A feeling of weightlessness. A bright light at the end of a warm tunnel. The ability to see your own body below you, and friends or loved ones—who passed away years ago—now surrounding you in absolute peace. These are just a few of the things described by people who have had a near-death experience. And not all of them are as positive. Some recount a visit to hell, where they were overcome with fear and hopelessness, and even tortured by demons.
While many in the scientific community are skeptical of these accounts, others believe they offer the most definitive proof of life after death we might ever encounter. And though the debate continues, one thing is for certain: These people insist what they went through was life-altering. But by all means, feel free to judge for yourself.
10 Veronika-Ulrike Barthel
Veronika Barthel says that, after being struck by lightning while driving her car one day in 1981, she was instantly transported into hell, where she found demons escorting her into a big waiting room.
“The creatures that I saw there were more terrifying than anything I even saw in a horror movie. Today I know that they were demons. As soldiers they where marching past me, and in the middle of them were people that were screaming with pain. It was very difficult to breathe down there, because of the terrible smell of this place. I saw a lake, which looked like the inner part of a volcano, where people were cursing because of great pain.”
She says that she saw people being thrown into caves, which were guarded by demons, who threw spears at them as they screamed. She also recalled snakes being present all over the ground, which were there to frighten and intimidate the people in hell.
After her experience, Veronika found herself transported back into her car, where for a moment, she saw her own burning hands gripping the steering wheel.
9 Howard Storm
Once a self-described “double atheist” and “know-it all college professor,” Howard Storm was leading a three-week European art tour with his students when he retired to his hotel room in France on the last day of the trip. Without warning, he suddenly screamed and dropped to the floor, prompting his wife to call for help. At the hospital, the news was grim: Howard had a perforated stomach that required surgery, and if he didn’t get it soon, he would die.
The wait for a doctor to arrive at the hospital was lengthy—so much so, that Howard turned to his wife at one point and said his final farewell to her, insisting that he was moments from death. That’s when he recalled finding himself standing next to his own body (which was still on the hospital bed) and feeling more alive than ever, with no more stomach pain. Soon after, he heard unfamiliar voices calling to him.
“Come with us,” they said. “Hurry up, let’s go. We’ve been waiting for you.”
After calling out to his wife and getting no response, he began to follow the voices, which led him out of the room and down a long, dark hallway. He followed them for so long, and became so increasingly terrified, that he told the voices he wasn’t going any further. Then they attacked him.
“We had a big fight and the fight turned into them annihilating me, which they did slowly and with much relish,” he says. “Mostly they were biting and tearing at me. This went on for a long time. They did other things to humiliate and violate me which I don’t talk about.”
Collapsed on the ground, Howard began reciting The Lord’s Prayer, after hearing a soft voice tell him to “Pray to God.” After saying a few other other prayers, he said that Jesus personally saved him from the demons, and sent him back to Earth, telling him to live his life differently. Storm’s book, My Descent Into Death, was published in 2000.
8 Dr. Mary Neal
During a kayaking trip in 1999, Dr. Mary Neal became pinned under the water when her kayak capsized, making it impossible for her to breathe for anywhere between 15 and 25 minutes. That’s when she says she experienced a near-death experience that brought her into the presence of God, Jesus, and angels.
During the experience, God told her that her family would be facing an upcoming tragedy and would need her to help them through. Specifically, her nine-year-old son Willie was going to die—but she wasn’t told when, where, or how. Ten years later, at age 19, Willie was killed in a car accident in Maine by a driver who was on his cell phone.
Mary is convinced Jesus helped her under the water, making it possible for rescue workers to revive her following the kayaking accident. She awoke with two broken legs and lung complications, and spent a month in the hospital, followed by six weeks in a wheelchair. She wrote a book called, To Heaven And Back, which was published in May 2012.
7 Ben Breedlove
When 18-year-old Ben Breedlove of Austin, Texas began posting a series of videos on YouTube telling the world about his rare heart condition, they instantly went viral, attracting millions of viewers. In one of them, he tells the story of being wheeled down a dark hall by nurses to the surgery room, and seeing a bright, peaceful light near the ceiling. He was four at the time it happened.
Through a series of index cards in the video, he wrote: “There were no lights on in this hall. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, and I couldn’t help but smile. I had no worries at all, like nothing else in the world mattered.” He talks of different times when he “cheated death,” including an incident where he fainted in the hallway at school.
“While I was still unconscious, I was in this white room; no walls, it just went on and on. There was no sound, but that same peaceful feeling I had when I was four. I was wearing a really nice suit, and so was my favorite rapper, Kid Cudi. I then looked at myself in the mirror—I was proud of myself, of my entire life, everything I have done. It was the best feeling. I didn’t want to leave that place. I wish I never woke up.”
