World War I was a magical time when humans enjoyed their newfound miracle of flight by using it to try to clumsily murder each other. Dogfighting would never again be this insane -- planes were rickety things made of fabric and wood, and killing the enemy usually meant flying so close to his contraption that you could just as easily stab him with a sword. So you had to be a particular kind of crazy to even attempt that job, and Kiwi WWI fighter ace Keith Logan "Grid" Caldwell should probably be their patron saint, based on this one story alone.
via 74 Squadron "You know what you could use, Death? A nice back rub."
Caldwell was part of the famed No. 60 Squadron of the British Royal Flying Corps (which later became the Royal Air Force). He became such an expert pilot that he was promoted and given his own squadron, No. 74 Tiger Squadron. Even though he was a commander, he still insisted that he fly to the front lines, because he knew it was his destiny to soar through the air and brazenly dare Death to take him.
During one mission, Caldwell managed to crash his plane into another in mid-air (it was destined to happen, really). This damaged his aircraft's wing bad enough that it went into a death spiral, meaning Caldwell was doomed to a dizzy plummet into the ground followed by a very fiery death. But Caldwell, being insane, took a moment to determine that he just needed to change the center of gravity -- that is, add some weight to the side with the damaged wing, to balance things out. So, while the plane was still spinning, he somehow climbed out onto the motherfucking wing, reaching into the cockpit and piloting the aircraft from there. It looked something like this:
It worked, too. Sort of. It stabilized the aircraft long enough that he was able to guide the plane back over friendly territory. Landing the thing from the wing was out of the question (come on, that would be beyond crazy), so Caldwell tried to find a good spot in the battle-scarred landscape to try to not die a spectacular death.
He flew it down close to the ground and, according to witnesses, freaking jumped from the plane like some kind of Cirque du Soleil acrobat, doing a couple of somersaults while his plane cartwheeled end over end until it disintegrated in a fiery explosion nearby. At which point Caldwell stood up, dusted himself off, and asked the astonished infantry men where the phone was, and if they could spare some tea.
#4. Being Left for Dead on Mt. Everest, and Walking Away
via Ausin Chronicle Raised to be a meteorologist but destined for adventure.
Weathers, a 49-year-old Texan pathologist armed with a midlife crisis, had a goal of climbing the highest peaks on all seven continents. In the spring of 1996, he was about to make the final push toward the peak of Everest, but at 28,000 feet, he started losing his vision. Why? Well, some time prior to the climb Weathers had surgery to correct his vision, and found out that came with an odd side effect: When exposed to the high altitude, his altered corneas rendered him half-blind (we assume the brochure they give you at the doctor's office has something in the fine print about not attempting to conquer Everest during the recovery period).
The guide decided to leave Weathers behind and continue the climb with the rest of their group, but promised to come back for him on the way down. So as the other climbers douchebaggedly waved passed him, Weather patiently waited hours for the guide to return, during which time other passing climbers offered to help him down, but he refused. Did we mention he was in the area called the "Death Zone"? So-named because it's that part littered with corpses of other, equally stubborn climbers?
Pavel Novak Deceptively located between the Happy Trail and the Fun Zone.
That's when the blizzard started.
The wind picked up -- and note, these are conditions on Everest that routinely drop the wind chill to 90 degrees below zero. We'd ask you to imagine how cold that is, but it's physically impossible for you to imagine that. You have no context for that sensation whatsoever. This is when Weathers finally decided to climb down. But it was too late -- on the way back to camp, he got bogged down in the storm. By the time help arrived, they found Weathers was beyond salvation, standing against the wind with his right arm exposed and frozen solid. He was deranged with hypothermia and hypoxia (i.e., lack of oxygen). In other words, he was dead, and some parts of his body just hadn't gotten the news yet.
