There’s a reason the term "stuck" has acquired a broad emotional and psychological meaning: Being stuck is awful. You may not realize it, but freedom of movement is a fundamental aspect of our existence. Whatever psychological or emotional traps we find ourselves in, the physical ability to move and displace ourselves is a hardwired need. Take it away — either in the macro sense of being able to walk away from someplace or the micro sense of literally being trapped inside something (ridiculous example: a washing machine) — and we freak out.
The key when you’re physically stuck is keeping your cool, but that can be entirely dependent on the circumstances. The scarier and more disorienting your experience, the harder it is to keep calm and figure out a way out of your predicament. Getting stuck someplace surrounded by people who are aware of your situation, with an obviously safe way of getting rescued? Easy to stay calm. Stuck someplace alone and in serious danger, with no obvious or safe way to get extricated? Time to panic, and panic usually makes everything much, much worse. That’s what’s so terrifying about the people on this list, because these are some of the scariest places people got stuck in real life.
A long, strange elevator trip
Being stuck in an elevator might not sound terribly scary, but that’s because we’re trained to think we’ll be rescued in a pretty short time. But what if you were stuck in an elevator for close to two days with zero indication anyone knew you were there? According to The New Yorker, that’s what happened to a guy named Nicholas White in New York City in 1999.
As noted by ABC News, White was working on the 43rd floor of the McGraw Hill Building. He took the elevator downstairs to have a cigarette break. When he came back, he got in an express elevator that made no stops between the lobby and the 39th floor. Somewhere around the 13th floor, the elevator just … stopped. As you can see from the security footage of his ordeal, he spent the next 41 hours pacing, trying to sleep, opening and closing the elevator doors, and slowly going insane. He had no water or food — just his cigarettes and a pack of Rolaids. He experienced hallucinations.
White was eventually rescued, but his life would never be the same. Convinced he was going to die alone in a tiny elevator, he took some pretty sketchy legal advice and refused to go back to work. He eventually lost his job, and while he did get a settlement, it likely wasn’t very much.
A high-wire act
Most people are smart enough to avoid two things: Dangerous heights and high-voltage electricity, since those things are well-known to lead directly to death. In 2017 in Hutton, Lancashire, in England, an unidentified man somehow combined both into one extremely exciting moment.
As reported by The Telegraph, the 36-year old man was spotted entangled in a 275-kilovolt line about 65 feet off the ground. In case you’re wondering, 275 kilovolts will definitely kill you if it courses through your body. And a fall from 65 feet in the air won’t do you any good, either.
Amazingly, no one knows how the man got up there or how he got stuck in the first place. All we know is that he’s incredibly lucky. According to The London Economic, once he was spotted, rescue crews raced to the scene, and the local utility company cut the power to that particular line, removing the possibility that he’d be fried (and making it safe for the small army of police and emergency responders to climb up and help him). The man was secured and freed from the wire and then taken to a local hospital for treatment, where he was described as "alive but incapacitated." Despite all the trouble he caused, no charges were brought against him.
Hooked on a … semi
It’s particularly cruel when you get stuck in something that normally represents your freedom. That’s something Michigan resident Ben Carpenter found out in 2007.
Carpenter, who has muscular dystrophy, uses a motorized wheelchair to get around. NBC News reports that Carpenter had traveled to the town of Paw Paw to ride on a trail, accompanied by a medical aide. The aide fell behind on their bicycle, and when Carpenter tried to cross a busy intersection, he was a little too slow to beat the light. He was also too low to be seen by a truck driver, who hit the gas, bumping Carpenter’s wheelchair and spinning it. The handles of Carpenter’s wheelchair got jammed into the grill of the truck — which then proceeded onto the highway, unaware of the unwilling passenger. Carpenter was stuck on the front of a speeding truck.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Carpenter was saved from serious injury because he was already strapped into his wheelchair. The truck pushed him about 4 miles, hitting a top speed of about 50 miles per hour. Other motorists on the road saw what was happening and began calling 9-1-1. Despite fearing he might not survive the journey, when police finally stopped the truck, Carpenter was completely unharmed.
Trapped inside a cement hopper
No one shows up for work each day expecting to become trapped inside an enormous cement receptacle, but that’s exactly what happened to a California man in 2018. KTVU television reports that the man, an employee of U.S. Pipe and Foundry, had recently been promoted to a supervisor position when he fell inside a large cement hopper, a container that allows cement to be stored and dispensed as needed.
The Chicago Tribune reports that the 23-year old-man was cleaning the hopper when he fell inside. His legs immediately began to sink into the cement, which also began hardening around him, making it increasingly difficult for him to move. His co-workers tried to rescue him, but all their attempts failed. They eventually called for help.
