Real Life Survival Stories: The Mystery of The Third Man Factor

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Author of The Faithful Prepper and Zombie Choices

Being involved in prepping, some readers are likely naturally curious when it comes to tales of survival. Often in survival stories, there’s something unexplainable that helps people to get through extreme scenarios. The following stories all share something known as The Third Man Factor.

“Who is the third who walks always beside you? When I count, there are only you and I together. But when I look ahead up the white road, there is always another one walking beside you.” T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland and Other Poems

The Third Man Factor is the widely reported, mysterious phenomenon of feeling a presence during extreme situations. Survivors recall experiences of being guided or helped by the sometimes seen, sometimes heard, shadowy form.    

Below are just a few real-life stories in which the survivors recount their miraculous encounters with these guardians. 

1898 – Joshua Slocum 

Aboard his ship, the SpraySlocum attempts to become the first person to circumnavigate the globe alone. However, food poisoning has left him incapacitated, and a violent storm has left the weakened sailor without much hope for making it through the night.

It’s in the middle of this storm that Slocum experiences something phenomenal. An unexpected visitor. Claiming to “come to aid” him, the visitor tells Joshua, “Lie quiet…and I will guide your ship tonight.”

Slocum makes it through the night without the waves swamping his ship. Later, he would write a book about his experience, an international bestseller, Sailing Alone Around the World.

1914-1916 – Ernest Shackleton

After the ice leaves Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew trapped on an ice floe for 15 months, the men realize they will have to escape by sea if they ever wish to see humanity again. Using small whaling boats, the men set sail into the unknown, landing at the uninhabitable Elephant Island three days later.

Shackleton’s only hope is to continue sailing on to a whaling depot 680 miles away. Shackleton sets sail for 14 days, taking five other men with him, miraculously reaching South Georgia (island home of the whaling depot).

However, they’ve landed on the wrong side of the island in the middle of a hurricane. Taking two others with him, Shackleton now mountaineers through the heart of the mountain, reaching the whaling depot on the other side the following day.

A rescue operation saves every single man.

Upon writing his memoirs (South! The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition 1914-1917) after the ordeal is over, Shackleton reveals:

“When I look back at those days, I have no doubt that Providence guided us, not only across those snow-fields but across the storm-white sea that separated Elephant Island from our landing-place on South Georgia. I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia, it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.” 

June 1, 1933 – Frank Smythe

Smythe attempts to reach the peak of Mount Everest. He spent two nights above the “death zone” as he waited for the weather to clear. Lack of food, oxygen, and sleep has made Smythe a pitiful mess. As he attempts to reach the peak, Smith loses his footing, almost tumbling to the rocks below.

His ice ax jams in a crack, keeping him from the fall.

Smythe would later recount:

“All the time that I was climbing alone, I had a strong feeling that I was accompanied by a second person. This feeling was so strong that it completely eliminated all loneliness I might otherwise have felt. It even seemed that I was tied to my ‘companion’ by a rope and that if I slipped ‘he’ would hold me. I remember constantly glancing back over my shoulder.”

Frank Smythe would reach the peak, where, celebrating with a mint cake, he broke it in two and held out one half to his companion. 

April 1, 1983 – James Sevigny 

James and his friend Richard are spending the day mountaineering throughout the Canadian Rockies. It is the last day James will see his friend alive.

As they make their way up Mt. Deltaform, an avalanche sweeps both men all the way to the base of the mountain. When James wakes up, he has a broken back, arm, ribs, teeth, nose, and scapula. In addition to the bone breaks, James has also torn ligaments in both his knees, has internal bleeding, has open wounds, and cannot raise his right arm.

His friend Richard is dead.

James lays down to die but then, 20 minutes later, feels a presence. He felt someone behind him and heard a voice: “No, you can’t give up. You have to live.” [source]

“It told me what to do. The only decision I had made at that point in time was to lie down next to Rick and to fall asleep and to accept death. That’s the only decision I made. All decisions made subsequent to that were made by the presence. I was merely taking instructions.

I understood what it wanted me to do. It wanted me to live.”

Miraculously, James was able to crawl his way back to rescue, where cross-country skiers discovered him. James would live to tell the tale.

September 11, 2001 – Ron DiFrancesco

It is the morning of September 11, and Ron DiFrancesco’s world has erupted in chaos. He’s on the 84th floor of the South Tower.

DiFrancesco struggles through the smoke down the stairwell. He and many others are forced to stop by a collapsed wall. Smoke is choking out oxygen in the room. DiFrancesco collapsed to the floor, and just then, something remarkable happened.

