Man and desert
Photo by Taylor Nicole

What would you do if your airplane crashed in the forest? What would you do if you were trapped in the wild? Liz Waid and Mike Proctor share stories of extreme human survival.

Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Mike Procter. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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Voice 1 

A young man is trapped on a mountain. He is alone. A young woman is lost in a forest. She is also alone. Both face death. And both work hard to survive. Today’s Spotlight is on these two young people and how they survived extreme accidents.

Voice 2 

In April 2003 Aron Ralston was 27. He lived in Utah, in the United States. He loved to hike, to take long walks in nature. On April the 26, he went alone. He climbed into a deep, narrow valley. But then he had an accident. A huge rock fell down the mountain. The rock landed on his hand, crushing it. Ralston was trapped.

Voice 1 

Ralston had not told anyone where he was going to walk. So he knew that no one would be searching for him. People did not usually hike in the area. He knew that he would die if he could not free his hand.

Voice 2 

He tried to move the rock. He wanted to release his hand. He tried very hard. But he could not move the rock. Finally, on the second day, he considered cutting off his arm. But he only had a small knife. It would not cut through the bones in his arm.

Voice 1 

He struggled to escape for five days. By then he had no more water to drink. He was very weak. And he could not think clearly. He thought he was going to die. So he wrote his name on the side of the mountain. And he recorded a final message for his family. Then he went to sleep.

Voice 2 

The next morning he was still alive! He was very surprised. Suddenly he had new energy. He had a new idea. He decided to use his own body weight to break the bones in his arm. Then he cut off his hand with his small knife. It took him a long time to cut his hand off. And it was very painful. But at last he was free.

Voice 1 

But Ralston was still not safe. He was almost 13 kilometres from his car. And he had no telephone. So he had to go and find help. He climbed down a 19 metre mountain wall. Then he started to walk out of the valley. The sun was hot. And he had no water to drink. He was also losing a lot of blood.

Voice 2 

But then he found a group of people. It was a family who were on holiday. They helped him. They gave him water to drink. Finally, he was rescued. It was only six hours after cutting off his arm.

Voice 1 

Later doctors fitted a false hand to his arm. It includes special climbing tools. So Ralston can still go climbing. He has climbed many mountains since the accident. But now he always tells people where he is going.

Photo by Clarisse Meyer 
Voice 2 

In December 1971 Juliane Koepcke was 17. She and her mother were flying home for Christmas. The airplane was over Peru. But the airplane flew into a very bad storm. The airplane went up and down. Then lightning hit it. The engines stopped, and the airplane began to fall towards the ground. When it was three kilometres above the earth, it broke into pieces.

Voice 1

Koepcke was still tied into her seat. She fell through the air alone. All she heard was the noise of the wind going past her ears. Then she hit the ground very hard. The seat saved her from being killed. But she suffered a broken bone in her chest. She had deep cuts on her body. And she could not open her right eye.

Voice 2 

Koepcke had landed in the Amazon rain forest. She looked for her mother. But she could not find her. She heard rescue airplanes above the trees. But the forest was very thick. So she could not see the airplanes, and rescuers could not see her.

Voice 1 

But Koepcke knew how to survive in the forest environment. Her parents were scientists. They studied birds and animals that lived in the rain forest. And Koepcke had lived in the rain forest with her parents.

Voice 2 

She found a very small river. And she began to walk in it. She followed the direction the river flowed. She knew it would bring her to people. It also provided her with clean water to drink. However, Koepcke had no food. She only had a few sweet candy treats.

Voice 1 

She avoided snakes by walking in the water. But she could not avoid insects. They bit her a lot. And the bites became infected. It was very hot and wet in the day. And it was very cold at night.

Voice 2 

By the tenth day, Koepcke was very weak, and very lonely. She began walking near a larger river. Then Koepcke saw a big boat. She thought she was dreaming. She went to touch the boat. It was real! Near the boat was a shelter. This discovery gave her new hope. She knew there must be people in the area.

Voice 1 

Several hours later some men returned to the shelter. They worked in the forest, cutting trees. They cared for her injuries. And they gave her food. The next day they took her down the river to find help. The boat trip took seven hours.

Voice 2 

Koepcke’s father was waiting for her. They held each other. They still did not know if Koepcke’s mother was alive. There had been 92 passengers and crew on the airplane. Later they discovered that Koepcke was the only survivor of the crash.

woman walking in the fog
Photo by Andrew Neel
Voice 1 

More than 40 years later, Koepcke spoke to reporter Tom Littlewood. She told him,

Voice 3 

‘I had bad dreams for many years. The sadness about my mother’s death and that of the other people came back again and again. The thought ‘Why was I the only survivor?’ never leaves me. It never will.’

Voice 2 

Koepcke now lives in Germany. She returns to Peru every year. She loves the rain forest. And she works to protect it.

Voice 1 

Ralston and Koepcke both had advantages in these situations. They were both young and strong. They both had experience being in wild places. But they had something else in common too. They both had a strong desire to survive. Do you think that you could survive in situations like these?

