We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

What near death experiences have you had?

Last night I attended a flat warming party, given by fellow Samizdatista and newly certified Brit, Michael Jennings, and very enjoyable it was. Just the right mixture of nice people I know well (such as Johnathan Pearce and his Missis, and I rather think I may have met the legend that is Thaddeus Tremayne), nice people I know a bit, and nice people I didn’t know at all. And while there I found myself trying to think of good party questions, to replace the often excruciating “And what do you do?” that can cause such tedium and such embarrassment. And rather to my surprise, I overheard myself asking a rather good party question, namely: Have you ever been near to death? The good thing about this question is that brushes with the Angel of Death are fairly random, and that quiet little bod in the corner is almost as likely as the grand and confident ones stage centre to have a good yarn to tell. Granted, if you have a very grand job which involves clearing up minefields in war zones, you’ll probably trump anyone who is merely talking about being missed by speeding bus by half an inch, but despite that tendency, this question, together with the answers it elicits, does take us all out of our everyday preoccupations and make us see the world, and the people in it (e.g. the strangers you meet at parties), a bit differently, just as nearly being dead itself does. Which is what parties are partly for, aren’t they?

Someone asked, by way of clarification, whether I meant that thing where you feel you are moving towards a very bright light. No, not necessarily. That’s a great story, of course, if you have one like that. But any terrifying or dramatic circumstance that could have killed you, and preferably which you knew at the time could have killed you, is a good answer. Having to tightrope-walk across a burning beam a hundred feet above the ground, being violently attacked or robbed, missing a plane flight when the plane you missed subsequently crashed, getting your toe stuck at the bottom of a swimming pool and thinking that this was about to be your last swim and your last anything, that kind of thing. Bright lights are strictly optional.

The best answer I heard last night was from a guy (one of the ones I’d never met before) who was doing some sketching or painting or whatever in Jordan, and was accused by some knife-wielding locals of being a spy. They held the knife to his throat. Luckily a third party convinced them that he was harmless, but for a few moments there … you get the picture.

My best near death experience was when I was a very small boy and I fell out of a second story window at my grandmother’s house. I landed on a small strip of lawn, right next to some very spikey railings. All I remember was waking up afterwards, so it missed that element of pure terror (“I really thought this was It” etc. etc.) that the best near death stories have, but like I say, that’s my best shot. An A&E doctor recently started choking me, while looking down by throat with a small, flat little wooden poker like you used to get with icecream, and I briefly experienced what death by asphyxiation must feel like. But I howled at her to stop which she did, and I never really thought I would die, so that hardly counts at all. My point being that this is not an excuse to tell my own personal right-out-of-the-stadium story along these lines, because I have no such story.

But maybe you do have such a story. This evening it occurred to me that this question would also be a good way of starting a Samizdata comment thread, and in a way that might take us away from our usual stamping grounds, of politics (appallingness of), space rockets and flashy airplanes and cars (splendidness of), and such like.

So, what near death experiences have you had?

58 comments to What near death experiences have you had?

  • I once almost drowned in the sea, and was pulled out by some nice guy, whom I have never seen again, and whose name I don’t know (no, he was not very good looking:-)). A man has drowned near that beach on that afternoon.

  • Last one I experienced was having some loon I offended on an internet forum hire a PI, get my address, and show up on my doorstep with a revolver.

    He discovered that I answer the door armed the hard way, after working himself up to drawing on me after a two minute rant.

    One .480 Ruger round at center of mass, accidentally deflected by the .38 he was attempting to draw. A second round in the shoulder-blade as he spun in place. He fled.

    He had left his revolver there, and his middle finger as well … one good print was enough to identify him from CCW records.

    The police arrested him when he finally returned to his own house halfway across the country.

  • RAB

    Goodness Krst!
    Tell us the pubs you frequent, so we can all avoid them.

  • Dale Amon

    God… where to *start*!!!

    1) Back around 1974 I was doing timed runs through Schenley Park after leaving work at Compuguard. At about 4am in my MGB. I entered a hairpin slightly off line and then hit some wet leaves as I tried to bring it back. I swerved away from the stone wall, found myself on the other side heading for a tree and got myself back on line and in one piece.

    2) Around the same period, but just normal driving. I was heading down Margaret Morrison Street in my MGB when someone decided to pass the car on the other side and was suddenly coming at me head one. I managed to swerve into a long gap between two parked cars and back out again behind him. I went out for a drink after that one.

    3) In the mid-eighties I walked up Forbes Street hill to where my Cherokee was parked, around 1am or so, after a late night at the Robotics Institute. I opened the door to my jeep and a car coming up behind me swerved away from me, the swerved in and hit a parked car just up the road from me and did a 180. He did not get out, he just drove away with the damage. I felt like a roadkill frozen in headlights. After a few seconds I got into the car and drove directly to the Squirrel Hill Cafe for a last call. Boy did I need it!

    4&5) Two in one trip… I was co-piloting in a 172 on a return trip from Lake Placid to Pittsburgh. A lovely day and everything was fine… except we hit very high head winds and were not quite flying backwards but were not moving forwards very fast. There was nothing under us but forested Adirondacks and lakes. The pilot and I tossed gallows humor back and forth as we planned for the worst case. Parasol on the trees or ditch in a lake? I suggested that if ditched he do it close to shore… Why? he asked. “I can’t swim” I replied. We made it to our emergency alternate with probably not enough left for a go around.