The other climbers decided that nothing could be done, and left Weathers behind with another casualty -- a Japanese woman named Yasuko Namba. The next day when doctors came back to examine them, both had slipped into hypothermic comas. They chipped the ice off of Weathers' face, examined him, and decided that he was to become just one more body for the Death Zone. They left him there, relayed the news to the families, and the mourning began.
Chris Amaral/Digital Vision/Getty Images "He gave me things to eat, then poop. Then he picked up my poop. I loved him dearly."
But Weathers, having won some chess game with the Grim Reaper, woke up from his coma, finding himself buried in snow. He stood, and began to walk toward the high camp. Nearly blind, covered in snow, right hand frozen solid, his face pitch black with frostbite, he trudged on. He somehow reached the camp, presumably making the climbers think they were being assaulted by one of those ice zombies from Game of Thrones. A few days later, he was airlifted and taken to Kathmandu.
He lost his right arm from the elbow down and lost his nose as well, which were apparently the only parts of his body that weren't made of adamantium. He went on to become a motivational speaker, hopefully delivering 10-second speeches that consisted of nothing but "Don't fucking climb mountains, kids."
#3. Swimming Out of a Burning, Submerged Submarine
Edward G. Malindine/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
We mentioned above how serving in a WWI-era fighter plane automatically meant you probably had a death wish. But everything that was true about early fighter pilots has to go double for anyone serving in a 1940s-era submarine. Primitive technology, in a cold, dark, hostile environment, with shit for safety features to save you ... well, let's put it this way: If you served on a German U-boat during WW2 you had a 70 percent chance of dying. No shit. Every time the hatch closed on one of those smelly death traps, you had to feel like you were never going to see the sun again.
That brings us to John Capes, a stoker on the British sub HMS Perseus, which in December 1941 was on its way to Egypt. While contemplating just why he chose to serve in what was essentially a submerged metal coffin, Capes was thrown from his bed by a huge explosion. Water quickly started to flood the engine compartment.
Are you picturing it? It's dark. You're in a massive creaking metal tube under the ocean. You're half asleep, and now choking down water. How does your brain not just ... freeze up? Forever?
Frantic, Capes determined that he was the only one in his section that was A) conscious and B) not horribly mangled by the blast. As the icy water rose, he headed for the escape hatch, pulling, pushing, and manhandling the crew members he thought could make it to the surface. He fitted himself and his disabled comrades with escape gear and ran into his first problem: The escape hatch was bolted down ... from the outside. We really can't reiterate enough that back then, safety features were considered the devil's work.
Luckily for Capes, the blast from the underwater mine that had crippled the sub had also damaged the bolts, so with great effort he was able to force the hatch open. Pushing the other wounded, unconscious survivors out the hatch, he sucked in one last gasp of noxious air, took a shot of rum from his Blitz Bottle, and pushed his way out into the cold darkness of the ocean.
He was still 170 feet under water.
Frantically kicking in the direction he hoped was up, his lungs screaming for air, he swam until he finally burst through the surface. Capes wasn't safe yet, though. In the rough seas he found no one else had made it to the surface with him, but there was a dim island in the distance. He swam with what little energy he had to the island, where he was discovered by friendly Greeks passed out on the beach. And then everything was fine!
Planet Blue "Fuck you, sarcastic Internet article writer."
Oh, wait, no. Not at all. That was occupied territory, and so Capes was immediately a fugitive. At great risk to themselves, the Greeks hid Capes from the Axis occupiers for a freaking year and a half before a rescue operation could be mounted. Rescuers were finally able to get him back to Allied territory by hiding Capes on a fishing boat, then by trekking hundreds of miles through hostile Turkey.
His story was so incredible that the Navy -- and just about everyone else -- refused to believe him. A mistake in the Navy logs didn't show him as being assigned to the HMS Perseus, and literally no one had ever survived that kind of accident, at that depth. His story always had an asterisk next to it until the details were confirmed by divers to the site of the wreck in 1997 -- 12 years after his death. The scene matched Capes' description, right down to the bottle of rum that he had left near the open escape hatch.