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14 Stories Of People Who Survived While Isolated From Civilization

Updated August 4, 2020 142.6k views14 items

Throughout history, countless individuals have found themselves totally alone - cut off from the rest of humankind - marooned in isolation, either by chance or by choice. However, this kind of aloneness in no way equals a death sentence for those who find themselves in it; in fact, there are many tales of  people who survived in isolation. Amazingly, a handful have survived to tell harrowing tales of survival, and many of their stories make it to the big screen. 

And the people who've managed to survive this way might surprise you. From an elderly woman in Siberia to a young boy in the Ugandan jungle, the tales of harrowing (and sometimes really pleasant) forays into the un-humaned world demonstrate the incredible resilience and endurance of the human body and psyche.

  • Hiroo Onoda Surrendered 29 Years After WWII Ended

    Former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara once called the WWII Pacific Theater of Operations, ‘One of the most brutal wars in all of human history’ and it certainly left a profound psychological impact on all of those whom it affected. Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda of the Imperial Japanese Army is one notable example. 

    Born in 1922 in Wakayama, Japan, Hiroo Onoda joined the Imperial Japanese Army, commonly known as the IJA, in 1942 and was trained in guerrilla fighting tactics. 

    His last post was in the Philippines near the island of Corregidor where he stayed until 1945. Cut off from civilization with only a few other soldiers, he and his comrades noticed that airplanes began dropping leaflets declaring the war to be over and encouraging any remaining imperial forces in the field to surrender. He and the soldiers with him believed this to be an allied trick to get them to come out of hiding. 

    Onoda remained concealed in the jungle for 29 years, hunting and trapping animals and living off the land while still in his uniform. One after another of his comrades either surrendered to the local Philippine constabulary or were killed in post-war skirmishes. Onodo, though, stuck to his oath to not surrender. 

    Then, in 1974, he was found by Norio Suzuki, a student who didn’t believe the official line that Onoda was dead. Initially, Onoda refused to return to civilization and still believed this to be a trick by allied forces, Suzuki gathered information to prove that the war had ended 29 years earlier. He returned and convinced Onoda that World War Two had been over for decades. Meanwhile, to be sure, the Japanese government sent Onoda’s former commanding officer to personally assure Onoda. 

    The two emerged from the jungle and Hiroo Onoda officially surrendered and turned over his arms to the president of the Philippines. Soon afterward, his story of survival exploded in every newspaper. 

  • Tom Neale Willingly Chose His Tropical Island Paradise Isolation

    Some individuals have willingly and enthusiastically chosen to detach themselves from society and travel to distant places to live alone, far away from the noise and congestion of their human brethren. The charm of running away to an uninhabited tropical paradise and living a leisurely jungle life is probably a fantasy that many across the world have contemplated. For New Zealander Tom Neale, this became a reality and a successful undertaking. 

    Born in 1902, Mr. Neale, of Wellington, was enthusiastic about striking it out and surviving in the wilderness and chose to live in the Suwarrow Atoll, which is part of the Cook Island chain. Making his home there, he built a small house, fished, explored and spent the rest of his life there. In all, it seems he spent six years there consecutively while returning to New Zealand temporarily on a few occasions. 

    He passed away in 1977 and a successful book, An Island To Oneself, about his experience was published nine years earlier. 

  • Ho Van Thanh And His Son Survived In The Vietnamese Jungle For Forty Years

    War and conflict are constantly uprooting and displacing people - sometimes even entire populations - causing years of hardship and heartache. 

    Ho Van Thanh, his son Ho Van Lang, and the rest of their family found themselves caught in the chaos of the Vietnam War. Initially trying to wait out the war, the son and father tragically lost the rest of their immediate family (mother and two other sons). To protect his two-year-old son, Ho Van Thanh took him and fled into the jungle, journeying until they reached safety. Safety also meant that the two had reached extreme isolation from the raging conflict around them. For forty years, the father and son resided in the forest, living off the land and producing garments made from the natural resources around them. 

    In 2013, locals who were gathering fruit and other items saw the two men. Van Thanh was, by now, in his eighties, while his son, Van Lang, was a middle-aged man in his forties. The two were encouraged to emerge from their jungle abode and were brought to their pre-war family home, where they began living in peace.

  • Will, The Pirate Marooned On Isla Juan Fernandez

    Englishman William Dampier was a 17th-century sailor, pirate, and author who knew both Alexander Selkirk and another interesting individual, a Miskito Native American simply named ‘Will’ from Nicaragua. Decades before the Selkirk adventure, Will was also marooned on Mas a Tierra Island

    Little information survives about Will, but Dampier remarkably knew both Will and Selkirk and rescued both of them on separate occasions. Being an author, he recorded these adventures, which influenced not only Daniel Defoe, but also Jonathan Swift. 

    The Miskito man named Will, according to Dampier, had also been in a shipwreck and managed to swim or drift ashore Mas a Tierra. 

    It is not certain for how long Will lived on the island, but he was likely able to survive in similar ways to those that Selkirk employed many years later. Odds are he ate a lot of goat meat, fished, and foraged.