    Then we were diverted Northwards due to a squall line and had to wait it out sitting around a small airport and hanging out in the weather station waiting for good news. We finally got it. The only trouble was, it turned out to be *wrong*. We were in bright moonlight heading southwards, I was tracking on the maps to take load off the pilot… and the moon disappeared. Well, we could still see the ground and we were at a safe altitude. No problem. Then… the ground vanished. With hardly a warning we were inside cotton candy with a bubble of fuzzy light from our wing lights around us. Neither of us were IFR so we immediately started planning our escape. Fortuneately there were two of us… I knew where we were and the lowest safe altitude… and I also caught on the instruments and warned him of an incipient spiral dive. He leveled and we descended 500 feet and broke out. That was a trip to remember.

    6) I was walking at the light at 43rd at Times Square, coming over from where I was working near 43rd and 8th. I heard a bang and turned my head… a hard hat had been dropped from the building being constructed behind me. It was at eyelevel from the bounce and about 2-3 feet away from me when I saw it.

    7) I was heading from Belfast to Dublin in about 1990. It was a holiday here (July 12) and I had a deadline and I need some software… the only place I could get it was Dublin so I was headed South. Wide open road, clear view, cruising about 70… and someone sitting in the crossover started to pull out. Not hit the accelerator, but drifting a bit more and a bit more. I was watching in horror as my escape channel got narrower and narrower as some drunken farmer with his family in the car failed to do anything decisive. I was braking hard but not enough for skidding and by the time I reached him there was so little room left that I was forced to fishtail into the side road. Inches. I didn’t spin out, but it was damn close. I just sat there shaking. He then proceeded to dawdle the rest of the way across the highway and go up the road past me.

    So if I were a cat, I would be running a bit on the short side. I might even have forgotten a few…

  • Dale Amon

    Correction. Memory error. That was Morewood Avenue, not Margaret Morrison Street.

  • I suspect, like most other people, I have come very close (in mms and milliseconds) to death many times without even noticing or whilst knowing that, say, just one step slightly-off and I’m a gonna but… that that was highly unlikely to happen.

    Anything I have either been more cognisant of (either at the time or subsequently) pales compared to Krtopher’s story.

  • Pedant

    This is in support of the comments by Nick (above). In revealing my personal answer to the question:

    What near death experiences have you had?

    – I can report that I too have come very close to death – coincidentally, many times whilst reading this very blog site. I discovered that what did it was the surprising and potentially fatal combination of dense clouds of toxic banality and vacuous thinking which sometimes seem to prevail for no apparent reason.

    I now only read this site whilst wearing an old WWII gas mask that I obtained from an army surplus store in Wapping.

  • Einna

    I happened to fall* off a rather high cliff and engaged in what an onlooker described as “human pinball” with the myriad of rocks that dotted the gradually descending slope down.

    No fancy lights or visions. Just darkness after a few moments. That’s the problem with this kind of thing, no memories for yourself!

    *High winds, drunk, camping, stupid. 🙂

  • Like Nick M, I rather think I’ve probably came near death many times over, but either haven’t realized it at the time or did, but then self-preservation turned on and now it’s safely hidden behind memory veil.

    I can be relatively certain about at least one case (since I still remember the details of the experience, even after 2 decades) – being in labor. At certain point I was confident that I’m dying; realization, strangely, made me feel resigned to the idea; I sort of hit rock-bottom and stopped resisting. Didn’t even feel interest or joy when it turned out I was still among the living…

  • Andy

    Coming home from work one night about 11.30pm I left the train station and was promptly set upon by a gang of scumbags looking to prove how tough and brave they were,5 against 1,yeah really brave. long story short, I ended up getting stabbed 6 times and if not for the bottles of beer in my backpack that deflected some of the other knife thrusts i would probably have been killed.we really need to get defensive guns made legal again in the UK.

  • Midwesterner

    It is quite possible that many of us don’t know about our closest brushes with death. I didn’t know about one of mine until several years later when a doctor, doing a series of precautionary x-rays to see if I had injured my neck in a car accident, casually asked me how I had broken it previously. I was confused and he said my neck appeared to have been broken some time earlier and healed in a misaligned position.

    It took me some puzzling but I tracked it back to what had not seemed a big deal at the time but had left me with some unusual symptoms. Even then I wasn’t sure but decades later I was working in a program that assisted (among others) people with spinal chord injuries trying new sports. Sitting around one day with some new friends who had the ‘other’ outcome to their injuries, I described my symptoms. The flash back on their faces caused me to regret recounting them. It was at C2/C3, Christopher Reeve territory.

    I’ve got more, but I’ll leave it there. Surprisingly, I can’t think of anything ‘near death’ happening while I was riding the turbocharged motorcycle that was my favorite ride for many years.

  • k

    I have been threatened with a gun twice.

    The first time, at about ten years of age, I was amazed at how well that revolver commanded my attention. The second time, years later, I thought little of the gun itself and focused on the situation.

