You’re racing down a mountain with nothing but a pair of skis under your feet and a pole in each hand. Adrenaline is pumping as you swish from left to right at over 20 miles an hour. All you hear is the rushing of the wind and the crackling of the snow. It’s a thrill like no other — but it’s not without its risks.
Skiing accidents happen, and yet people keep chasing that high and the thrill of danger — some wind up paying a terrible price for the opportunity. When a young woman went skiing in Norway, she thought she’d have a beautiful day on the slopes, but it soon turned into a nightmare race for survival…
Anna Bagenholm was born and raised in Sweden back in 1970. A young woman with dreams of becoming an orthopedic surgeon, she later decided to do her residency in Narvik, Norway. Moving there would change her life in more ways than one.
By May of 1999, she’d earned a position as a surgical assistant at Narvik hospital, and had been working there for a year. To celebrate, she and two of her colleagues hit the slopes and spend their day-off skiing on a familiar mountainside.
Perhaps it was because Anna knew the slopes so well (although she hadn’t skied on them since the year before) that she felt confident and didn’t pay close to attention to where she twisted and turned.
Unfortunately, Anna quickly lost control of her skis. She veered off the side of the slope and fell headfirst onto a layer of ice on a frozen stream near a waterfall, landing on her back, which created a hole in the ice…
…That Anna immediately sunk into. The freezing water enveloped her beneath ice that was 8 inches thick, and when he friend’s arrived at the scene, they saw only her skis.
Each grabbing a leg, they tried pulling Anna out. After seven minutes of struggling, when they still couldn’t get her head above the surface, they turned to their cellphones for help.
They waited and waited, holding onto Anna’s legs and skis so she wouldn’t slip under the ice completely. Meanwhile, Anna had found a little air pocket that allowed her to breathe. Time was running out rapidly.
After 40 minutes, she lost consciousness due to circulatory arrest, and it wasn’t until 7:40 pm that the rescue team was able to pull her out and perform CPR on her. By that time, she had been in the freezing cold water for 80 minutes.
When she was lifted into the helicopter, her pupils were dilated, her blood was not circulating, and she wasn’t breathing. The emergency team continued CPR and oxygen ventilation during the flight, but they didn’t arrive at the hospital until 9:10 pm.
There, Dr. Mads Gilbert, an anesthesiologist and the chief of the hospital’s emergency room, tried resuscitating her. He had his work cut out for him: her body temperature was the lowest ever recorded at 56.7°F. (The average is 98.6°F).
Dr. Gilbert commented on Anna’s state: “She has completely dilated pupils. She is ashen, flaxen white. She’s wet. She’s ice cold when I touch her skin, and she looks absolutely dead.” But, he wouldn’t declare her so until her body was warm.
Hundreds of doctors and nurses worked tirelessly for over nine hours to bring her back to life. At 9:40 pm, she was hooked up to a machine that warmed her blood outside of her body. At 10:15, her first heartbeat was recorded.
On May 30th, she finally woke up, but not to a speedy or easy recovery. In fact, she was paralyzed from the neck down and was angry with her colleagues for rescuing her. “I feared a meaningless life, without any dignity,” she said.
Miraculously, her dignity didn’t remain a question for long. As time passed, she overcame her paralysis, but not without worries. She remained in the ICU because her kidneys were malfunctioning.
Dr. Steen at the National Hospital in Oslo said it was “an extraordinary medical achievement.” He theorized that she recovered because her metabolism slowed so much in the cold water that her body needed less oxygen.
Despite everything Anna had been through, she suffered no brain damage, which Dr. Gilbert said was likely due to the extensive CPR she had received. She returned to work in October that year, ready to meet the doctors and nurses who saved her life.
“When you are a patient, you’re not thinking you are going to die. You think ‘I’m going to make it.’ But as a medical person, I think it’s amazing that I’m alive,” Anna explained. Only minor symptoms of neural damage in her hands and feet remained.
These days, Anna is not only a case study but a certified surgeon, and amazingly, she still hits the slopes. She is living, skiing proof that even when a lot of time has gone by, with the right conditions, survival is still an option. Just like another woman living half a world away…
Angela lived in Oregon, but she missed her family down in Southern California. One weekend in July, she decided it would be nice to visit them. It was almost the last choice she ever made.
It was a beautiful day when she set out from Portland in her white Jeep Patriot. Angela had only the hundreds and hundreds of miles of highway ahead to keep her company.
Facebook / Angela Hernandez
It was a long drive, but at least the trip would offer some breathtaking views along the way. Angela could put her camera to good use!
Facebook / Angela Hernandez
The most beautiful — and dangerous — part of the drive came when Angela passed through the Big Sur. The highway ran right along the California coast, with the Pacific Ocean only a cliffside away.
Angela only remembered fragments of what happened next. The only thing that’s clear was that a small animal darted out into the middle of the winding road. She swerved to avoid it.
She lost consciousness as her car tore through the guardrail and plummeted 250 feet to the ocean below. It began to sink. Could anyone survive such a crash?
When Angela awoke, water already filled up her vehicle up to her knees, and its level was rising. She grabbed a multi-tool she kept inside, smashed through the side window, and crawled out to the beach.
Bloody and battered, she rolled over on the shore. She sustained injuries all over her body, and her shoes were missing. Her feet ached as she clambered up the rocks to escape the incoming tide and get some rest.
Once Angela got her bearings, she saw that there was no way back up to the highway, or even a clear path along the beach. She needed to signal for help, but first, she had more pressing needs.
Incredible thirst overtook her, so Angela rummaged through her washed-up car for supplies. She came across a black hose that had fallen out and figured it could be useful.
Flickr / DSherland
She then found a mossy rock on the cliffside that dropped a bead of water every couple seconds. Angela attached one end of the hose to the rock and drank.
Angela spent hours trying to flag down a car from the road above, but she was too far down and the cars were going too fast. Days passed by…
Of course, police were searching for Angela after her family reported that she never showed up. But with so much ground to cover along the California coast it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
The week after the crash, Chad and Chelsea Moore were hiking along the coast when they noticed something strange at the base of the cliff. It appeared to be a wrecked car. They found their way down to the beach to investigate.
Chad and Chelsea were busy gathering items that must have come from the car when they heard a cry for help. They ran over to some nearby rocks where they found Angela. Though weak, she was still alive.
Cell service wasn’t great in the Big Sur, but Chad and Chelsea were, fortunately, able to reach emergency services. They stayed with her and did what they could until a medical team arrived.
After first responders airlifted Angela to a nearby hospital, they worked to haul the debris up the cliff by crane. Although the first cable snapped, they managed to lift the Jeep back up.
All told, Angela endured a brain hemorrhage, four broken ribs, a shattered collarbone, a collapsed lung, and ruptured blood vessels in both eyes. Lucky for her, she made a full recovery.
Angela now feels like she has a new lease on life, and she’s held on to various items from her car to remind herself how blessed she is. Not many other people would have survived the crash, let alone lasted on the beach for a week after.
Facebook / Angela Hernandez
Angela says that the incident convinced her that there is indeed a bigger purpose in her life. She makes sure to savor every moment and spend as much time possible with the ones she loves.