Voice 2 

The writer of this programme was Joy Smith. The producer was Nick Mangeolles. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this programme and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this programme again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called ‘Extreme Survival’.

Voice 1 

To hear another program about extreme survival, visit our website. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight programme. Goodbye.


What would you do if your airplane crashed in the forest? What would you do if you were trapped in the wild? Write your answer in the comments below.

Join the discussion

  • From:
    To: spotlight program
    Subject: to answer to the questions below
    Date: Sunday 26, July 2020
    Location: São Paulo city Brasil

    Dear Liz Waid, Mike Procter, Joy Smith, and Nick Mengeolles:

    I want to thank you for bringing us more one great article for us, thank you very much.
    Question 1 – What would you do if your airplane crashed in the forest?
    Answer 1 – I would ask for helpping. Please someone help me.
    Question 2 – What would you do if you were trapped in the wild.
    Answer 2 – I would walk to ask help.
    Thank you very much and God bless you.
    Severino Ramos

  • I wached movie about Aron Ralston,it was extremely emottion,just I thinking hiw he endure that pain when he cut his arm!!

  • ok I will search for any people and I will talk anything to defend myself for example knife stick or rock and I will choose a place to think and plane and safe

  • . Do you think that you could survive in situations like these?
    I think i would never survive with out god’s help , he is the only can give me power and hope

  • It is difficult situations ,really i don’t know what will do but must that try again and again will i do anything ,I don’t wish that happen with me

  • If I faced this situation,I have to find the water and food after that ,I must to follow the birds to discover the nearest source of river.

  • If the airplane that I have ridden would crash in the forest I will look for survival. I would seek help If I have a mobile phone I will call the emergency hotline.

    If I were trapped in the wild I would find people who live in that area to seek help. I would use my knowledge on how to provide food for me to eat. I will catch animals that can easily eat. I would find shelter to stay and to keep warm while waiting for the rescue team to find me.

  • I think when I am in these situations, I can’t live without help . That is difficult to live. They are really strong and have trust.

  • If I survived after the crash I would look for the other survivors and then we together will search for help. I will always carry my phone with me so I could call someone to help me if I got trapped in the wild.

  • Of curse I would be scary so much, but I would give all my efforts for surviving, I would keep walking until I find help.

  • While we in 2021, I think the technilogic is high devolpmented. I will still in my airplane where it is crashed in the forest. The the rescue planes will start to searching for the missing plane and then will locates the crash site and then rescue me and every person still a life.

  • Iwill still catch the seat and never leave it when the air plane hit the ground i eather still alive or die if i still alive i will wait the rescuer to rescu me from this disaster after that they will take me to a nearst hospital. If i was trapped in forest by somthing danger i will call the police and send them my position to rescue me .

  • Hi, I’m Mahmood, I always listen to spotlight, thanks very mush
    If l had cached in the forest. I tried to survive.. I thank, what l’ll do to got people to help me. I cold to place man and told them about my location…..

  • I think if you want go to forest or mountain you should tell your family and friends also you have to have something for safety some food and water

  • If I had been in a dangerous situation, I would have a compass or place a piece of wood on a leaf to check which direction is north and south and also be guided by the flow of the river. Besides that, I would have a box of matches in my pocket so it can be used to set fire to some pieces of wood as an emergency signal in case there are some helicopters in the air. Some professional pilots know what it means and would come to my rescue!

  • I think I would, because I have been told that iam strong willed and determined even tho I lose hope easily but Iam also knows to be trying so hard at the same time and I usually have cray ideas out of the blue. Idk where they come from but it just hits me alot these crazy conclusions that just go beyond what everyone expects

  • if the plane was crached by any thing reason i would pray for the god to rescue me of the die .this anwer question one i know this stupid answer stand me .
    if i trap in the wild first thing i will look for any survivor after that i will look for any food , water or any thing helps me . then i will explore the area and take care of animals dangrous or plant harmful . i will build place it will protect me from the rain and animals and so on .

  • I really don’t know how to do if the airplane crash me in the forest or trapp in the wild. It’s terrible and scary. I’m lack of knowledge to face accidents in harsh environments.I hope bad situations are not happen with me in the future.

  • first of all , I understand this episode and it was really good

    If the plain were crashed in the forest I will collect some sicks to make campfire and I will look from some food to eat and I will find i way out of the forest

    If I were trapped in the wild I will shout to some body may they helpped me
    or i will cut my hand as julian make

  • It is a difficult situation for anyone to face, if I were in that situation, I would remember everything I had learned about surviving and apply it, and I have to be calm to be able to think, small stuff will be helpful, fire is necessary in camping, Following human life effects is the key of surviving.

  • If my airplane crashed in the forest i would probably do the same as koepcke and start walking by the river or any sign that would lead me to a group of people.
    On the other hand if i was trapped in the wild and hand was stuck under a rock i think i would just die instead of cutting my hand, how brave Ralston was when he did that!

  • Forest symbols. Its disaster happens to Koepcke’s and I am really sad for. She lost her mother and I hope she can live with this pain and jest stay with beautiful memory. Yeah that’s all I have and

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