    But that isn’t really the topic.

    At 17 I drowned in a lake and was revived very quickly, within a couple of minutes. All I recalled was a mad jumble of images, somewhat as if my memory had been processed in a blender.

    Some images were of the family pets, two dogs.

    My interpretation: my brain was sensory deprived – no input – and resorted to grasping for images recorded in memory. Not much different from dreaming.

  • Bod

    2 events come to mind.

    Easter 1976, Pennine Way, crossing the rail tracks after dark at Marsden, Peak District. No, not the 8.22 to Oldham. I was climbing down the embankment on the far side – it was an elevated embankment, built with huge Millstone Grit blocks measuring about 3ft x 3ft x 5ft. Block fell, with me under it, for about 6 ft. Managed to push myself off to one side and the block hit a boulder. Not sure I want to figure out what that would have done to me.

    Second event, one of those Hollywood moments in the early 90’s (93, if I remember correctly) . I was driving south from Edgware, North London back to Croydon (South London) when the world’s stupidest bombers tried to blow up an elevated section of the North Circular at Staples Corner. I was about 20 seconds south of the intersection when the blast went off. Blew out my rear screen. If I remember correctly, it was a truck loaded with weed killer and sugar, but the morons had parked the truck a few feet from the supports, so the actual damage was much less than it could have been, but I felt like that guy in the car who had the bridge in Iraq blown up behind him in Desert Storm.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I was mugged in Clapham about 8 years ago – pretty badly – and remembered and shuddered at the thought that my assailant could have been armed with a knife. I recovered, although I was very rattled for several weeks. I was also involved in a car crash in about 1989, but was not not hurt.

    Kristopher’s story left me gob-smacked.

  • Doug

    When I was a kid (maybe 6-7 years old) I nearly drowned on vacation at Daytona beach. My friends and I used to do this thing at a lakeside beach where we’d walk out into the water as far as we could with our faces above water until we had to walk on the tips of our toes; the one who got farthest out was the winner. I tried to do that in the ocean.

    I had just about gotten as far as I could, already on the balls of my feet, when the current of water rushing out under the incoming waves yanked my feet out from under me, pulling me under and spinning me around. I had absolutely no sense of orientation – the whole time I was flailing and kicking toward what I thought was the surface, but a couple times my hands just scraped through sand. That was no help though, as I was still being spun around and “up” soon became “down” again. Just when I started to realize that I was a couple seconds away from taking another breath whether I wanted to or not, I felt something clamp onto my ankle. It heaved me backwards, and turned out to be my grandfather’s hand hauling me out of the ocean.

    I was amazed to see that in a handful of seconds I’d traveled over 80 feet away from the shore. My grandfather had been at least 50 feet closer to shore than I was when I’d gone under – I have no idea to this day how he closed the distance so fast.

    When I was an older kid, I was cutting through a field with a friend one winter. We were walking along the edge of a drainage ditch that was usually full of water 4-5 feet across and seldom more than 1 foot deep. This must have been January thaw though, because the ditch was full of fast, icy water — at least 10 feet across and maybe four feet deep — and the snow was wet and slick. I carelessly placed one foot wrong, which slid out from under me, and my hip hit the incline sliding – there was nothing to grab onto but wet snow. Luckily, my friend was even faster than my grandfather. If he hadn’t grabbed my coat so fast I would have shot down the incline into freezing, rushing water. Maybe I could have managed my way out, or maybe not, but at that moment I was sure that I would have died in there. The ditch ran into a tunnel under the road maybe 100 feet ahead; if I hadn’t made my way out before that, I suspect that I wouldn’t have after.

    When I was an even older kid, I was once again near water, this time crossing a bridge over the Erie canal in summer on the way back from the store with two friends. The gutsy one among us decided that he wanted to sit on the railing over the water and eat his popsicle. He taunted and harassed us until we joined him. He finished first, and being also something of a neighborhood bully, he decided it was a good place and time to visit some manner of torment on us. He slapped my other friend on the back and, perched on the rail as he was, it scared the crap out of him. His success should have been my warning. A few seconds later, he slapped me on the back – only I didn’t manage to stay on the rail.

    From the top of that bridge, the water looked at least five stories away. I was positive that the asshole had just killed me. I immediately took a deep breath and held it, but time slowed waaay down and I fell forever. I held that breath all the way down, resisting the urge to scream the whole way, but just before I hit the water I couldn’t hold it anymore and only managed to get another half-breath in. I hit the water, went under, and soon my feet mushed into soft, mucky bottom. I kicked free easily, but it seemed like minutes before I finally got my head above surface again. I was so shaky and weak that I didn’t think I’d have the strength to swim to shore, but I managed. I laid down for a couple minutes to catch my breath, and when I finally had my nerve again I realized something; aside from the terror, it had actually been kinda fun. And from the shore the bridge only looked half as high. Jumping off that bridge became an occasional summer pastime for us after that, and it was extra sweet because the bully never worked up the courage to try it. I’m sure it ate him bitterly.

