How to Survive If You’re Buried Alive

C. Davis
By C. Davis March 2, 2014 12:29

How to Survive If You’re Buried Alive

How to Survive If You’re Buried Alive

What a man should do if he finds himself buried alive in a coffin 6 feet under the ground in complete darkness? Ever since I was a little boy I was afraid of being buried alive. I fear few things in life but I must admit being buried alive is on top of the list.

The Case Of a Man In Ferraz de Vasconcelos Being Buried Alive And Escaping His Grave

I started writing this article after I had seen the news on Dailymail about a woman who was visiting a family tomb in Brazil when she saw a body emerging alive from a grave, waving its arms around. The woman was at a cemetery in the suburb of Ferraz de Vasconcelos, Sao Paulo, when she heard faint noises then noticed the earth moving in a grave close by.

I was terrified to see a man, who I thought  was dead, trying to get out of the grave. He had his head and hands out and was moving his arms around, trying to get out.

The woman first ran away screaming, but returned and called the emergency services, who found the man half buried in a plot of earth.

The man had escaped asphyxiating but still had the bottom half of his body almost completely buried in soil. In images shown on Brazil’s Record TV, he appears almost lifeless but is found to be breathing by an emergency worker. The man had been recuperating in the local hospital in Ferraz de Vasconcelos. Police believed the man was involved in a fight in another part of the city, where he was badly beaten by his attackers until he passed out and was taken to the cemetery and buried alive by his assailants.

It is believed they threw him into an empty grave then they filled it with soil. When the victim regained consciousness, he began digging his way out and making groaning noises which alerted the woman who found him.

Other Famous Cases (not so lucky)

Today, when a definition of death is required, doctors usually turn to “brain death” to define a person as being clinically dead. People are considered dead when the electrical activity in their brain ceases.

Sadly, real life cases of these terrible mistakes are more common than you may think. Years ago, when embalming wasn’t as common, and because of inferior medical equipment to detect life there were numerous cases of people buried alive whom had the terrifying experience of regaining consciousness in their own coffin.

Virginia McDonald (1851) Buried Alive


Virginia Macdonald lived with her father in New York City and became ill, died, and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn. After the burial, her mother declared that she believed that her daughter was not dead when she was buried. The family tried in vain to assure the mother of the death of her daughter. Finally the mother insisted so strenuously that her daughter was buried alive that the family consented to have the body taken up. To their horror, they discovered the body lying on the side, the hands badly bitten, and every indication of a premature burial.

Mary Norah Best (1871) Buried Alive

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Seventeen year old Mary Norah Best was the adopted daughter of Mrs. Moore Chew. Mary was pronounced dead from cholera and entombed in the Chew’s vault in an old French cemetery in Calcutta. The surgeon that pronounced her dead was a man who would have benefited by her death and had tried to kill her adopted mother. Before Mary “died” her adoptive mother fled to England after the second attempt on her life and left Mary behind. Mary was put into a pine coffin and it was nailed shut. Ten years later, in 1881 the vault was unsealed to admit the body of Mrs. Moore’s brother. On entering the vault, the undertaker’s assistant found the lid off of Mary’s coffin on the floor. The position of her skeleton was half in and half out of the coffin. Apparently after being entombed Mary awoke from the trance and struggled violently till she was able to force the lid off of her coffin. It is surmised that after bursting open her casket she fainted from the strain and while falling forward over the edge of her coffin she struck her head against the masonry shelf killing her. It is believed the surgeon poisoned the girl and then certified her death.

Mrs. Bobin (1901) Buried Alive


In 1901 a pregnant Madame Bobin arrived on board a steamer from Western Africa and appeared to be suffering from yellow fever. She was then transferred to a hospital for those affected with contagious diseases. There she became worse and apparently died and was buried alive. After this was reported to Madame Bobin’s father, he had the body exhumed. They were horrified to find that a baby had been born and died with Madame Bobin in the coffin. An autopsy showed that Madame Bobin had not contracted yellow fever and had died from asphyxiation in the coffin. A suit against the health officials resulted in £8,000 ($13,000) damages against them.

….and the list goes on. Fortunately nowadays similar cases are very rare and most of them happen in poor countries where doctors are very few comparing to the population. Or after being buried alive by your supposed killers like this young girl buried alive in Pakistan. Fortunately she survived!

So… How To Escape

I believe that some things are simply good to know! I can, of course, realize that probably none of you will face a similar juncture soon. Just knowing that you can do it, helps you never think of being buried alive as a fear. Or never think of being buried alive at all. Unfortunately there is no method that grants 100% effectiveness, maybe not even 50%. This depends on the coffin, your strength, what you find on yourself and of course luck.

The worst case scenario is being buried alive in a very strong wooden coffin or even worse a metal one. I won’t lie to you; it’s almost impossible to get out of a very strong coffin by yourself with no tools. Probably all you can do is scream as laud as you can so a passerby may hear you. That is also improbable. I’ve made an experiment and hearing a man screaming through 4 feet of concrete (approx. equivalent to 6 feet of soil) when his lips are against the wall (very important) is possible only if there are no other noises around. Meanwhile search yourself and your pockets (as in steep 2) and see if you find any hard object on yourself (like a pen, a watch, a coin, a ring, a belt bucklea, a credit card, a gun, a memory stick, a flask). Using this object start taping SOS, the international distress signal, on the coffin lid: three quick taps, followed by three slower taps, followed by three quick taps. Continue to repeat the distress call until someone hears. Even if unlikely to escape, you should follow the steps bellow.

