Earlier this week, fishermen near the Marshall Islands in the western Pacific found 37-year-old Jose Salvador Alvarenga adrift in a 23-foot fiberglass boat. Alvarenga had a fantastic story: He'd been lost at sea for 13 months, after setting off for a day of shark fishing near the Mexican coast where he lives, 5,500 miles away. Some have expressed skepticism about his story, but he would have been far from the first to endure such seemingly unendurable odds.
Here are nine of the world's most famous stories of survival against inhospitable conditions and days, weeks or months without help.
1972: Scottish dairy farmer Dougal Robertson and his family were sailing around the world in a schooner they purchased with their life savings, which sunk 200 miles off the Galapagos when a pod of killer whales punched a hole in the hull. They survived at sea for 38 days, first in an inflatable raft with a jury-rigged sail and then in a 10-foot dinghy.
1972: A small chartered flight carrying 45 people, mostly a Uruguayan rugby team and its associates, crashed in a remote part of the Andes Mountains in Argentina. Two of the survivors, having heard a radio report saying that the search for them had been abandoned, set out to find help. Their journey across the mountains took 10 days. By the time they found help, the other 14 survivors had been waiting for rescue for 72 days. The survivors subsisted on the remains of those who died in the crash and a subsequent avalanche.
1982: American inventor and shipbuilder Steven Callahan sailed his homemade sloop successfully from Rhode Island to the United Kingdom. On his trip back, something punched a hole in his ship during a storm – he suspects it might have been a whale – and he escaped into a small inflatable life raft. He drifted for 76 days before being picked up by fishermen near Guadeloupe.
1989: Bill and Simone Butler were 1,200 miles from land in the Pacific Ocean when pilot whales attacked and sank their sloop. The Butlers spent 66 days in a leaky six-foot-raft before they were rescued.
1994: Italian policeman Mauro Prosperi got lost during a six-day marathon through the Moroccan Sahara when a sandstorm spun him off track. He ended up 186 miles off route in Algeria, where he found an abandoned mosque. He spent nine days subsisting on bats and his own urine before being rescued by a nomadic family. He entered the race again in 1998.
2003: Aron Ralston was climbing in a Utah canyon when his arm was trapped by a loose boulder. On his fourth day suspended on the canyon wall, he decided that his only chance for survival was to amputate his own arm with a cheap multi-tool. He severed his arm the next day, descended to the valley floor and hiked for several miles before encountering a family who helped him. His story became a book and then the movie “127 Hours,” starring James Franco.
2006: Three Mexican fishermen spent nine months drifting across the Pacific after the engine of their 25-foot boat died. They were finally rescued by a Taiwanese tuna trawler near the Marshall Islands, 5,000 miles away.
2006: It’s still not entirely clear how Australian Ricky Megee ended up lost in the Australian outback – he first said that his car had broken down, later that he'd been drugged by hitchhikers and left for dead – but he managed to survive for 71 days before being rescued. He survived mostly on leeches and insects.
2013: Harrison Okene was rescued by divers May 28, 2013, nearly three days after the boat he was on capsized off the coast of Nigeria. He managed to breathe in a bubble of air about four feet high. The video of his rescue went viral in December.
A few more images from well-known survival stories can be found here: