Inside the strange world of kidnap and ransom survival schools. ... Wilson, a 43-year-old British Army veteran who once served in Northern Ireland, picks me up on a swampy morning at a Motel 6 in Dania Beach, a suburb of Miami. He is the founder of Risks Incorporated, a private security firm that offers a three-day kidnap and ransom course in which I’m enrolled. A skeptical man with a dark sense of humor who has worked in the security industry for two decades, Wilson moved to South Florida 13 years ago with his then-wife and never left. ... Wilson briefs me on the bourgeoning business of international kidnapping. The White House’s recent acknowledgment of the accidental killing of two al-Qaida hostages in Pakistan in January, as well as the dark news from Syria in recent months, both overshadows and underscores the fact that kidnappings are a global scourge. As incidents have increased worldwide, a parallel industry has emerged, one that includes insurance companies, negotiators, lawyers, and security firms like Risks Inc. In a 2010 investigation, London’s Independent newspaper dubbed this the “hostage industry,” and estimated its worth at about $1.6 billion a year. ... Costs range from about $600 to a couple thousand dollars. Some are entirely in a classroom; others include role-playing. ... Wilson’s course is somewhere in between: part tutorial, part field exercise, tailored to the needs of the client. The company’s website promises to “take you into the real world of terrorism and kidnap and ransom!”
In November 2012, Salvador Alvarenga went fishing off the coast of Mexico. Two days later, a storm hit and he made a desperate SOS. It was the last anyone heard from him – for 438 days. ... Floating across the Pacific Ocean, watching the moon’s light ebb and flow for over a year, Alvarenga had battled loneliness, depression and bouts of suicidal thinking. But surviving in a vibrant world of wild animals, vivid hallucinations and extreme solitude did little to prepare him for the fact that he was about to become an international celebrity and an object of curiosity. ... Without bait or fish hooks, Alvarenga invented a daring strategy to catch fish. He kneeled alongside the edge of the boat, his eyes scanning for sharks, and shoved his arms into the water up to his shoulders. With his chest tightly pressed to the side of the boat, he kept his hands steady, a few inches apart. When a fish swam between his hands, he smashed them shut, digging his fingernails into the rough scales. Many escaped but soon Alvarenga mastered the tactic and he began to grab the fish and toss them into the boat while trying to avoid their teeth. ... He was mastering the art of turning his solitude into a Fantasia-like world. He started his mornings with a long walk. “I would stroll back and forth on the boat and imagine that I was wandering the world. By doing this I could make myself believe that I was actually doing something. Not just sitting there, thinking about dying.” With this lively entourage of family, friends and lovers, Alvarenga insulated himself from bleak reality.
Amazing stories of animals and humans surviving extreme cold are fueling futuristic research that verges on sci-fi. We took a deep dive into the DNA of icy wood frogs, a novel approach to cardiac arrest, the potential for cryopreservation, and other shocking developments from the new science of freezing. ... doctors are discovering that when it comes to hypothermia, the line between life and death isn’t clear-cut. If you become severely hypothermic before your heart stops, the cold can actually become a protectant, making it possible for you to enter a state similar to suspended animation in which your metabolism slows to such a pace that your brain and organs can survive on a whisper of oxygen. (For every one-degree-Celsius drop in temperature, metabolism slows by 5 to 7 percent.) If a victim is discovered in time, he’ll appear dead—dilated pupils, no detectable pulse, no breath—but if a rescuer knows to start CPR and get help, he might have a fighting chance. This is true especially if he’s transported to a hospital with the technology to perform a procedure called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, an advanced life-support system.