Sometimes, when a person is in great peril, he or she senses the presence of a companion. Accounts of a supportive presence ~ sometimes called the "third-man phenomenon" ~ are common in mountaineering literature.
For example, in 1933, Frank Smythe made it to within 1,000 feet of the summit of Mount Everest before turning around. On the way down, he stopped to eat a mint cake, cutting it in half to share with someone who wasn't there but who had seemed to be his partner all day.
According to the Wall Street Journal:
In “The Third Man Factor," John Geiger, a fellow at the University of Toronto, presents many accounts of such experiences, and not only from climbers. Among those who have felt a ghostly companionship, he cites Charles Lindbergh on his solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927 and the last man to walk out of the South Tower of the World Trade Center before it collapsed on 9/11.
"Over the years," Mr. Geiger writes, "the experience has occurred again and again, not only to 9/11 survivors, mountaineers, and divers, but also to polar explorers, prisoners of war, solo sailors, shipwreck survivors, aviators, and astronauts. All have escaped traumatic events only to tell strikingly similar stories of having experienced the close presence of a companion and helper."
"The Third Man represents a real and potent force for survival," Mr. Geiger writes, "and the ability to access this power is a factor, perhaps the most important factor, in determining who will succeed against seemingly insurmountable odds, and who will not." Mr. Geiger, however, is at a loss to explain why some can access this power and others can't.
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