    Another summer — I can’t say if it was before or after that — I’d gone out of town for a few days to visit my favorite cousin who had moved to Illinois a couple months before. Few people were as good as my cousin at finding things that we shouldn’t be doing (hence he was my favorite), and he hadn’t wasted his talents in Illinois.

    On our way back from a couple hours of having various things smashed and smushed for us on the train tracks, we were already late for dinner so he introduced me to another Thou Shalt Not: Thou Shalt Not Cut Through The Corn Field. It would save us a few minutes of walking around it.

    He said that all the kids knew not to do it, that the farmer was a real prick, but it was nearing dusk and he figured that the diminishing light would offer us cover. He was wrong. We weren’t even halfway across the scarcely waist-high field when we heard yelling coming from the direction of the house. I couldn’t make out words, but the tone was clearly “get the hell out of my corn”. When I looked toward the house, there he was – the prick farmer, jogging into the field with a gun.

    We ran, of course. Not back the way we came to get out of the field quickly, but all the way straight across as we’d been going. That might be what pissed him off enough to shoot. We ran faster. I don’t think I’ve run that fast before or since. He fired twice more, and once I was positive that I heard shot ripping through the plants around us, but I never looked back. I didn’t hear another shot after we cleared the field, but we kept running until the next house was between us and him anyway.

    We convinced ourselves alternately that he had and hadn’t actually been firing at us. We told one of my cousin’s friends about it the next day, and the friend told us that the farmer kept shotgun shells loaded with rock salt for just such an occasion, and was almost certainly firing at us. The following year my cousin wrote that he’d gotten confirmation when he managed to get shot at again and caught a legful of salt this time – he said it stung like hell, but didn’t do any real damage.

    Adulthood’s had its scares, but as far as I can recall I don’t think any of them really qualify as “I’m about to die” moments.

  • Doug

    Missed one.

    I was about 14 when I was riding an ATC (when they were still legal) with the same friend who almost killed me on the bridge, along a trail by the same ditch that I’d almost slipped into the other time. He was driving and kept creeping closer and closer to the edge of the ditch. I started getting nervous and telling him to move away, but he said that he couldn’t. We edged closer and closer still until the left rear wheel finally slipped over the edge and we rolled it down into the ditch. We were probably doing under 20 MPH and would have been fine, but when I finally landed on my back in the ditch, the trike landed on me. The water was at its usual level, roughly a foot, and that was just barely enough to keep my face above water. However, I didn’t have the leverage to move the trike at all, it was hard to breathe, my neck was straining, and I couldn’t keep my mouth out of the water the whole time. I yelled for my friend to get it off me several times, but as far as I could make out he just sat there complaining about his leg. Finally, someone who’d been riding the trails on the other side of the ditch came along and rolled the trike off me. I probably could have held out for a few more minutes, but I think my friend would have had no concerns about letting me stay there until whenever he was finished complaining about his leg.

    Hm. Little wonder that I’m not that crazy about swimming.

  • The most recent one I had was being mugged.

    I was also once in the passenger seat of a car that was being towed through a forest in the rain. The car slipped off the road, down an embankment and straight towards a large tree. Luckily for me the car whipped round at the last split second and bounced back on to the road … only to slide off the other side.

    I then got out and walked a few miles to the next railway station and slept it off.

  • Ian B

    1) Meningitis, aged 12. Left me with only a small amount of brain damage, deafness in one ear and a lifetime of strange neurological symptoms I can’t seem to get any doctors interested in.

    2) Some time in 1985 returning home late from work, started to feel a bit peaky waiting for the tube to arrive. Never having fainted before, had no idea that what I was feeling is what you feel before you faint. I fainted just as the train came in, fell forward off the platform and miraculously bounced off the front of the train back onto the platform. Awoke with one side of my face etc covered in black gunge from the train, but remarkably little bruising or anything, surrounded by people including the driver saying “I thought you were dead mate, thought you were under the train” and words to that effect. I wasn’t even drunk at the time.

  • RAB

    Well apart from missing a head on collision by an inch in the mountains of Calabria, oh and the moron we were travelling behind at 70 mph who had taken the wrong turn off the M4 into Cardiff and decided to back up!!
    It’s electricity with me.
    I have been electrocuted about 5 times now.
    The worst was when I was fixing a socket in a house in Cardiff. I’d switched all the power off naturally and set to work, when there was this big blue flash and I found myself on the other side of the room with third degree burns to my hands.
    The previous bastard tenants had somehow managed to wire that plug into next doors mains!

  • Dale Amon

    Rab: You just reminded me of another one!

    8) While I wsa an undergrad in the CMU Electrical Engineering Dept I spent a summer working in a Plasma lab. One of the jobs I had was to run a new AC service after pulling out a no longer needed DC line.

    I was working at the junction box after the other engineers had cut the main breaker into the Victorian looking lab, the sort of place you’d expect would have Franky and his slab tucked way in the corner… being an untrusting sort I tried probing a every combination of wires possible in the ‘disconnected’ box. It wasn’t. A quarter inch of the probe vaporized in a bang that sounded like a stick of dynamite going off. I was momentarily deafened and blinded… and rather shaken by what would have happened without my extra severe dose of paranoia. As it turned out, someone had miswired both breakers and there was nothing between me and an AC/DC motor generator pair. Had I shorted it would just have spun up as much as it needed to keep the current flowing…

    Ooppps… I just remembered another.

