10 People Who Survived the Impossible

The 'Unbroken' Survivor of a Plane Crash and a POW Camp
This 1985 picture shows Louis Zamperini holding a photo of himself taken during World War II. Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images

Surviving one horrible ordeal is bad enough. But how about two? On May 27, 1943, a U.S. Army Air Corps B-24 on a rescue mission in the Pacific malfunctioned and crashed into the sea. Three members of the crew took refuge on a raft. Tail gunner Sgt. Francis McNamara died after 33 days, but the other two — 2nd Lt. Russell Phillips and Lt. Louis Zamperini, a distance runner who had competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, survived on fish and rainwater for 47 days. Then they were found by Japanese forces [source: Harris].

That's when things got even worse, particularly for Zamperini. The Olympian endured savage torture at the hands of a sadistic camp sergeant named Mutsuhiro "The Bird" Watanabe. Among his many abuses, Watanabe ordered other prisoners to line up and take turns punching Zamperini in the face for two hours. Watanabe also once forced him to hold a heavy beam overhead for 37 minutes before knocking him to the ground. Nevertheless, Zamperini survived the war, and was liberated in 1945. In later years, he had a religious conversion and tried to meet with Watanabe in Japan to let him know he forgave him but "The Bird" refused to meet with him. Zamperini lived long enough to see his story become a bestselling book, Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 "Unbroken," which was also made into a Hollywood movie released just before his death in 2014 [sources: Berkow, Harris].

Phillips also survived, but revealed little about what he endured. He died in 1998 [source: South Bend Tribune].