17 Greatest Rescue Missions in History

No one ever expects to be kidnapped or taken hostage. But thousands of people find themselves fighting for their life every year and most can’t do it alone. Plus, even more life-threatening situations occur due to natural disasters and human error. Regardless of the circumstances, people facing such situations can rarely do anything except hope that a rescue mission is already underway.

Sadly, life isn’t anything like an action movie. Real heroes don’t have supper powers, futuristic gadgets or assurances of success. Those who set out to save lives most often risk losing their own. Whether they’re a member of a highly trained special-ops unit or just a good samaritan – every person who volunteered for a rescue op is a hero.

That being said, real-life volunteers and action heroes do share three things – clear objectives, admirable values and gargantuan balls a lot of courage.


It’s impossible to objectively judge rescue efforts based on relative factors, such as their importance or level of success. So, instead, we listed the most epic, well-known rescues in modern history and ranked them according to odds of success.

Unlike Hollywood films, real-life rescue missions are complex and unpredictable. Most of these are famous, some are infamous but each story on this list teaches an important lesson, and they shouldn’t ever be forgotten.

As demonstrated by #17 on our list, so-called rescuers are often the culprits behind the tragic ordeals. Yet, #1 reminds us that, in some cases, the (assumed) victims are the real heroes.

17. Moscow Theater Hostage Crisis

In 2002, Russian special forces conducted the deadliest rescue operation in modern history. It all started on October 23, when four dozen armed Islamic militants took almost 800 people hostage at Moscow’s Dubrovka Theater. Led by senior Chechen operative Movsar Barayev, the group had a single demand – the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya.

After three days of failed negotiations, officials ordered Spetsnaz troops to release an experimental chemical agent into the ventilation system. Apparently, the mystery gas was supposed to “subdue” the militants, allowing Russian troops to storm the theater. Less than 40 minutes later all 42 terrorists were dead. But so were 129 hostages, including 35 children. None of the civilians were shot – they died due to respiratory failure caused by the chemical.


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