    9) I was the tech director on a theatrical production in Pittsburgh. The place I was working insisted that I use one of their own people for sourcing the equipment rentals. And he insisted he knew what he was doing when he arrived with extensible trees instead of the steel pipe on 50 pound bases I had specced. With much trepidation but listening to him instead of my better judgement, I proceeded to run the balcony pipe between the two trees and to populate it with lighting instruments. They had added a wide area in front of the proscenium arch but had not thought about lighting it and their fancy high ceiling was off limits. So I had to try working from the balcony. Now I had a ladder the only place I could place it, which was hard up against the lowest step to keep the other side clear of the gap… the railing was one of those that curves outward from the outside edge of the balcony floor. Well, I was up on the ladder putting in a leako when the damn thing started to telescope. The leako I was working with pushed down on the top of the ladder in front of me and the whole damn pipe was being supported by it. The idiot who sold me on this whole thing came running over and started desparately pulling on the leako because he thought it would be damaged. I used ‘command voice’ and stopped him cold with my words: “If you pull that instrument off, the ladder, me and a thousand pounds of lighting gear are going over the balcony and if I live… you won’t..”

    So I guess I’m totally out of lives!

  • Michael Taylor

    I went to Islington once. . .

  • Ian B

    Oooh, that reminds me of another one. Capital Radio Music Festival Press Launch 1989 (I think that was the year) Duke Of York Theatre where I was chief lx at the time. Half way through the tech rehearsal, with a couple of hours to the actual thing the building site next door drilled through our main service cable- the services in St Martins Lane are literally just below the paving and a poor unfortunate had been told to drill a trench. Luckily he wasn’t severely injured.

    So the production manager got on his big brick mobile and ordered the biggest generator he could get his hands on, and every hand available hauled the armoured flexibles over the canopy and down the long alleyway, round to the back of the building to the intake while assembled press quaffed wine in the circle bar and watched with tipsy fascination, and then I had to hook the generator feed up the busbars.

    The busbars there are pretty old (or were), none of this easy split rail stuff, they’re drilled copper strip, so making a connection meant effectively wrapping your arms and torso around them in a loving embrace to get a spanner round the back of the busbar (this is 3 phase remember, 415 lovely volts). I’d given the generator operator strict instructions not to live the cables up until I actually walked up to him and said so clearly.

    Just after I’d finished, it all went live. He’d seen my deputy at the other end of the alley and thought he’d waved an okay, the twat. After the OMFG moment subsided, I reacted with a certain amount of anger. Whether I’d have been killed is moot; that I’d have lost the arm squeezed tightly between 3 phase and neutral busbars and the earthed metal enclosure is pretty certain.

  • Dale Amon

    Ian: I hear ya. There was a grad student from that same plasma lab who got hung on 10KV (low current) and lost a finger. I’ve also left out a lot of theatrical stories that either nearly happened to someone else or that were just merely dangerous. Like hot wiring an AC feed for a dimmer board off a main building riser. It is amazing how sharp your senses are when you are doing something like that!

  • Bod

    Heh. You guys are teh funny.

    I didn’t even mention my brushes with electricity and high energy – I’ve been thrown across a room a couple times by 240V @ 13A, and zapped myself from the HT circuit on a color CRT. 53kV if I remember correctly. Not sure if that counts as a brish with death though.

    … and that very close shave with the large beaker of trinitrogen iodide crystals. Less said about that the better.

  • Dale Amon

    You mean Nitrogen Tri-Iodide don’t you? Great fun. Easy to make and one of my favorites when I was a kid.

    Which reminds me of an incident which I don’t count as life threatening but was perhaps a close brush with the hospital… I attempted to make TNT and when I poured the failure down the high school lab drain I got a sudden burst of activity, a heavy brown gas formed and moved in waves in the sink as I pulled the window open and stuck my head outside before breathing again… Ah the good old days in highschool when I synthesized every pyrotechnic I could figure out. Except Nitro. I figured that was a bit too dicey as the lab tended to be a bit warm…

  • Dale,
    Are you sure you’re the real Dale Amon? I mean, we must be talking Dale 6.0 at least here. And I thought human-cloning hadn’t been done yet…

  • Doing missionary work (LDS) in Managua, Nicaragua, in 1974. My companion and I are doing door-to-door knocking in the rich part of town. We walked up this short L-shaped driveway and are almost to the house when we hear a whistle blow behind us. We turn around, can’t see anyone — some floodlights at the bend in the driveway are shining right in our faces — and give a friendly wave.

    A shot rings out. I remember thinking, “Someone’s trying to kill us for tracting?”

    Within a second or two, it’s apparent that no real attempt was made to shoot us, since no bullet hits either us or the large garage door just a few feet right behind us, and there are no more shots. We freeze in place nevertheless, and an old man with a rifle — obviously hired to guard the property — comes walking out from the trees at the driveway’s bend. I suspect he was bored and welcomed the excuse to fire off his rifle. We chat with him briefly, all while smiling, nodding our heads, and getting back down the driveway as quickly as we can.