The „best” case scenario is being buried alive in a thin or medium wooden coffin, an inexpensive “pine box” (chipboard coffin) or a recycled paperboard coffin. In this case your chances getting out all by yourself depends on your strength and your will to fight your way out. Don’t worry about the last one. My guess is you’ll have it! Actually there is a case of a man named Jenkins in ASHEVILLE, N.C., Feb. 20. 1885 who was buried alive and tried to get out of his coffin by scratching with his finger nails his way out of the coffin. This is the will that a man has in this situation.

1. First rule: Do not panic – oxygen is limited! The more you panic, the more you tend to breathe faster and consume all the oxygen in a few minutes you have. The important thing is to stay calm and think clearly! Depending on the coffin size and your weight, you have enough oxygen to survive between 40 and 100 minutes. Take deep breaths, then hold for as long as possible before exhaling. That will help you consume the oxygen the most effective way. Be aware that the next 20 minutes are the most important.

2. Next step is to check what you have on you. You have little space to move but should be more than enough to check your pockets. In some countries people bury their relatives with a cell phone for example. Or maybe they left by mistake something in one of your pockets; something like a pen, a coin, a credit card, a gun, a memory stick, any hard object is useful. See if you have a watch, a ring, a metal belt (very probable), a flask, anything on yourself. If you’re a girl check your hair and see if you find a metal hair clip. If none of the above, try removing one of your shoes. Try ripping off the heel, see if it has any nails (for steep 3).  It’s important to try taping SOS for a minute before moving to step 3.

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3. By any means try touching the coffin and find out where the wooden boards combine. That is the place most likely to break. Unfortunately it has to be on the top of the coffin. Using a hard object try scratching the coffin in that place so it will be easier to break. If you are lucky the soil will fall into the coffin thru a tiny crack. That should relive the pressure of the soil on the coffin and will be easier to break.

4. Remove your shirt. Cross your arms over your chest, then uncross your arms so that your elbows are bent and your hands are at your shoulders. Pull your shirt up and off your head from the shoulders, do a partial sit-up (as much as you can in the space available), then pull your shirt over your head and off.

5. Place your head through the neck hole. The knot should be on the top of your head. The shirt will prevent you from suffocating on loose earth.

6. Break through the coffin. Keep in mind that the small bubble of air you have in the cofin cannot pass the earth above and cannot just rise to the surface. You will always have it, just make sure your head will always be there. A cheap coffin may have already have cracks from the weight of the earth above, making your job easier. Using your feet, begin pushing the coffin lid. You wont have enought space to kick it. If a man has enought space can push with his feet more than 430 pounds. A strong man can push even more. Breaking a cheep lid if there is no presure from above should take less than 350 pounds. Break apart the lid with your feet and let the loose dirt rush in.

7. Use your hands to push the dirt toward your feet. There should be some space at the bottom end of the coffin, below your feet. As the dirt rushes in, work quickly fill the space at your feet. When this space fills up, push dirt to your sides. Breathe slowly and regularly

8. After the coffin is full, all you have to do is take off your hands and head through the hole formed. Try digging above. Remember the earth will collapse probably many times while you are digging and the bubble of air will get higher and higher. When this happens act fast and try making your way to the bubble. Remember, the air can’t get out. Because of that, the above earth cannot all collapse. Stay with the bubble and hope when you’ll get out you won’t be taken for a zombie.

4 300x225Now this is an article from the series “Don’t try this at home”. By any means don’t put yourself in a coffin 6 feet under and see if you can get out. This is only a hypothetic article that may help you if you find yourself buried alive. It can burst up your chances of survival but does not assure your survival.

The Fear of being buried alive is called taphephobia. The word “taphephobia” comes from the Greek “taphos” meaning “grave” + “phobia” from the Greek “phobos” meaning “fear” = literally, fear of the grave, or fear of being put in the grave while still alive.

All of the above mentioned are facts! Please find the related news here:

1. Dailymail – Woman visiting Brazilian cemetery is stunned when man who was buried alive starts waving his arms around in grave

2. Listverse – 10 Horrifying Premature Burials

3. NY Post – Girl crawls out of grave after being raped, buried alive

why is FEMA doing spotchecks around farms

C. Davis
By C. Davis March 2, 2014 12:29
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  1. Linda March 2, 11:03

    Actually, embalming was accepted readily because people feared being buried alive. The thought was that embalming did kill you, at least you were not buried alive. Some people were buried with a rope into the grave, attached to a bell above. There are many other methods to assure that they would be able to let people know they were alive if buried.

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    • C. Davis Author March 3, 11:11

      I really thought that embalming was/is use only for preserving the bodies. But it makes sense because embalming does kill you, in case you are still alive.

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