Very Lucky & Very Alive

Hit by a Huge Wave, Rescued by a Tall Ship

SARAH KESSANS, 22; EMILY KOHL, 23. After 2½ years of training, friends Kohl and Kessans embarked on the adventure of a lifetime: rowing across the Atlantic in a race that included 25 other boats. By Jan. 14, their 45th day aboard the American Fire, the former teammates on the Purdue University crew club were in the middle of the pack. Then came Day 46—when a giant wave slammed into them, instantly capsizing the 24 ft.-long, 6-ft.-wide boat. “It was just surreal,” says Kohl. “We didn’t know what was going on. The water started pouring in.” Says Kessans: “It was like the inside of a washing machine.”

The next few minutes were harrowing as the women, bounced around the cabin, weren’t able to open the hatch door in time to get their life raft. Kessans watched it being swept away, along with survival gear. Activating their only remaining emergency beacon, they prayed that the Coast Guard heard their distress call. They hadn’t seen another ship in two weeks.

“It felt like a lifetime,” Kessans says, before they managed to climb out. Clipping themselves together using their life harness, they knelt on top of the overturned boat, bracing themselves against the worsening wind and waves. “We both definitely had doubts,” says Kohl. “Are we ever going to see our parents again?” But keeping their fears to themselves, they sang and joked to keep their spirits up.

About 14 hours into their ordeal, Kessans spotted their unlikely rescuers: the tall ship training vessel Stavros S Niarchos, which had been alerted to their plight by the Coast Guard. “They were very, very cold. But they were still smiling,” says Darren Naggs, 37, the Stavros’s captain. “The pair of them are very determined characters.” Says Kessans: “We feel very lucky.”

Shot, But Saved by Her Bra

HELEN KELLY, 25, had been living in London just one month when she and a friend attended an award show, the Urban Music Awards, in November 2004. As they were exiting the theater, the pair heard gunfire outside. Two rival gangs were exchanging bullets—at least 18 rounds, police said later—as hundreds of panicked bystanders ran for cover. “I suddenly saw my friend running,” Kelly told the Evening Standard. “I started to follow her.” Then a girl in front of her shouted, “She’s been shot.”

Looking down, Kelly was shocked to see blood on her stomach. “I sat down,” she told the Standard. “And thought, ‘Well, this is it.'”

It wasn’t. Amazingly, the bullet had been deflected by the underwire in her bra. “But for the wire, it would probably have gone straight through her chest,” says London police detective Robert Wishart. Instead, the underwire bounced it away from her heart and through her right breast, doing only superficial damage. Kelly spent just a couple of days in the hospital. If not for the wire, says Wishart, “there’s no telling what would have happened.”

Struck by Car, Then Saved From a Train

AMANDA PRATT, 20, was driving to her new receptionist job on Jan. 19 when her Ford Escort collided with another car at an intersection in Fullerton, Calif., sending her car careening toward the nearby railroad tracks. As a 70-car freight train, just 200 yards away, bore down, passerby Orlando Medina quickly did the math. Finding the driver’s side door smashed and stuck, he ran around and, with the help of another man, pulled Pratt out the passenger door just before the train struck and seriously damaged Pratt’s car. “My one thought,” says Pratt, “was that my mom was going to be really mad at me.” Not so, says mom Cheryl: “I thanked God she was okay.”

Lost at Sea, a Man Overboard Is Saved by His Own Brother

CRAIG McCABE, 58, was soul-searching when he set out alone in his 65-ft. yacht on Jan. 12 from Marina del Rey, Calif. The question: Should he continue as a highly paid corporate lawyer or return to less lucrative work with abused children? “I’d made up my mind,” he says, “to make more money.” Then, while leaning over the side, he lost his balance. “Suddenly,” says McCabe, “I was in the water.”

The boat motored on without him. So he swam toward a buoy about three-quarters of a mile away. “After an hour and a half, I got really worried,” he says. He found a half-inflated party balloon and, using it to keep afloat, kept swimming. As it deflated, he grew weaker.

Meanwhile, McCabe’s brother Lance got a call from a friend who had heard a report that a boat had run aground on Catalina Island, 30 miles away. Confirming with the Coast Guard that it was McCabe’s, Lance, 56, borrowed a speedboat to aid in the search for his brother. As for McCabe, still heading toward the buoy, “I started going under,” he says. “I was drowning.” Astoundingly, Lance spotted his brother’s bobbing head, a speck in an empty ocean, miles from shore. He and a friend dove in and pulled Craig to the boat.

In the hospital, McCabe recovered quickly from hypothermia—and decided to return to child advocacy. Since then he’s heard many stories of seemingly miraculous survival. “A month ago I would have been skeptical,” he says. “I’m not anymore.”

Updated by Champ Clark
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