In 2009, an Airbus A130 went down near the Comoros Islands between Africa and Madagascar. 152 people were killed in the crash. A fourteen year old girl, Bahia Bakari, clung to a piece of aircraft wreckage for over nine hours before being rescued.
In 1942, Poon Lim was serving aboard a British merchant ship when it was struck by a German U-Boat’s torpedo. Lim spent the next 133 days at sea surviving on fish, bird blood, and rainwater before being rescued by Brazilian fishermen. He still holds the record for time spent on a life raft.
In 2006, an explosion blasted through the Sago Mine in West Virginia. Thirteen miners were trapped. They attempted to create a barricade to keep out the deadly methane gas that was leaking in. It took 41 hours for a rescue crew to get to them. Only Randal McCloy, Jr., a 27-year-old miner, was left alive.
All of these are cases of disasters that left only one person alive. Called “sole survivors” the term is most commonly associated with airplane crashes. While often touted as a kind of miracle, sole survivors are left with a very heavy burden. They often suffer from PTSD and intense guilt over why it was them that survived and not others.
However, no instance of sole survivorship comes close the scale of what happened to Ludger Sylbaris in 1902. One day, he was a drunk in a town of 30,000, and the next day, he became known as the “only” person left alive (in fact, it’s now believed that as many as three people may have survived the disaster). As Barnum and Bailey would one day call him, he was “the man who survived doomsday.”