How Ernest Hemingway Survived 2 Plane Crashes In A Matter Of Hours

The writer Ernest Hemingway was as celebrated for his tough-guy persona as he was for his staccato writing style and sentences packed with detail. In one wild weekend in January 1954, Hemingway and his wife Mary survived not one, but two plane crashes while sightseeing in Uganda, according to the United Press. The day after there were headlines proclaiming the Hemingways were presumed dead, the novelist got out of a car in Entebbe, Uganda, "clutching a bunch of bananas and a bottle of gin," and then helped his wife, who had two cracked ribs and a hurt leg, out of the vehicle, per the news report. The reporter, seeing Heminghway's bandaged head and arm, asked him if he was alright. "My luck — she is running very good," he answered.

The first plane crash happened on January 23 when the pilot, attempting to avoid a flock of ibises — large wetland birds — hit a telegraph wire, and crash landed, according to "Ernest Hemingway: A New Life." Less than 48 hours later, Hemingway and his wife boarded a second plane for Entebbe, which crashed during takeoff and caught fire.

Surrounded by wild animals

On Saturday, January 23, 1954, the Hemingways left Nairobi, Kenya in a Cessna piloted by Roy Marsh on a trip to see Murchison Falls in Uganda when Marsh crash landed, per The New York Times. The plane avoided a crocodile-infested sandpit and landed in scrubland with minor damage to the plane but with no radio to call for help, per "Ernest Hemingway: A New Life." They spent the night swarmed by mosquitoes and fearing attacks from wild animals. Hemingway alleged his wife's snoring attracted a herd of elephants. "We held our breaths about two hours while an elephant 12 paces away was silhouetted in the moonlight, listening to my wife's snores," he told the United Press. "There were lots of hippos and crocs wandering around the river bank."

A rescue plane flew overhead the next day and located the Cessna but reported that there was no "sign of human life" at the crash site, which prompted some newspapers to erroneously report the Hemingways as presumed dead, per another United Press report. By then the three castaways had hitched a ride with a boatload of tourists.

Hemingway suffered severe injuries

The Hemingways boarded the second plane at Butiaba, Uganda, heading for Entebbe on January 24. As they were taxiing, the pilot, T.R. Cartwright, lost control of the plane, which nose-dived and caught fire, per United Press. The pilot escaped and pulled Mary Hemingway through a window, but Ernest Hemingway was too large to fit through the opening and had to headbutt the door open, according to "Ernest Hemingway: A New Life." While they got out alive, the novelist suffered severe injuries, even if he brushed them off to the press.

In April, three months after the plane crashes, he wrote to his attorney Alfred Rice and cataloged his injuries. "Couldn't write letters much on acc't of right arm which was burned to the bone 3rd degree and it would cramp up on me (still does a little but all burns ok)," he wrote (via Nate D. Sanders Auctions). "But fingers burned and left hand 3rd degree too, so couldn't type. The trouble is inside where right kidney was ruptured and liver and spleen injured ... I am weak from so much internal bleeding." He didn't mention the "cracked skull" or "two compressed and one cracked vertebrae" he also received in the second crash, according to The Atlantic (via "Conversations with Ernest Hemingway"). Hemingway turned his pain into art when Look magazine printed his autobiographical story "The Christmas Gift" that April.