Firefighters arrived, but they were also unable to free the man. They lowered a harness to stop him from sinking any further and provided water and oxygen to the man. Eventually a Technical Rescue Team arrived, and a little over two hours after his fall, the man was finally extracted from the hopper he’d been stuck in. Thankfully, the employee suffered only minor injuries.
Going full Santa Claus
Everyone has locked themselves out of their house at some point in their lives, and a lot of us have put some amount of mental energy into figuring out how to fix the situation without having to admit what happened. A man in Arizona learned the hard way that going full Santa Claus is a terrible way to deal with the situation.
As UPI.com reports, a 26-year-old man in Tucson forgot his keys inside his house and then attempted to break in by climbing down the home’s chimney. There are many reasons this was a terrible idea, of course, starting with the fact that a chimney is absolutely filthy. But the man soon discovered the primary reason people don’t ever actually climb down chimneys: He got stuck.
Reportedly, he almost made it — his feet were actually touching the floor of his fireplace when he realized that the opening had narrowed too much and he couldn’t move. Since he couldn’t move, he also couldn’t reach for a phone or anything else. So he did the only thing he could: He started screaming for help … for the next four hours, unable to move.
ABC News reports that neighbors finally heard his screams and called the fire department, who came and rescued the homeowner by lowering a rope into the chimney and pulling him back up. He emerged covered in soot and uninjured — except for maybe his pride.
Trapped inside a dinosaur leg
When coming up with a list of potential ways you might die, we’re willing to bet that "trapped inside the leg of a dinosaur statue" isn’t high on the list. Whatever you imagine the odds of this happening might be, it’s important to note that they’re not zero, because this actually happened to an unfortunate man in Spain.
According to BBC News, a man reported missing by his family was discovered in the leg of a papier-mâché Stegosaurus statue in a suburb outside Barcelona. The statue was cut open by firefighters, and the body was determined to have been there for several days. The Washington Post reports that it’s likely the man was trying to retrieve his phone, which had fallen into the statue. He entered the statue headfirst and became trapped.
The truly horrifying aspect of this situation is that the man was inside the statue for several days. The only reason authorities were alerted to his presence was the smell, which prompted someone to peer inside the statue, catching a glimpse of the body. It’s entirely possible people passed by the poor man regularly, unaware that he was trapped inside and dying.
A pandemic horror story
You don’t always get stuck inside things. Sometimes you get stuck inside places. And sometimes those places are deserted, haunted, and surrounded by hungry wolves. It sounds like a horror movie setup, but this is what actually happened to an orchestral group that left their native Bolivia to tour Germany just as COVID-19 was prompting countries to shut down.
As reported by BBC News, the Orquesta Experimental de Instrumentos Nativos arrived in Germany for a tour in early March 2020. Shortly after their arrival, their performances were canceled as large gatherings were banned — and then Bolivia closed its own borders, meaning the group could not return.
Variety tells us what happened next: The group found themselves housed in the Rheinsberg Palace, a centuries-old castle in the wilderness about an hour and a half away from Berlin. Pandemic restrictions meant they weren’t allowed to travel too far from the castle, which wouldn’t be too bad if not for the fact that local legend says the castle is haunted by its former occupant, King Frederick the Great (via CBC Radio). A more immediate threat were the packs of wild wolves that roam the forest around the castle, which the orchestra encountered during their stay.
Things weren’t all bad. The orchestra was fed by the castle’s maintenance staff, and locals donated clothing and services. But none of that changes the fact that these poor kids were stuck in a haunted castle for two and a half months.
Snowed into a deserted ghost town
There are plenty of reasons rich folks might buy an entire ghost town. Sometimes they have big plans for developing them into resorts or theme parks, and sometimes they’re just looking for a private domain that’s more impressive than your typical mansion. Sometimes it’s just for the thrill of owning an entire community.
Whatever the reason, no one buys an abandoned town expecting to become stuck in it for months. But according to the New York Post, that’s what happened to Brent Underwood after he purchased Cerro Gordo, California. Underwood bought the whole town for $1.4 million in 2018 and had a caretaker named Robert Louis Desmarais living there to keep an eye on the place. Insider reports that when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Desmarais asked for a leave of absence to check on his wife. Underwood naturally agreed and decided to take Desmarais’ place for a while, seeking an adventure.