    For a few months after that, every time I hear a whistle blown, my stomach clenches up. ..bruce..

    P.S. Had a few near-misses while driving, but then again, who doesn’t?

  • After that drunk driver knocked me off my Harley at sixty-five miles an hour, I first hit the concrete of the road on my left shoulder. It started a full yard-sale tumble, naturally. (I’ve never forgotten the flashing image of the bag that had been lashed to the bike, sliding past my face while the road concrete was grinding its rain-groove shapes into the side of my helmet. That sounded like really loud AM-radio static.)

    That first impact was quite painful. However, as I rolled down the road, I thought, “Well, this is only going to get better. I’ll slow down and stop pretty soon.”

    Then; it occurred to me: I did not know where any of the cars were, which had been behind me on the four-lane Interstate highway just outside Atlanta.

    That’s when I was pretty sure that I was going to get killed.

    What I didn’t know was that everyone in those cars behind me had seen the perp coming up behind me. They were all in their brakes about as soon as I first landed on the road.

    Bless them.

  • Hugo

    First one not so interesting: knocked down by a bicycle when I was five. Handlebars knocked my nose almost off. Took a fair while to get to hospital, blood everywhere. But while my parents spent a couple of days in hospital thinking I was going to die, I was only five so don’t really remember being in pain etc.

    Second one more recently: in a bus hurtling along a thin road on the side of a mountain in Laos. We swung round a corner just as another bus did the same. And christ did the driver brake. I thought we were going to collide and fall off the road, but the buses stopped, just touching. No impact, but you couldn’t slide a cigarette paper between them.

  • I was in graduate school, as a research assistant in nuclear physics. Which meant I got to run the atom smasher (a HVEC Emperor 10 million volts Van de Graaff). Which meant also that I had to go into its guts to get it started up.

    Well, it was Monday evening (Monday being the day they did all the servicing) and I had to tweak a few parameters in the beam injector. It normally ran at 150 kV. So I got there, and put the key in the controls and turned the voltage off, and opened the door to its cage.

    Some slacker had put a jumper across the safety interlock. Fortunately, the metal door absorbed the lightning bolt instead of myself.

  • RAB

    Dale may I say quickly
    It’s been a pleasure to know you briefly.
    Cos the way you are going on…

    Ah tales of the old High School Lab eh?

    When I was 13, I could walk into any chemist and get enough chemicals to take out half the High Street.
    Not in these more tense times though.

    We used to do a thing when our Chemisty teacher was demonstrating an experiment to the whole class using his Bunsen burner.
    We used to blow air into our gas outlets, cause an air pocket, which would work its way round the system and put his Bunsen out.
    He never did figure it out, until one dickhead (not me) went one better and decided to attach the gas outlet to the water tap.
    Well you chemists know that water and gas can become very explosive in the right ratios.

    No explosion ensued, but the whole Lab plumbing had to be ripped out and replaced.
    The dickhead was not entered for O level Chemistry natch!

  • Dale: “I’ve also left out a lot of theatrical stories…”

    I’ve got a million of ’em. You should have seen my brother fly through the R.A. Roth shop when he touched-off a 14kv capacitor in an enclosed-arc follow-spot.

    I remember very distinctly when Steve Rongo almost went off the top of the stage-right audio tower while we were building Pink Floyd in the Carrier Dome at Syracuse: ninety-five feet up, his harness wasn’t made, and he saved his life with his claw hammer at the last possible instant. Once, when The Ramones were onstage (in the Manley Fieldhouse at S.U.) , I reached into a service panel, hooked my finger around a dead 200-amp barrel fuse and yanked it out, just as a building manager was coming around the corner. It wasn’t a N.D.E., but he sure thought it was, and you had to see the paperwork on that deal.

    Most people have no earthly idea: a stage is one of the most dangerous places one can work. There are endless ways to get badly hurt, and a couple of hundred good ways to get killed.

  • Bod


    Yep, you’re right – and while under normal circumstances , a production run of nitrogen tri-iodide wouldn’t be life threatening, the memory of those other little incidents with the lead picrate and hydrazine were fresh in my headmaster’s mind.

    If he’d ever been able to prove who had actually taped those crystals to the inside of the door jamb, and the resulting need to replace the door and the frame, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here, typing today.

  • Midwesterner

    Do lightening strikes count as electrical near misses? I have had approximately 10-12 lightening strikes within 100 feet of which half were within about fifty and several went to earth through the house I was in. One went down the antenna wire on one outside wall of the room I was in, got to the lightening trap and hopscotched to the phone wiring, then went back up in the house and burned a phone jack on the other side of my room.

    Just so you know, thunder is loudest went the bolt is maybe a 1/2 mile away. When a strike is right on top of you, it is a really loud (reeaaallly loud) ‘SNAP’. Probably similar to Dale’s number 8. As I sit here typing, there are 3 trees within 8 to 40 feet of the house with fresh enough lightening injuries to still be weeping sap (2-3 years). Oh, and a two line cordless phone that now only works on one line since the last lightening strike. And a new TV that replaced the old one. And maybe 4 or 5 DSL splitters. They seem especially vulnerable. We have not exceeded our deductible since lightening went down the well many years ago. Although it got in to the heating system (at least) once years back and burned out switches, controllers and pumps.

