Kirk M. Fechter

Safety on the Fly

Reversing bad decisions: Two examples of incredible survival

Why do some survive a series of mistakes and bad judgment?

We have analyzed that a series of bad decisions can bring on an accident or put us in a perilous situation.

How does one survive? One key thing is, no matter how many bad decisions you make, you need to finally make a good decision. Physical fitness and powerful willpower also might be needed to survive.

I remember Jim Stolpa, a Soldier from California, who headed to Idaho for a funeral with his wife, Jennifer, and baby in 1993.

The first decision to make was route selection. Mistake 1: The choice made was to travel east on the I-80 freeway toward Nevada. A lot of progress could have been made traveling north on Interstate 5 that gets a lot less snow than the mountains.

(I think of the Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada that trapped settlers traveling west a century ago.)

Despite all the traffic beating down the snow on the interstate, the salt and the earth-moving equipment, the road was closed for snow.

Mistake 2: The next bad decision. They chose to bypass the interstate and go another route. At some point, they got stuck in the snow.

Mistake 3: The next bad decision. They left the car that offered shelter from the wind and cold and also offered heat as long as fuel was available. They walked looking for help.

The better choice was to leave the wife and baby in the car, especially since there was plenty of water in the form of snow that could be melted.

Good Decision 1: At some point, a decision was made to leave the wife and baby in the shelter of a cave.

Good Decision 2: He found the car and used it for shelter (Bad Decision 3 resulted in the car not starting because of the cold.)

Good Decision 3: He began running for miles on the route he had traveled, looking for help.

Heroic Decision 1: Suffering from hypothermia, he would not accept medical help until he showed the rescuers where his wife and daughter were in the cave.

Lucky Event

I also remember Walter Marino and his son Chris, who both survived for half a day treading water in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida in 2008.

When it comes to heroic will to survive, this man — who was wading in a harbor with his son — is a great example. This was Mistake 1, because the harbor was subject to swift flows out to sea. His son, who had autism, was being swept into the ocean.

Heroic Decision 1: The man jumped in the water to save his 12-year-old son. They were swept quickly to sea and disappeared from view from shore.

Heroic Decision 2: The man continued to stay with his son and talked with him.

Bad Occurrence 1: They became separated in the night.

Spiritual Soundness: Under the stars and in the dark Atlantic, he turned to his spirituality, realizing his life was in God’s hands. A religious medal rested on his chest.

Lucky Event No. 1: The man’s medal flashed in the morning sun and was seen by fishermen who had gotten a late start that day. They turned and rescued the man.

Heroic Intervention: They called the Coast Guard. Using the man’s present location, they were able to set up a helicopter search and found the boy.

Heroic Intervention No. 2: They were taken for medical care after more than 12 hours in the Atlantic Ocean, off the shore of Melbourne, Florida.

It was a lucky event because the water was warm enough not to cause hypothermia as fast as it would in the northern Atlantic Ocean.

In summary: Whenever one makes a bad decision or series of bad decisions, sometimes it is not too late to make good decisions.

If one has made bad decisions, they should gather their strength of will and spiritual strength and soundness, and never quit.

These are two actual examples of survival.