Survival Stories #2: Chris Ryan

August 31, 2009

I'm Cade Courtley, Navy SEAL and host of Spike TV’s Surviving Disaster. I've heard a lot of great survival accounts over the years.  However, these 10 individual narratives represent true self-preservation through instinct, and a never-say-die attitude. This list is a chronicle--a testament--of what I find most impressive in defining true individual strength and human perseverance.  These few did not just lead to legend, but more importantly and most basic, survival.

It’s not uncommon for military covert missions to go awry, and no one knows this better than former British SAS soldier Chris Ryan. He was one of eight soldiers to participate in a patrol deep into Iraq, Bravo Two Zero, in 1991 during the first Gulf War – and survive it.  But survival came at a high cost, as the deaths and capture of his fellow soldiers proved.

The purpose of the patrol was to put together an observation post deep on the supply route between Baghdad and northwest Iraq and gather any and all intelligence. Things started going wrong when a young Iraqi shepherd and his sheep stumbled right into the units hide site.  After withdrawing, the soldiers heard what they thought was an approaching tank.  The would be tank turned out to be a bulldozer, however their mission was officially compromised.

A brief exchange of fire with enemy troops followed, after which the team began to withdraw on their exfiltration route. However, things continued to go wrong when the location of their emergency pickup was botched: the location of the spot was bungled, and the pilot of the rescue helicopter became ill and had to turn around mid-flight. Soon thereafter the team was divided into two groups. Ryan’s group also contained Malcolm Graham MacGown and Vincent David Phillips.

During their attempted escape MacGown was captured and later released. Phillips died of hypothermia. Of the members of the other half of the group, Steven John Lane also died of hypothermia after swimming the river Euphrates. Ryan barely made it to Syria having traversed the longest escape route in the history of the Special Air Service: he covered 100 miles, in so doing beating Jack Sillito’s record of walking the Sahara Desert in 1942.

Bravery, courage, and the willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty –which included drinking water contaminated with nuclear waste and losing 35 pounds – were what kept Chris Ryan alive in one of the most harrowing escapes of the Gulf War.

Stay tuned to as I’ll be unveiling the top 10 most inspiring survival stories one-by-one over the following weeks.



Want more? Check out Survival Story #3: USS Indianapolis

Make sure to check out the Wounded Warrior Project to honor and empower wounded warriors.


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