    Whenever I hear thunder, I automatically unplug my laptop and run on batteries and wireless until it is passed. Routers and modems are cheap. Data can be irreplaceable. And we use cordless phone and cell phones. Even small phone sized wires will guide a bolt of lightening. Apparently it overloads and vaporizes the metal (usually copper) which creates a plasma that conducts the entire bolt of lightening.

  • Hugo

    A schoolteacher of mine told me a story of when he was swimming below a dam in some European country. Someone came out and shouted something at him from the top of the dam, but he didn’t understand. They came out a little while later and shouted again, but he didn’t speak the language.

    So he carried on swimming.

    Then they opened the dam.

    He was sucked under and round and round for “a minute or two”, then eventually managed to get out by swimming along the bottom instead of trying to swim along the top. I don’t know how deep it was – probably not terribly.

    I used to find white-water kayaking great fun, and was fairly foolhardy, but as I started studying about different stoppers and different types of rescue, the bigger ones scare me as much as they should. So many interesting ways to die.

  • Carol Kalescky

    When I was 16, I was riding my bicycle home from school when a car attempted to beat me through the inersection. I made a big dent in his passenger side fender.

    When I was 17, I was cleaning an oven and I hit a loose light bulb in the back with a sponge. I was electrocuted and thrown across the kitchen, after tap dancing on the floor a little. That was so exciting, I quit cleaning house for a living.

    About 15 years ago, I saved the life of my partner who was choking on a piece of meat in a restaurant by performing the Heimlich maneuver.

    The less said about my suicide attempts the better… .

  • RRS

    Facing Death as compared to experiencing what may be some of its elements are quite different events, from this writer’s exposure.

    Drowning at age 16 and being pulled up “gone” from the bottom of Chesapeake Bay by friends who searched and struggled, brought an “out-of body” condition, that was verified by what had been observed occuring many miles away during that period. It left an absolute absence of “fear of death” (but not of pain) which made responsiveness only a few years later in WW II automatic, without thought of consequence. One ceases to brood, or at least everyone should.

  • RAB

    Ah lightning Mid !

    My dad was a golfer, and he and his partner were putting out on the 14th at Caerphilly…

    The thunder and lightning rolling around.

    Well an absolute downpour came on.

    Dads partner was away first, heading for the corrigated tin shed that was a shelter. Dad was about 20 yards behind him when the lightning struck.

    It took out the shed and his partner.

    He was scared shitless about lightning for the rest of his life.

    I, on the other hand, love a good storm!

    The wife and I had been having a sunday afternoon drink beside the river towards Bath.

    Thunder started to crack and lightning fork, and the rain clattered down, so we thought we’d leg it home. It’s about 20 mins to Bristol.

    But the storm followed us.

    By the time we had got to our front door
    fumbling with the keys
    There was the most godalmighty bang I ever heard directly overhead.

    It shook us from our toes to the tips of our nose, to the depths of our abdomens.
    And on to the naughty bits!

    Ness dragged me upstairs
    and to the soundtrack of something similar to a cruise missile attack on Bagdad,

    We had some of the most amazing sex of our lives!

  • The Wobbly Guy

    I forgot to bring my keys with me when I left my hostel room back in my undergrad days. I was desperate, and poor, and didn’t want to go all the way back down to security and pay the fee for them to unlock my door.

    So I used a neighbour’s window to climb into my room.

    Despite my best efforts, my hands were wet. I almost slipped. It was ten stories high. It’s cliche, I know, but my life flashed across my eyes in that one instant my hands lost their grip. Luckily, I somehow managed to wrench myself forward and grab hold of the window frame.

    I was a nervous wreck after that. I swore, never again. I’d hide a spare set of keys in a nearby potted plant.

  • Goodness Krst!
    Tell us the pubs you frequent, so we can all avoid them.

    Posted by RAB

    Like most US CCW holders, I am harmless unless assaulted.

    And like most, I don’t carry while drinking.

  • And, you were inside your house at the time. Case closed.

  • Midwesterner

    What I want to know is who Kristopher picks fights with. As someone who gets impassioned in discussions myself, whoever he was upsetting should have their identity and identifying characteristics broadcast widely.

    Also, I suspect but Kristopher would know, that the assailant’s CCW permit was not valid in the state where the incident occurred and that would make it an illegal weapon. Valid CCW permit holders commit crimes at a very small fraction of the rate at which non-holders do. That makes this case extremely rare.

  • Hank Scorpio

    Not a “near death” experience, but something suitably freaky happened when I was 11 or 12 years old.

    I was at the park jumping my bike on a makeshift ramp when my front wheel came completely free of the forks. Forks dig into the ground, my chin slams the handle bars I get sprawled out on the ground, unconscious.

    The next thing I remember is looking down at my body while my little sister and her friend were trying to wake me up for a few minutes. I remember everything they said in that span of time. To this day, 25 years later, I can recall exactly how “real” everything felt. I know that neuroscientists can explain away my experience with reasoned arguments, but I still don’t buy it. It felt too real to me. In some ways I felt more conscious at that moment than I do in my day to day life.

