10 People Who Survived the Impossible

Four Months Adrift in the Ocean
Poon Lim is shown on his raft which was rebuilt at the U.S. Navy's request for survival training in 1945. U.S. Navy/Wikimedia

In November 1942, a British merchant ship, the Benlomond, left Cape Town, South Africa, on a voyage across the Atlantic to pick up cargo at Paramibo in Dutch Guiana, now the nation of Suriname [source: McCunn]. But when the ship was 750 miles (1,207 kilometers) off the South American coast, it was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank.

The only survivor was a 24-year-old Chinese seaman named Poon Lim who'd jumped overboard. Struggling to the surface, Lim managed to find one of the ship's rafts. Even more miraculously, he located a tank of water and some cans of food in the floating wreckage. He improvised a fishing tackle to catch more food. Lim drifted for 133 days, until he was rescued by Brazilian fishermen 10 miles (16 kilometers) off the coast. This is one of the longest survivals at sea. A local newspaper reported that Poon was badly sunburned and had lost 30 pounds (14 kilograms), but otherwise was in good health, except for an upset stomach that doctors believed was the result of eating raw fish [sources: McCunn, Wise].

Poon emigrated to the U.S. after the end of World War II. He worked with United States Lines, retiring as chief steward in 1983. He died in 1991 [source: Wise].