The idea of being buried alive is a universal fear. After all, waking up to find yourself trapped under the ground is almost always a death sentence. However, a few lucky souls have survived being buried alive. Their stories are amazing tales of survival that show just how much the human body can take and still live.
10 Philomele Jonetre
Philomele Jonetre, a 24-year-old French woman, fell ill with cholera in 1867. After a few days of being sick, she was given the last rites by a priest and pronounced dead. She was placed in her coffin one hour later, and within six hours of death, she was under the ground.
When the gravediggers finished burying Philomele, they were about to head home when they heard a knocking sound from the grave site. Realizing Philomele was still alive, they hastily dug up all their previous work and quickly called for a physician.
As the doctor examined Philomele, he could hear a faint heartbeat. He also noted that the fresh wounds on her hands matched the kind of injuries expected from knocking on a coffin lid. Her breath was so faint that it almost did not exist, but the physician was able to revive her. He kept her alive until the next day, when she passed away either due to cholera or her nightmarish ordeal in the coffin.
This time, everybody involved made sure that she was truly dead.
9 The Man From Ferraz De Vasconcelos
A woman living in the Sao Paulo suburb of Ferraz de Vasconcelos got quite a shock in 2013. She was visiting her family tomb when she witnessed a truly disturbing sight. Near the tomb, she could see a man trying to escape from his grave. He’d already freed his hands and head on his own, and now he was attempting to pull the rest of his body out of the ground.
Rescue workers arrived on the scene and helped the man escape his grave. Paramedics took him to the hospital for medical evaluation, and authorities soon discovered he was a city hall employee. Nobody knows exactly how he was buried alive in the first place, but officials think he was involved in a fight that ended with him being nearly beaten to death. According to the man’s nephew, he suffered severe psychiatric problems from the ordeal.
8 The Dongdong Baby Girl
Lu Xiayun was a pregnant woman from the Chinese province of Dongdong. Since she lived in an agricultural community, she did not have access to modern medical care. Everyone around her believed that she was only four months pregnant, so when she went into labor, they expected a stillborn baby. When she gave birth, the child was unresponsive, and everyone assumed it was dead.
However, Xiayun’s husband realized that his wife needed medical care and called for an ambulance. As she was rushed to the nearest hospital, Xiayun’s mother buried the baby in their yard. When Lu Xiayun arrived at the hospital, the doctors provided all the necessary care, but they also determined she’d actually been six months pregnant. They also questioned the logic of burying the baby so soon without having a medical professional check to see if it was possible to save the child.
That’s when Xiayun’s husband rushed back to the burial site, dug up the baby, and found it still had vital signs. After three days in the hospital, the family left because they did not have enough money to pay the bills. But once the story made international headlines, donations poured in to help the little girl, and she was able to return to the hospital where she received the necessary medical treatment.
7 Mike Meaney
Mike Meaney is a little bit different from most of the other people on this list. How? Well, this Irish barman had himself buried alive as a stunt. It’s hard to tell exactly what Meaney was trying to prove, but he successfully stayed underground for 61 days without dying or going too insane.
Now, Meaney wasn’t the only one trying to perform this crazy feat. At the same time, an American named Digger O’Dell was trying to capture the world record for premature burial, but he couldn’t compare to the Irishman. Meaney’s friends buried him in a predominantly Irish district of London. There was a hole in the coffin so he would not die from carbon dioxide poisoning. His friends also used this hole to send him water and food. In order for this stunt to work, Meaney had to have a staggering amount of trust in his buddies.
After 61 days underground, Meaney reemerged into the light wearing sunglasses to shield his eyes. He actually lived to see his stunt topped on multiple occasions, but he was the one who inspired these daredevils to break his record. However, the Guinness Book of World Records no longer acknowledges this particular feat, since it’s their policy not to promote stunts that are incredibly life-threatening.
6 Antony Britton
While people like Mike Meaney bury themselves alive for long periods of time, they usually have helpers waiting aboveground. However, some stuntmen actually try to escape from their graves unaided. These escapologists date back to Harry Houdini, the famous magician who performed a similar stunt. Recently, escapologist Antony Britton attempted to one-up Houdini . . . and almost lost his life in the process.
For Britton’s stunt, he was buried in a standard grave 2 meters (6 ft) deep. He wore handcuffs, but instead of lying in a coffin, the man was placed straight into the ground. As you might expect, things went poorly. Nine minutes after the burial, Britton was still underground, breaking the safety threshold he set up with the emergency crew. The crew quickly dug him up, getting him out just moments before he would’ve died.
In later interviews, Britton stated that his arm was trapped by the compression of the soil. The exertion of trying to free his arm almost caused him to pass out. Even worse, every time he tried to exhale, the soil pressed against his chest, making it impossible to breathe. Fortunately, Britton survived the ordeal, and he is still a practicing escapologist.
