What to do when you’re: kidnapped at gunpoint
Around 9:30 on a cold March morning, a 17-year-old girl was carjacked at gunpoint in New Jersey, USA. This was unexpected. The identity of the woman holding the gun on her was not.
In the preceding weeks, the teenager had given her newborn baby up for adoption. Forty-five-year-old Floribert Nava – the woman now pointing a gun at her – desperately wanted the child and was devastated when a Philadelphia family was chosen instead. It seemed she was not taking no for an answer. “Drive,” Nava said, “or I’ll kill you and your family.”
Nava demanded she be taken to the home of the baby’s new parents, on the other side of the Delaware River. Besides the pistol, Nava carried with her duct tape, garbage bags and latex gloves. Whatever this woman was planning, the 17-year-old thought, it was going to be violent, and it was going to happen soon. As they were crossing the Ben Franklin Bridge into Pennsylvania, the teen spotted a police cruiser pulled over on the shoulder. Could she somehow get this cop’s attention without getting shot by her kidnapper first?
Smart move: The girl pointed her car toward the cruiser and rammed it.
The result: She got the officer’s attention! With the kidnapper stunned, the girl leaped out of the car to safety. Nava was arrested on kidnapping, carjacking and weapons charges and has since been sentenced to 12 years in prison.
What the expert says: “This kid saw an opportunity to break free and took it,” says Bob Cooke, a retired special agent for the California Department of Justice. “When you have one opportunity to escape, you can’t hesitate. I’ve had guns pulled on me a few times, and the first thing that happens is you have the wind sucked out of you. When your wits come back, you have to try to catch your attacker in a weak moment and bail out.”
What to do when you’re: cornered by a mountain lion
In August 2014, artist Kyra Kopestonsky was enjoying a hike through one of her favourite parks near her home in Colorado, USA. Even when straying off the trail, as she had that day, she had never once seen a mountain lion in the wild. Until now.
When she heard a twig snap behind her, “I turned, and there it was,” Kopestonsky told 9News, “a mountain lion, standing ten to 15 feet away from me.” Kopestonsky knew not to run or make any sudden movements. Calmly, she started to back away.
The lion crept forward.
She stopped; the lion crouched. She grabbed a tree branch to make herself look like a bigger predator; the lion didn’t budge. For 20 minutes, no matter what move Kopestonsky made, the lion only advanced, once pouncing within a few metres of her. The big cat was stalking Kopestonsky, and she didn’t know whether she could make it back to the trailhead – and, she hoped, to help – without being attacked. With adrenaline taking over, Kopestonsky decided to try something radical.
Smart move: At the top of her lungs, Kopestonsky sang opera.
The result: The lion backed off. “It put its ears down and just kept looking at me,” Kopestonsky said, “and it sort of backed away.” She called her roommate, who alerted authorities. After the lion retreated, Kopestonsky calmly walked back to the trailhead, where several deputies waited to meet her.
What the expert says: “There’s a general rule in the animal kingdom: Prey runs away,” says Amy Rodrigues, resident biologist of the Mountain Lion Foundation. “By standing her ground and making loud noises, [Kopestonsky] proved to the lion that she was a person – not a dinner.”
What to do when you’re: stranded in a frozen wasteland
One day in May 2010, several hundred people on the shore of Wollaston Lake, in Saskatchewan, Canada, were plunged into darkness for nearly 30 hours. In the woods of northern Saskatchewan, temperatures can fall below freezing even in the middle of May, and this had been a particularly frigid week. Now the lights and heat were out, and nobody knew why. Except for one man.
Shivering on a distant bank of Wollaston, a lone outdoorsman hunkered under the overturned boat where he had survived the past few days, marooned between a frozen lake and an impassable forest. The man, just visiting, had paddled up from a nearby river when bad weather trapped him between ice floes, stranding him. Now, after several days without food or proper shelter, the man was running out of ideas. Waiting for the ice to melt was not an option; neither was wandering blindly into the bear-infested backwoods. He had no phone. He had no fire. All he had was his boat – and an axe.
Smart move: The man found the nearest electrical pole and chopped it down. Then he chopped down three more. Hoping this was enough to knock out service in the nearest town, thus forcing the power company to come and investigate, the man returned to his boat and waited.
The result: Within 24 hours, SaskPower, the local utility company, chartered a helicopter crew to investigate the power outage. The team members found the would-be lumberjack waiting by the fallen poles, looking very happy to see them.
What the expert says: While SaskPower is quick to remind people to stay away from electrified power lines, Bruce Zawalsky, founder of Canada’s Boreal Wilderness Institute for outdoor education, was impressed. “Improvisation saved this man’s life, and that’s good,” he says. “It’s pretty desolate up there. Power lines stretch across impassable lakes and rivers, trees are up to 50 feet high, and he could’ve walked for miles before finding help.”