It took 18 days and the efforts of dozens of divers and rescue personnel, but 12 boys and their soccer coach were finally rescued from the cave complex where they were trapped by floods during Thailand’s monsoon season. Here are five other dramatic rescues that were just as riveting:
A group of miners spends 68 days below the surface
It was an ordeal with an unprecedented international audience: the struggle of 33 Chilean miners to survive more than two months underground after a shaft of the copper mine in which they labored in Copiapó, Chile crumbled in August 2010. As rescue workers attempted to retrieve the men, other mine shafts they used for the work caved in. Meanwhile, the men were stuck behind 770,000 tons of rock as their families waited breathlessly, many in tent camps on the surface, for word that they had survived.
As the miners huddled in a room they called “the Refuge,” they were able to communicate with the outside world through a borehole dug by rescue crews. The trapped men communicated briefly with their families through the hole and were even advised by NASA with information on medicine, nutrition and the psychological effects of spending so much time beneath the surface. After a lengthy drilling process, the rescue itself began and all 33 of the men were pulled to safety. Years later, the miners and their rescuers still face down the emotional demons of the post-traumatic stress disorder that remains from their ordeal.
A baby spends 58 hours at the bottom of a well and emerges a household name
In October 1987, 18-month-old Jessica McClure became a household name when she stepped into an abandoned water well at her aunt’s house in Midland, Texas. Stuck 22 feet beneath the surface in a slender well shaft, she was trapped in the well for two and a half days as rescue workers struggled to determine how best to extract her.
As the media circled, rescue workers considered and abandoned a number of plans before deciding to drill another well shaft next to the well, then create a tunnel between the two shafts. The rescue played out on live television, creating accusations of a media circus.
“Baby Jessica,” as she is now known, suffered only minor injuries, including the loss of a toe to gangrene after the rescue. Today, she’s a mother in Texas; most of the trust fund set up for her after the ordeal was lost during the 2008 stock market crash.
Rescuers managed to sidestep a Titanic-style disaster
When the SS Andrea Doria collided with a Swedish ocean liner in 1956, it could have been another Titanic. The Italian liner hit the MS Stockholm due to operator error during a foggy afternoon in the waters off of Nantucket Island, and the nearly head-on collision couldn’t be averted by panicked crew members. Onboard Andrea Doria, passengers felt a huge jolt along with the sound of clanging metal. In one of the lounges, the ship’s orchestra was playing “Arrivederci, Roma” when they were hurled from the stage by the sheer force of the crash.
As the Andrea Doria began to sink, passengers realized that its lifeboats had been all but destroyed due to the location of the collision.
As crew members workers struggled to figure out how to load the remaining lifeboats, other ships in the vicinity hurried to help rescue the passengers and crew. The Titanic disaster had been characterized by a sluggish response and a lack of help from other ships, but this sinking ended up being a triumph of teamwork and organizational skill. Together, at least five other ships cooperated to rescue 1,663 crew members and passengers before the Andrea Doria capsized and sank. Fifty-one people died as a result of the collision, but the rescue is widely considered one of the most successful of all time.
A nearly suicidal raid freed more than 500 prisoners of war
During World War II, the Pacific Theater threw up a gauntlet of seemingly insurmountable challenges to the Allies. One of them was the Japanese prison camp near Cabanatuan City, where hundreds of American and Filipinos were incarcerated after the brutal Bataan Death March. Conditions inside the camp were dire, and as the war dragged on and the Japanese army began to execute prisoners in other camps, those who remained feared they, too, would be killed.
Then, the Sixth Army staged a rescue operation that was almost suicidal in scope. With the aid of Filipino guerrillas, Army Rangers managed to get 35 miles behind Japanese lines, only to learn that scouts hadn’t been able to scope out the camp itself because of heavy Japanese activity in the area. The locale was crawling with enemy forces, but Rangers snuck into the camp on January 30, 1945, overwhelmed the guards and managed to move the prisoners—many of whom were so sick or suspicious they wouldn’t come out. In all, 510 prisoners were released with just two Army casualties. Today, the daring rescue mission is known as “The Great Raid” and celebrated as one of the bravest of all time.
A single man risked everything to save a Mexican village
Jesús García was just a railroad brakeman, but on November 7, 1907 he became a hero of one of history’s most daring rescues. That afternoon, the 23-year-old was resting during a stop in Nacozari, a town in Sonora, Mexico, when workers notified him of a fire that had broken out atop one of the train cars. This would have been alarming on a normal day, but García knew that the train cars in question contained dynamite due to be delivered to a nearby mine. If it were to explode, it would take out not just the train, but possibly cause a catastrophic fire in the rail yard as well.
As his fellow workers panicked, García sprang into action. He jumped onto the train alone and started to reverse it downhill. Four miles later, the entire train exploded. Though 13 people did die, the number was far less than it would have been if García hadn’t reacted quickly. All that was left of García was a single boot, but he wasn’t soon forgotten. The young brakeman soon became the stuff of legend, subject of poems and songs. Memorials to García sprang up all over Mexico, and Nacozari changed its name to Nacozari de García.