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The Science of Survival
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How to Survive (Almost) Anything

When it comes to surviving a crisis situation, we tend to rely on what we think we know.  But sometimes second-guessing yourself is the key to getting out alive.
Text by Laurence Gonzales   Photo Illustration by Jonathan Barkat

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Got what it takes to outsmart a grizzly, escape a great white, or stare down a charging tusker? Test your survival instincts with our new video series. 

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Author  Laurence Gonzales shares his survival insights in an audio interview.

Download the audio interview >>


Life-and-death situations don't only occur in the wild. Read about our readers' experiences or send in your own.

Read the survival stories >>

A few years ago I was flying my airplane to the Door County peninsula in Wisconsin on a beautiful summer day. From the cockpit I surveyed the bluffs and the farmland, which sloped in waves of green, dotted with white cows, all the way down to the shore of Lake Michigan. As I slipped north past Sheboygan and Two Rivers, I became vaguely aware that the sky in the distance looked different from the rest of the big blue sky. It was dark. Very dark.

During my pre-flight briefing, there had been no mention of bad weather. I had reviewed my plan for the flight, as I always do, and created a mental model of how the trip was going to unfold. That dark patch of sky simply didn't fit into my model, so I ignored it. I continued flying, despite the far-off voice in my head telling me what my father, a former combat pilot, always used to say about the weather: If it looks bad, it is bad.

I happened to be monitoring air-traffic control in the Green Bay area and heard another pilot report that he was flying in severe rain and thunderstorms. I felt my heart cease, then begin again. Suddenly, the land and lake and sky seemed brighter as the blood rushed to my face. At once I comprehended that I was flying into a black wall that extended from the surface of the water all the way to the heavens. Fortunately, I was just a few miles from an airfield and quickly radioed and descended. By the time I touched down, that monumental wall of black, stitched up and down with lightning, was swallowing the far end of the airfield. And as a line boy helped me push my plane into a hangar, the sky opened up with hail the size of marbles. My plane, a Citabria, was made of Dacron fabric. Flying through that hail might well have killed me.

Continue reading on the next page >>

Page 2 - The Darwin of Dumb >>

Page 3 -  When Mental Models Go Wrong >>

Page 4 - The Trouble With Success >>

Page 5 - Learning How to S.T.O.P. >>

Page 6 - Living Mindfully >>

Page 7 - The Survivor: Rulon Gardner >>

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