He sure got one. A blizzard hit, dumping 5 feet of snow on the town and closing off all access. With only minimal food supplies, Underwood faced a 26-mile walk in snowshoes to get to the nearest grocery store. The town had electricity but no running water. Even better, according to the Travel Channel, Cerro Gordo is very haunted, so Underwood was trapped all alone with the ghosts.
Between a rock and an amputation
If you saw the 2010 film "127 Hours" starring James Franco, you probably concentrated on the horrifying self-amputation where Franco, playing Aron Ralston, cuts off his own arm in order to save his own life. While that’s a terrifying and painful act of desperation, it’s easy to forget that the other 126 hours were spent stuck in a deserted canyon.
As reported by The Guardian, the film is based on the unfortunately very true story of Ralston, who was pinned by a falling rock in Utah’s Bluejohn Canyon. Ralston had some food and water and was an experienced hiker, so he didn’t panic — but he hadn’t told anyone where he was going, so there was slim hope of rescue. Over the course of the next six days, he tried everything he could think of to free himself from the rock. But, as Outside Online notes, nothing worked, and a weakening and somewhat delirious Ralston realized that if he was going to survive, he was going to have to cut off his arm — which required him to first break his own arm bones and then use a blunt, cheap knife from a multitool to saw through his flesh.
Ralston then walked five miles with his arm in a sling before encountering other people. He survived being stuck in that canyon — but paid a terrible price.
A nightmarish cave flood
One of the main, primal reasons we hate getting stuck places, of course, is that deep down, we know you don’t always get unstuck. That’s something a man named John Ogden learned in the most horrifying way possible.
According to The Independent, in 1967, Ogden and a group of friends entered the Mossdale Caverns in Yorkshire, England. The cave system is challenging — it’s classed as "Super Severe," and at one point, you have to wriggle through a narrow passage for about 900 feet. You can walk for miles in the darkness and become easily lost. But on that day, the cavers didn’t get lost. They endured something much worse: a terrifying flood.
As explained by Darkness Below, the weather turned rough outside, and rain fell in torrents. The quiet stream outside the cave flooded and covered the entrance — and a torrent of water filled the caverns. The cavers probably heard the low rumble at first, and when they realized that a high-powered stream of water was rushing toward them, they ran. Just as the water hit, Ogden was able to push himself up into a crevice where a bubble of air kept him alive — for a time — while his friends drowned beneath him.
But he was trapped. Days later, when the bodies were located, Ogden was still stuck there. It’s impossible to say how long he lived.
Stuck on the ocean floor
Chris Lemons works as a diver, repairing and maintaining underwater oil rig structures. Working in the North Sea in 2012, he was about 300 feet under the water. As BBC News explains, at that depth, divers have to use a special combination of oxygen and helium, fed to them through an umbilical. They have an emergency tank of air, but at that pressure, it doesn’t last very long — just a few minutes.
According to Energy Voice, when the weather topside worsened, Lemons heard an alarm and was ordered to immediately retreat to the diving bell and prepare to come back to the surface. Before he could do so, however, his umbilical was severed, leaving him stranded at the literal bottom of the ocean — in pitch darkness — with little hope of survival. Lemons himself reports that he expected his emergency tank to last about five minutes, even if he "sipped" at it and tried to breath as shallowly as possible. He was trapped, alone, under tons of water pressure.
Lemons made his way back to the structure he’d been repairing and lay down, certain he was about to die. Incredibly, his crewmates worked feverishly and managed to pull him back up after 35 minutes — and revived him almost immediately. Even more incredibly, he suffered no lingering effects and recovered completely.
It’s all fun and games until you’re stuck in a barrel
Parents spend a lot of time and energy worrying about their kids but generally relax a little when hanging out with the grandparents — after all, that’s a lot of supervision. For the Strubing family, that didn’t work out too well: As the New York Daily News reports, their adorable 2-year old son, Dorian, was amusing himself around his grandparents’ house when he managed to squeeze himself into an antique barrel.
CNN explains that Dorian learned the fundamental lesson of getting stuck in things: It’s always easier to get in than to get out. The boy was able to squat down into the barrel but then found that he couldn’t straighten his legs because they were pinned. He apparently remained very calm while his family tried everything they could think of to get him out. Panicked when it seemed impossible, and terrified they would hurt Dorian if they tried to cut or smash the barrel, they went to the emergency room. Doctors X-rayed the barrel to see where Dorian’s legs and feet were and then called in the fire department. At first, they tried to use the Jaws of Life to free the boy, but when that failed, they had to resort to a power saw, a hammer, and a screwdriver to remove the bottom of the barrel.
Dorian was freed without a scratch, and there’s a happy ending — according to Today, Dorian received a Popsicle for being very brave during the ordeal.