety.

#5 Lost 8-Year-Old Survives The Cold

A young Virginia boy who suffers from autism survived alone in the woods for nearly six days, after he wandered away from his family while they were hiking in a wooded park near Richmond, Virginia. The boy was found just one day before a cold front came through the area with freezing rain that lasted almost 24 hours, which almost certainly would have been fatal to the youngster. The boy was the focus of an intense search involving thousands of volunteers; and hundreds of local law enforcement and search-and-rescue personnel. The eight-year-old was dehydrated and suffered from a few bruises, scratches and bug bites, but was in amazingly good condition when the searchers found him curled up in a ditch before the weather turned lethal.

#4 Co-ed Survives 10 Days Snowbound

Last week, 23-year-old Arizona State University student, Lauren Weinberg, was found alive in her vehicle on a remote dirt road in northeastern Arizona after being stranded in the snow for 10 days. How did she make it? She told a Coconino County Sheriff’s deputy that she had survived on 2 candy bars, melted snow water and prayers. Weinberg was quoted saying, “At times I was afraid, but mostly I had faith that I would be found.”

#3 Teens Survive Grizzly Attack

Some teens were lucky to be alive after the July 23rd attack by a brown bear and her large cub in Alaska. The two bears mauled a group of teenage boys on a NOLS survival trek in the Alaskan wilderness, forcing a harrowing rescue to help two of the teens who suffered life-threatening injuries. Samuel Gottsegen received the second worst injuries, and was quoted saying the attack was “…the scariest moment of my life”. In all, seven people were significantly injured during the fight, but the happy update on this story is that everyone survived.
#2 Two Castaways Last 33 Days At Sea**

Two men who were reported missing on October 22 in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean, were rescued after spending 33 days adrift at sea. The men went missing from Kiribati, an island nation made up of 32 widely-dispersed atolls in the central tropical Pacific. The islands of Kiribati straddle the equator, and are located roughly 1,000 miles northeast of Australia. The lost sailors, ages 53 and 26, eventually made landfall on a tiny island of Namdrik Atoll, some 300 miles from where they started. The castaways were picked up on November 25, by U.S. Coast Guards based in Hawaii.
#1 Boy Wanders Out Of German Forest After 5 Years**

On September 5, a mysterious young man reportedly wandered into Berlin City Hall in Germany. The first words he spoke were in English and with a curious accent. He simply stated, “I’m alone in the world. I don’t know who I am. Please help me.” He told an English-speaking city employee that he thought his name was Ray, and that he had spent the last five years living in a forest with his father, who had recently died. Months later, the police are still at a loss in the boy’s case, and some officials are skeptical of the entire story. Ray refuses to give a DNA sample or let his photograph be released to the public. Police who tested the boy’s clothes and tent found those items had not spent a significant time outside, however they could have been acquired more recently. A modern day Mowgli, or a clever con man, we may never know for sure. But if he did spend five years surviving in the woods, I am thoroughly impressed.