5 The Compton Baby Girl
Two women were in for a surprise while taking a walk down a Compton, California, bike trail in November 2015. While working their way down the path, they suddenly heard muffled baby cries coming from under the ground. Worried, the women called for police officers, and when the authorities arrived on the scene, they found a baby girl buried under a pile of asphalt on the bike trail.
The infant was only a day or two old. Fortunately for the little girl, the police officers were able to quickly retrieve her and get her to a nearby hospital. Interestingly, the baby was wrapped in a hospital blanket, showing she was born in a medical facility. The detectives who took the case quickly determined the identity of the mother, and authorities posted a $500,000 warrant for her arrest.
The woman was eventually hauled into jail, and she is now facing charges for attempted murder and child endangerment. So far, the baby is recovering well, but if those two women hadn’t stumbled across the baby when they did, the little girl would not have survived.
4 Tom Guerin
The Irish Potato Famine caused a massive amount of death, and as such, Irish gravediggers were hard-pressed to find enough space for all the corpses. They worked hard and too quickly, often making some major mistakes. A common story from that time period was the tale of Tom Guerin, a three-year-old boy who was buried alive by mistake . . . but managed to survive.
Guerin was presumed dead and buried, but during the interment, the gravediggers accidentally broke both of his legs with a spade. Nevertheless, he was still able to dig his way to the surface. Of course, there is another version of events. Some historians believe that the gravediggers realized their mistake after accidentally breaking Tom’s legs, causing the boy to moan in pain. However, Guerin himself did not support the second version of events.
After the ordeal, Guerin walked with a limp, and in the 1890s, he appealed to the Board of Guardians for a new pair of boots. To convince them of his cause, Guerin wrote a verse about his burial:
I rose from the dead in the year ’48
When a grave at the Abbey had near been my fate,
Since then for subsistence I have done all my best
Though one shoe points eastward and the other points west.
3 The Tian Dong County Baby
A southern Chinese woman went out picking herbs one day in May 2015. She was near a cemetery when she heard the sound of baby cries coming from beneath the ground. Startled, she went to investigate and realized there was an infant buried alive. When the police were notified, they dug up the baby boy and transported him to the hospital for medical care.
As authorities tried to figure out what happened, they uncovered a horrible story. The boy was born with a cleft lip, and the parents did not want to raise him. So they put the baby in a cardboard box and abandoned him in a cemetery. Two days later, several relatives went to the graveyard, and believing the boy to be dead, buried him a few centimeters underground.
According to the parents, they were not at fault. In a weird twist of events, they blamed the boy’s grandparents for paying a hit man to “take care” of the baby. It should come as no surprise that nobody believed the parents’ version of events.
In total, the little boy spent eight days buried underground. When he was dug up, the police noticed that he was coughing up dirty water. The baby most likely survived because oxygen and rainwater seeped through the dirt, giving him the essentials to say alive. Fortunately, after receiving medical care, the boy’s health returned to normal.
2 Natalya Pasternak
Natalya Pasternak has one of the most unusual stories on this list. A native of Siberia, Pasternak often went for walks in the woods with her dog. One day, she was collecting birch sap when she came upon a bear. The animal attacked her, mauling both of her legs. Pasternak tried to fend off the bear with a birch branch, but she soon lost consciousness.
Believing Pasternak was dead, the bear proceeded to dig a hole. The creature then buried Pasternak, thinking her body would be available later for food. Fortunately, hunters stumbled onto the scene and found Pasternak buried under dirt and debris. Realizing the bear was probably still around, the hunters found it and shot it. When they finally unearthed Pasternak, her first question for the hunters was to make sure they’d killed that bear.
Pasternak is making a full recovery from the ordeal, saying that the incident gave her a new lease on life. She attributes her survival to a prayer she said during the attack, and she’s thankful that the hunters rescued her before the bear returned for its meal.
1 Essie Dunbar
In 1915, Essie Dunbar was living in South Carolina. At the age of 30, she suffered a seemingly fatal epileptic attack. The doctors declared her dead and made preparations for her burial. Dunbar’s sister wanted to come into town for the funeral, so the church delayed services for a day to accommodate her wishes.
However, the service started before Dunbar’s sister could arrive. Local pastors tried to make the service as lengthy as possible, but as more and more time went by, they decided to go ahead with the burial. But right as the gravediggers had finished burying the coffin, Dunbar’s sister showed up and convinced them to exhume the coffin so she could see her sister one last time.
Only when they opened the coffin, Dunbar sat up and smiled at her sister. Everyone panicked and ran, thinking that she was a ghost. Dunbar chased the mourners into town and eventually convinced them that she was, in fact, alive. Nevertheless, for years afterwards, many people thought she was actually a zombie. Regardless of her undead status, Essie Dunbar continued shuffling around South Carolina until her final death in 1962.
Zachery Brasier is a physics student who likes to write on the side. Check out his blog at zacherybrasier.com.