    I think this one incident is the reason I call myself an agnostic, and not an atheist.

  • RAB

    No, no slur intended on Kristopher,
    A finer man I couldn’t wish to have by my side when answering the door…

    It’s just that sitting next to him in the pub, given that he is unarmed at this point,
    Well the level of incompetence is frightening these days isn’t it?
    A bloke he’s pissed off from Glasgow East could turn up and blow me away instead of him.

    What did you say to that bloke by the way?

    I do have a little insight into this area.
    I am a critic and have, in the past, had my address given out to interested parties by stupid publications and been confronted on my doorstep by irate Musicians etc wanting to argue the toss about a bad review.
    Fortunately none have been tooled up though!

  • Mid,
    Well, the guy is missing a finger if that helps.

    I’m going to have to be careful blogging. I only have a claw hammer and harsh language.

  • Bessie

    Hugo, you’ve made me remember something I’ve clearly been suppressing for decades …

    During a camper van tour of Austria when I was 10, we stopped by a pretty stream for a few hours. My brother and I built little rock dams across the stream, unaware that there was a rather larger dam upstream.

    My parents, having lived in Germany for a couple of years in the 1950s, supposedly spoke and read German well. However, they were stumped by the big stripy yellow and red notices planted on the grass, reading “ACHTUNG”, followed by vocabulary absent from our Collins Gem dictionary.

    Just as we got back into the camper van up on the road, the pretty little stream suddenly quadrupled in volume.

    I now speak and read German rather better than my parents.

  • Jacob

    I once survived a plane crash, with only a scratch. It was no near death experience, so it probably doesn’t count.

  • n005

    Perhaps not exactly near death, but here goes.

    I used to shoot roman candles at the Fourth while holding them in my hand, without incident. Then one year, for the first time, I stuck a roman candle in the ground before lighting it, stepped away as it fired, and after shooting a few fireballs normally, it exploded!

    Damned thing might have taken my hand off.

  • Sunfish

    I was married once.

    I keed, I keed, I joke with you!

    I was riding my motorcycle at about 60 on the freeway when I had a tank slap. I don’t even remember how I fixed it. It was possibly the freakiest moment of my life.

    When I was in college, we were doing a shock survey in the Missouri river. That’s where we put on frame backpacks with car batteries or small generators mounted and then run an electrical current through the water. It stuns fish, they come to the surface and end up in a seine, and we can count them and then let them go.

    I lost my footing, went in, tasered myself, and came to about 200 yards downstream. It was a hell of a thing.

  • skydog

    For those of you interested in experiencing ‘near-death’ (and quite likely permanent death) experiences or the more suicidally inclined amongst us … I can heartily recommend driving on any Turkish road. Failing that, a road journey in any Mediterranean country will produce a somewhat watered-down experience of the same. ;o)

  • Midwesterner

    I nominate Sunfish for the “Most Creative” category. When a story starts by strapping lead or steel to your back and wading into flowing water over a mud bottom and then escalates to self administered electro-convulsive therapy . . .

    I am in awe.

  • Midwesterner

    BTW, Sunfish, does this have anything to do with your choice of moniker de net?

  • Skydog, c’mon, Turkish roads are not that bad at all. But then, I drive in Israel every day…:-)

  • Dale Amon

    I once had some maniac try to intentionally (and repeatedly) run my MGB off the road, but I didn’t even consider it particularly dangerous because they weren’t even good enough to provide any real sport. I just timed their side by side approach, downshifted and power skidded into a side road. Problem solved!

  • I had a guy try to run me off Peachtree Street in Atlanta, one night. Wrote about it here.

    I never understood a single thing about it.

  • Sunfish

    I nominate Sunfish for the “Most Creative” category. When a story starts by strapping lead or steel to your back and wading into flowing water over a mud bottom and then escalates to self administered electro-convulsive therapy . . .

    I am in awe.

    That’s nothing. One of our English friends has a story that involved throwing gasoline on a fire that was already going, if I remember correctly. His wife was less than fully pleased.

    My handle doesn’t come from that specific swim, but the two are related.

    What gets me is, just how many of these stories involve motorcycles. You’d think that we’d all know better.

  • jb

    this is scary to me, my friend and me sailed out about 5 miles away from newport beach, which known of the great white (which I realized later). and I dive into the ocean with nothing but a under pan when the boat’s engine was still running. the boat quickly gottawy and I could never reach it. I am getting tired of swiming and after finally I reached the sail boat we realise the ladder on the boat was freaking short! I couldn’t get on! luckly I was able to get on with my friend’s help using a rope and even now I didnt even know if there was sharks under there. man oh man!

  • Katy

    This is a very different story u will see why! Basically when my mother found out she was pregnant she decided to get a abortion fortunatly for me it didn’t work and I survived it some how. She thought that it was over but not until she discovered she was still pregnant and it was over the date were she could get a abortion. So here I am. I don’t know if this is classed as a near death experiance because some may argue I wasn’t technically alive in the womb ? Whatever it is all I know is I’m still here now but i may not have been I supose it’s all just down to fait.