“Someone told me to get up,” DiFrancesco would later state. The voice calling him ‘Ron’ encouraged him to keep moving forward. Ron would later say, “somebody lifted me up.”

“I was led to the stairs. I don’t think something grabbed my hand, but I was definitely led,” Ron would recount after the ordeal.

DiFrancesco ended up finding a way down the stairwell, even though a wall of flames blocked him off at one point. The voice “led” Ron to run through the fire.

Ron was the last person to make it out of the South Tower alive.

Daisy Luther, 2013

In 2013, Daisy is out hiking with family and friends. A misstep onto a loose rock sends her tumbling about 40 feet down a steep, rocky, bramble-covered ravine. She loses a shoe in the fall, lands on a large stone that was blisteringly hot in the California sun, and is bruised and abraded from head to toe. Her friend comes to help and retrieves her shoe, then they begin to make the perilous journey back up the steep cliffside, slipping and sliding on the loose stones.

But then something strange happened.

A voice from the trail above them asks, “Are you okay?”

Daisy’s friend told the two hikers that she had fallen and we were trying to get back up to the trail. Daisy tells the story:

The man was down the side in a flash, holding out his hand to me. He told me to look into his eyes and said, “I swear I will not let you fall. Trust me.” Then he said, “Dig deep,” and he pulled me up 20 feet to safety in what seemed like only two steps.

He helped my friend to the top as well. At this point, other hikers had stopped to help, offering water and a place to sit. I turned to thank our Good Samaritan…and he and his companion were gone. I wondered, “Did I hit my head that hard?” but my friend had also seen him and he’d pulled her up also. None of the other hikers seemed to know who we were talking about.

To this day, I cannot explain who that man was, how he pulled me up so fast, or where he went.

Are you interested in reading more about The Third Man Factor? 

Then may I recommend John Geiger’s book on the subject, The Third Man Factor: Surviving the Impossible. 

It’s a fascinating book that – to my knowledge – is the most complete anthology of Third Man-style tales amongst survivors out there. It’s where I found the stories from above, and there are many more just like it bound within the covers of this book.

What is the cause of The Third Man Factor?

Researchers have attempted to explain these “visions” as neurological and physiological, brought on by the traumatic events themselves. Still, no two stories are the same and the possible reasons don’t seem to fit. Geiger doesn’t explicitly say what he believes, but he does state:

“Clearly, there is a spiritual or religious explanation to this phenomenon.” However, Geiger says there is also some very interesting science behind The Third Man Factor. [source] 

What do you think about The Third Man Factor?

Is this a benevolent being coming to the aid of humans in distress? Or, is it something deep within us which helps us access the incredible abilities we didn’t know we had? What are your thoughts on The Third Man Factor? Let’s talk in the comments section.

About Aden

Aden Tate has a master’s in public health and is a regular contributor to PewPewTactical.com, SurvivalBlog.com, SHTFBlog.com, ApartmentPrepper.com, HomesteadAndPrepper.com, and PrepperPress.com. Along with being a freelance writer he also works part-time as a locksmith. Aden raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens on his microfarm. He also has two published books, The Faithful Prepper and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American at Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.

Real Life Survival Stories: The Mystery of The Third Man Factor
Aden Tate

Aden Tate

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  • I know without doubt that it is our angels coming to our aid. The Bible also has accounts of this. I have experienced this myself.

  • He had twelve followers who ate and drank with Him. One lost faith, and some of the others saw Him put to death. Later The Others said that he came back to Life after being dead in a tomb for 3 days. Every one of His followers suffered because of what they saw, touched, and spoke with Him. Some were tortured to death, but NOT ONE OF THEM SAIID THAT IT WAS A “MADE UP” STORY.

    People don’t die for what they know is a lie.

    Why? Because it was not “made up”. It started with 11 plain old guys, in a small backcountry land, and is now History’s greatest movement.

    All hail the power of Jesus’ name! Salvation is a free gift, all you have to do is to accept it.

  • I’ve had an equally interesting experiences on two occasions (taking a cross-rigged aircraft off the end of a runway and confronting a large buck that jumped in front of my 70mph car on an icy road) where, facing what seemed like certain death, the world went into slow motion and while the words “So, this is how I die” ran through my head, kind of sounding more amused than afraid, I went through the necessary motions that prevented the death that seemed almost certain. Perhaps it was a third man, perhaps not, but it was something.

