In a world where airplanes can vanish without a trace, it’s good to know that organized rescue missions have also been accomplished, no matter how harrowing or unlikely they were to succeed. Here are 10 spectacular rescue missions that saved lives, all pulled off in the past century.
Last year’s Oscar winner, “Argo” was a tense and seemingly impossible plan that actually worked. If you’ve seen the film, you know the story. Here’s the breakdown: In 1979 after the Shah of Iran was overthrown, Iranian protesters raided the U.S. embassy in Tehran, and six American employees fled to the home of a Canadian diplomat. In Washington, CIA agent Tony Mendez was assigned rescue them, and together with a Hollywood producers and makeup artists the scheme was hatched: print six fake Canadian passports, fabricate a film crew scouting locations for a science fiction film with a “Middle Eastern feel;” call the film “Argo;” remove the hiding Americans, and flee Iran.
Source: historyvshollywood.com, nytimes.com
Rumors abounded over this sensational news event. In 2003, days after the Iraqi invasion began, Private Jessica Lynch and her platoon were ambushed, and all were murdered except Lynch, who was captured and taken to a hospital in Nasiriya. An Iraqi lawyer who saw Lynch in medical captivity walked to a U.S. military checkpoint and reported her whereabouts. On April 1, 2003, Navy SEALs and Marines raided the hospital and saved Lynch, making her the first POW since Vietnam to be rescued. Initial reports and an authorized biography claim she was raped, shot, and beaten. Lynch later refuted this, and testified before a congressional committee that she never fired a weapon during her ambush, as previously reported.
Sources: nytimes.com, en.wikipedia.com, today.com
The Raid at Cabanatuan happened near the end of World War II on Jan. 30, 1945. Following the Battle of Bataan, almost 80,000 Filipino and American POWs were forced by the Japanese military to march across the Philippine island of Bataan. Thousands died en route to captivity in Cabanatuan prison camp. Enduring torture, harsh conditions, and lack of sanitation, the soldiers suffered for 33 months. Meanwhile, Col. Henry A. Mucci and his 6th Ranger Battalion were cooking up a liberation. At dusk on Jan. 30, the battalion, along with hundreds of Filipino guerrilla fighters, stormed the camp, assaulting the Japanese soldiers and rescuing 510 of the 511 prisoners (one died of a heart attack). Casualties in the rescue included 580 Japanese and two U.S. rangers. Mission: accomplished.
Sources: olive-drab.com, en.wikipedia.org
OK, there were no soldiers and no gun fights, but this incident we all remember can truly be categorized as a rescue mission with a real hero at the helm. On Jan. 15, 2009, U.S. Airways Flight 1549 had just zoomed away from New York’s LaGuardia Airport when a flock of Canada geese smacked into the craft, causing Capt. Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger to lose engine thrust. When approved for an emergency turnaround back to LaGuardia, Sully responded: “We’re gonna be in the Hudson.” After six minutes in flight, Sullenberger ditched the plane into the Hudson River. No one can forget the famous image of passengers lined up on the wing in the middle of the river waiting for rescue. Not a single life was lost, and a hero was born.
One of the greatest stories of deliverance in World War II, Operation Halyard went down in the summer of 1944 behind German enemy lines. The U.S. intelligence agency O.S.S. organized a rescue mission with Serbian agent George Vujnovich and guerrilla fighters led by Draza Mihailovich. Their objective: to airlift more than 500 U.S. pilots who were hiding with Serbian civilians and had been shot down during bombing campaigns in Yugoslavia. An airfield was covertly built in the mountains, and between Aug. 9-27, U.S. planes rescued 511 weary pilots from an airstrip that was almost impossible to land on. If not for the Vujnovich’s amazing blueprints and Mihailovich and his fierce Chetniks fighters providing escort through Nazi-occupied territory, this little-known rescue would never have happened.
Sources: latimes.com, historynet.com
Who can forget the video images sent up from their subterranean prison, the weeks of uncertainty above ground, and the final mission that saved all 33 miners? On Aug. 5, 2010, the San Jose copper-gold mine in North Chile caved in, trapping miners 2,300 feet underground. Relief missions commenced and 69 days later, they were rescued. What is most incredible is the democratic fraternity developed by the miners to stay sane in the face of dwindling supplies and uncertainty. Check out this video. We still remember the chanting on Oct. 13, 2010: “Chi-chi-chi-le-le-le!”
Sources: theguardian.com, en.wikipedia.com
Off the New Hampshire coastline on May 23, 1939, the U.S. Sargo-class submarine Squalus flooded during a routine test dive near the Isles of Shoales. In 236 feet of water, with 27 men already drowned, time was not on the side of the trapped men. The assigned Naval rescue team employed the McCann Rescue Chamber — a metal capsule that works as a rescue bell by attachment to submarine portals. Rescue divers used a new helium-and-oxygen mix of breathing gas to eliminate cognitive impairments that come with water pressure. Air tanks lowered underwater aided in the resurgence of the submarine. Thirty-three men were saved, and four divers received the Medal of Honor.
Sources: en.wikipedia.org, youtube.com
On Oct. 14, 1984, 18-month-old Jessica McClure tumbled into a 22-foot well outside her aunt’s home in Midland, Texas. Emergency responders heard whimpering from below, a sign that Jessica was alive. Fifty-eight hours of drilling and waterjet cutting were accompanied by a massive media invasion on the premises. The rescue of Baby Jessica was widely televised and the above photograph by Scott Shaw won a Pulitzer Prize. Jessica’s toe was amputated from gangrene.
Sources: latimes.com, people.com
The real story is just as harrowing as the Hollywood movie. Capt. Richard Phillips was at the helm of the MV Maersk Alabama on April 8, 2009, when four Somali pirates boarded the ship off the coast of Eyl, Somalia. They demanded ransom for release, and the crew took one of the pirates captive. In exchange for the pirate, Phillips boarded the rescue boat with four armed kidnappers, and sped away from the ship. Rescuers on the USS Bainbridge and USS Halyburton swarmed the small life capsule, and a three-day standoff ensued. Ultimately, military snipers, with direct orders from President Obama, took out three of the pirates from the Bainbridge, and apprehended the fourth. His shipmates claim that Capt. Phillips was not the hero the world knows, but it ended well.
Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton’s EB-66 Destroyer was shot down as it escorted a B-52 bomber in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Hambleton survived, and his call sign — Bat 21 — became synonymous with the mission to rescue him. What Hambleton knew was not only a threat to himself, but to U.S military intelligence. He held top-secret information about surface-to-air countermeasures, and would have been a welcome captive for North Vietnamese troops hungry for the secrets of the U.S. The first airborne mission to rescue Bat 21 ended in catastrophe. Five airplanes were shot down and 13 men captured. SEAL commando Lt. Thomas Norris and five men were sent in on the ground, and they guided Bat 21 to safety via golf-course code lingo.
Sources: mandatory.com, en.wikipedia.org