Mountain Echo News, Kevin Jenkins/AP
Joshua Childers is loaded into the back of an ambulance after surviving alone in the
Missouri wilderness.

What Makes Someone a Survivor?

May 02, 2010 08:00 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
A 3-year-old boy survived alone for two days in the Missouri wilderness. Experts say some people have what it takes to survive in such harsh conditions, and some people do not.

Are Children Better Suited to Survival?

Joshua Childers was outfitted in a t-shirt, sneakers and a pull-up diaper when he wandered into the Mark Twain National Forest surrounding his family's mobile home in Madison County in May 2009. His ability to survive alone for 52 hours in harsh conditions, including heavy rain and temperatures in the 40s, suggests that his age "might actually have worked in his favor," according to Associated Press reporter Jim Salter.

Survivalist skills expert Cody Lundin told the AP that Childers "probably didn't have any problem burrowing into some leaves or using whatever was around him to keep warm. What hampers a lot of adults is they don't want to get dirty or they're afraid of bugs."

Childers' parents were not charged with any crime; his father was asleep and his mother was "briefly distracted by a phone call," the AP reported.

Background: Other cases of wilderness survival

Other unlikely cases of survival have surfaced in recent years, including instances involving the elderly.

Doris Anderson, a 76-year-old woman from Sandy, Ore., survived after being separated from her husband on a hunting trip, managing on her own for 13 days in the woods in September 2007. Anderson's physician, Dr. Molly Hoeflich, told Portland's KATU news that Anderson showed "the sparkle, the drive, to get better," and was expected to fully recover.

Family members said Anderson did not have any experience with wilderness survival. Was it her "sparkle" and "drive" that kept her alive, or was it something else?

Although survival skills have attained an almost romantic aura due to reality TV shows such as "Survivorman" and "Survive This," according to York Region Media Group, real-life scenarios often cannot be prepared for or mimicked.

Opinion & Analysis: Tuned out to the world, tuned into technology

Some experts cite our reliance on technology for influencing our ability to survive.

According to Kathleen Noonan of Australian newspaper the Courier Mail, urban dwellers in particular may have a more difficult time tuning into their surroundings when they become lost in the wild. Urbanites who've grown accustomed to the ease of GPS navigation, for example, could have a harder time determining north from south.

Laurence Gonzales, author of the groundbreaking book "Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies And Why," blames our culture of abundance for maintaining our "vacation state of mind," reported Noonan. In the book, Gonzales outlined key survival traits, such as having "a natural tendency of taking responsibility" for oneself, and the ability to break down large tasks "into smaller goals."

Others say luck plays a big role in survival.

The death of 35-year-old CNET technology editor James Kim after he and his family were stranded in the Oregon wilderness prompted analysis of both wilderness survival and professional rescuing.

In Salon magazine, Sarah Keech discussed the anger over what some, including Kim's father, saw as a lack of emergency preparedness on the part of Oregon rescuers. Keech questions how much responsibility authorities should carry "when people choose to travel into remote, unpopulated and unknown terrain—especially in harsh weather conditions?"

Keech finds the anger unfounded, as the tech-reliant generation has a hard time understanding "that it is still possible to get well and truly lost" and that "there is not yet any foolproof remedy for human error and a lack of luck."

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Reference: Wilderness survival


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