  • Not a survival, but an Angel story. My daughter was traveling from India to Viet Nam with her three sons, 5, 8, & 10. In a couple days she was to meet her husband in VN and some International Students that they had hosted. She was told that there would be an ATM or money exchange at the Customs/Border so she could get the right money to pay her way through the border, typical departure fee. Yup, there was – on the other side of the border. She could get herself through with the cash she had but not all four of them. She was not going to leave her three sons alone in an international airport. She was stuck. While they were sitting, a college-age young man asked what the problem was. He then offered her the $50 she needed to get through the border. When she offered to pay him back, on the other side, his response was, “If you can find me.”

  • Psalm 91:11-12
    11 For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
    12 They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.

    Angels are here to watch and help. Many times they are dead relatives who knew and loved us. Some of us have a gift to see and talk with them. I have talked to others with this gift of the spirit. Pray for help and you will see tender mercies and miracles in your life. You are desperately going to need the guidance of the Holy Spirit in your life to get through the days ahead so make sure you can hear it by living an honorable life. The spirit is the most important prep of them all.

    • Kay in Utah -Dead people do not roam the earth. But the earth is filled with angels and demons. Angels will help and guide people. Demons will taunt, tease, and seek to destroy most people. I do think some people can see into the ‘angel realm’, but do not try to communicate with the dead. They aren’t here, and the Bible speaks very strongly against that. But I do agree with your last statement. Having your heart right with God is the most important prep. Blessings.

  • It would be nice to know what happened in these people’s lives since their ‘3rd Man’ incident.

    I’m 72 and over the course of my life there have been several times where I could, and should, have died under the circumstances where I found myself. Yet, I’m here, in good health and still thriving.

    My personal opinion is that I haven’t completed my mission, whatever that is.

    One never knows what is in store.

  • we were in tenn at a planned family meeting. my brother was on a ‘last drive’ to deliver things in col.
    hundreds of miles separated us as a family. that night before this incident happened, we had talked and each of us wished that our brother in col. could have made the trip to be with us in tenn…. then the night came and we al went to bed…my sister was awakened about dawn VERY restless… another brother was called to pray for his brother in col…mom and dad were called to pray for their son … i was called to ‘see what was happening’.. i saw a truck headlights traveling over a slick road on a high mountain pass suddenly slip, and go over the edge, landing to a ledge below… it was freezing dark …it was on an untraveled mountain pass… then i saw my brother burned by steam and battery acid from the engine of the truck…i felt the pain of broken bones… in short, it was a very bad accident…and in the predawn the road was untraveled… no hope of help… then we, in tenn, agreed to ‘send help’…we prayed for him in the wreck… we did this until about 9:00 or 10:00, morning time in tenn…. then it was like an ‘all is under control’ sensation of calm was given all of us in tenn… we waited to find out what had happened in col.

    his side of the story of how it had happened in col.
    he had gotten up early to make that mountain pass run.. he felt a pause in his ‘gut’ but having a contract, he went ahead and got loaded and started the run. on the high pass he hit ice and it was slick. he went over the side and landed on a ledge. the truck was destroyed and the engine basically exploded… the steam and battery acid burned his body and he though ‘this is the end’ several times…. but he knew we had wished him well, and really wanted him to come out well…. we all are a praying family…

    the next thing is beyond weird… he heard a big car stop, and then saw a lady in a long white fur coat come the the edge of the sharp drop off and call out for him, by name… he said the lady flagged traffic and got wreckers and ambulances and stayed until he was loaded up and on the way to medical treatment…he tried to get her number or address to be sure to tell her thanks…but he never got the chance…and the verrrry odd thing was that NO ONE ELSE AT THE ACCIDENT SITE EVER SAW THE WOMAN IN WHITE OR HER WHITE CADDILAC CAR…. WE DONT CARE…HE WAS IN HOSP FOR OVER A MONTH TO RECOVER FROM THE BURNS AND BROKEN BONES…now, all is well …. yes, we are a praying family… was she an angel, or an apparition, or a figment of our imagination…??? who knows and furthermore we do not cares.. our brother was as good as dead from freezing or scalding….he is alive with scars and when the weather changes his healed ‘broken bones’ hurt… all we say is thank you to HIS Highest

  • For another story of a mysterious person in a crisis, read Daniel 3:8-30 in the Bible. Many scholars believe the 4th person in the fire to be the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. I agree.
    The only thing that was burned in the furnace was the ties that bound them. And, the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego was honored and made known to all.

  • Not as spectacular as some of the stories above, but this really happened to me back in early January this year. I had trouble sleeping and I didn’t know why. Only a lot later I found out it was because of a hormone imbalance, quite possibly interacting with the vitamins I was taking to boost my immunity. As you probably know, if you don’t get enough sleep for several days in a row it really affects your mental state, and oh boy, did it affect mine. I ended up being totally delusional, so bad that my partner took me to the hospital.

    In the hospital they weren’t too helpful, they gave me some sort of mild sedative and told me to sleep. It wasn’t strong enough to have much of an effect and I could only sleep fitfully. My bed was separated from the next one with a curtain. The patient on the bed next to me said hello, he introduced himself as Michael and he told me to pull myself together, because if I didn’t, I’d be taken to the mental hospital and they could keep me there for five or six months. This would have been a disaster for me, I would have lost my job and, because I work in a small workshop, my co-workers would have been under a lot of stress till they found some replacement for me.

    When the hospital staff came to check on my state, I managed to pull myself together and answer their questions calmly and reasonably, so they agreed to let me go home. Little did the nurse know that all the time I was looking at her I was thinking she looked like an alien! When I left I checked the bed next to mine to say goodbye to Michael. It was empty.

    • “Little did the nurse know that all the time I was looking at her I was thinking she looked like an alien!”

      likely a lot of people live that way – on the edge, pretending to everyone else that everything’s fine so they don’t get sent to the ward.

      grid down they’ll have no more need to pretend ….

  • completely lost my temper, had a tool in my hand and was gonna hit somebody in the head with it. took a step forward to do it and something came between me and them, couldn’t see it but I could “see” it, it physically shoved my shoulders pushing me back a step and said “don’t do it” clear as anything. then it was gone, and I could tell I was free to act. I just stood there stunned for a bit.

    ’bout half a dozen such encounters.

  • We stopped at a truck stop, my Grandmother her dog and me, we parked farthest away so her dog could pee. She took her dog to pee and on the way back to the car got tangled and went down, she broke her hip, a gentleman stopped to help me get her back in the car, I did up her seat belt, turned to thank him and he was gone, so I thanked him anyways.

  • Great stories and an Amen to Seminole Wind’s comment. I’ve had many of these experiences. On a narrow mountain road there wasn’t room to pull over to miss a large speeding truck. The truck seemed to vaporize and we passed safely. I’ve encountered the Lord’s angels in the form of a homeless man in Belize and another asking to paint my address on a curb in the US.

    Hebrews 13:2 says to not forget hospitality to strangers because by doing so many have entertained angels without knowing it.

    Ecclesiastes 4:12 says a cord of three strands is not easily broken. I believe the 3rd strand is Jesus.

    God loves us and reaches out to us in the most profound ways. I’m convinced He will move heaven and earth to help us to know Him if we’ll just make a move toward Him. Ask Him- he’ll show you.

  • Angels…that’s the correct term!

    The Bible clearly talks about.

    We humans don’t want to believe that which doesn’t make sense to us..we dismiss it as “religious” until that is it happens to you and you can’t explain

  • This just happened to my extended family. I got an email from my Aunt to pray for my cousin’s son “N” age 41, he was in a coma and unresponsive in the ICU for at least five days by the time our side of the family got the news. Relatives had gathered around his bed in a prayer vigil, different people sent out the word to prayer warriors all over. After several days, we received word that he’s starting to be responsive. They said he had covid and sometimes people come out of a covid coma, sometimes not. My relative has a young child so maybe heaven will give him more time to raise the child. I sent out an email to my church and they’re prayer warriors for sure, I believe it’s an effective tool for recovery.

  • In 2008 my heart was failing and as I was being prepped for the Cardiac Cath procedure I know everyone was on my right side as that was the arm they were going to use (one of the first ones for this hospital). I had chosen to be sedated because I was a nervous wreck (BP kept climbing) and one of the last things I remember is a hand firmly on my left shoulder (no one around me to do this!) and a guy saying “relax, I’ve got you.”
    The only other things I remember about that procedure is waking up enough to say “OW!” as they inflated the balloon, and later again asking if they were done, and if not, could I please go back to sleep. Doc (male) by my hip told the nurse (female) to give me more whatever to let me sleep longer.
    I found out later I was 99% blocked in a major artery. I would have had a coronary before Christmas, and it would have been my first, and last heart attack.
    I’ve had other instances too, too many to refute the existence of God. He’s real, He’s there, and He provides.

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