Ben’s videos attracted the attention of rapper Kid Cudi, who apparently “broke down” after viewing them. He responded: “I broke down, I am to tears [sic] because I hate how life is so unfair. This has really touched my heart in a way I can’t describe, this is why I do what I do. Why I write my life, and why I love you all so much.”
On Christmas Day 2011, one week after posting the videos, Ben Breedlove suffered a heart attack and died. A family friend stated, “There are times that [the family is] overwhelmed by the pain and the loss of Ben, but then it’s replaced with knowing that he was at peace with what was going to happen.” The final index cards in Ben’s last video stated, “Do you believe in angels or God? I do.”
6 Colton Burpo
Colton Burpo wasn’t quite four years old when his appendix burst, landing him in a hospital for emergency surgery. And when he awoke two hours later, he had an amazing story to tell. He said he had been to heaven, where he met Jesus, John The Baptist, God, and even family members who had passed away previously—including a baby sister that his mother had lost due to a miscarriage. Neither of his parents had ever mentioned the miscarriage to him.
He also met an old man he called “Pop,” whom he had seen as a young man. Later, he was able to identify Pop in a family photograph as the man he had seen in heaven. It was his paternal grandfather. And while the surgery was taking place, Colton told his father that he had seen him in another room, where he had gone to pray.
His father, Todd Burpo, said, “We knew he wasn’t making it up, because he was able to tell us what we were doing in another part of the hospital. Not even Sonja had seen me in that little room, having my meltdown with God.”
Todd wrote a book called Heaven Is For Real that recounts the entire story of his son’s incredible experience in detail. Colton Burpo now travels the country with his parents, sharing his story with others.
5 Betty J. Eadie
In November 1973, Betty Eadie underwent a partial hysterectomy, after which she says she floated out of her body and passed through a tunnel to heaven. She said she was guided by three hooded, monk-like figures who claimed to have always been her guardian angels and informed her that she had died prematurely.
In an excerpt from her book, Embraced By The Light, she recalls:
“I saw a pinpoint of light in the distance. The black mass around me began to take on more of the shape of a tunnel, and I felt myself traveling through it at an even greater speed, rushing toward the light. I was instinctively attracted to it, although again, I felt that others might not be. As I approached it, I noticed the figure of a man standing in it, with the light radiating all around him. There was no questioning who he was, I knew that he was my savior, and friend, and God. He was Jesus Christ, who had always loved me, even when I thought he hated me.”
Following its publication in September 1994, her book became a No. 1 best seller and remains in print today.
4 Don Piper
Following a pastor’s conference in January 1989, Don Piper was driving over a bridge when a Texas Department of Corrections tractor-trailer truck crossed the center line and ran into him head-on. He said he was “instantly transported to Heaven,” where he found himself surrounded by dead relatives and friends, and a large pearl gate.
“The gate of heaven was a magnificent edifice, the one that I saw. It looked no less like a giant gate that had been sculpted from mother-of-pearl,” he said. “Behind that portal was such a light that I don’t conceive of how you could see it in an earthly body. It could only be envisioned in a heavenly body because it was too bright.”
As he lay there crushed in his vehicle on the bridge, a pastor came by, who prayed over him. The EMS staff had told him that Don was deceased. After the pastor prayed, he instantly found himself back in his vehicle, staring up at a tarp that had been draped over him. At the hospital, it was revealed that, although he suffered no major head trauma, nearly every bone in his body had been broken or shattered. Don wrote a book called 90 Minutes In Heaven after his recovery.
3 Bill Wiese
In his book 23 Minutes In Hell, author Bill Wiese tells the story of laying in bed at 3:00 AM and being suddenly thrown into the depths of hell, where he was tormented by demons. He said he was placed in a small cell with vicious “beasts” who looked like reptiles. He recalls understanding that they had been assigned to torment him, which they did, throwing him against the walls and piercing his flesh with their claws. The pain became so bad that he wished for death but was not obliged. He said that he heard the cries of millions, who were either burning in hell, or being tortured as he was.
When he awoke, his wife noted that the clock read 3:23, so his book is titled 23 Minutes In Hell.
2 Crystal McVea
Following a simple medical procedure for pancreatitis in 2009, Crystal McVea of Oklahoma went into full respiratory arrest on the operating table. When that happened, she says she experienced a trip to heaven that renewed her faith in God, whom she met in person. She described him as “an immense brightness,” one that she could “feel, taste, touch, hear, and smell,” and recalled having 500 senses while in heaven, as opposed to the traditional human five.
“I had angels, I had God, and I fell to my knees in front of him,” she said, adding that she’d always been a doubter prior to the experience. When she was asked twice by God if she’d like to return to Earth, she chose to stay both times. But despite her insistence, God sent her back—though not before relieving her of her guilt and shame.
McVea released a book about her experience called Waking Up In Heaven in April 2013.
1 Ian McCormack
While diving for lobster one day on the island of Mauritius, Ian McCormack was stung on the arm by a box jellyfish. He says that, by the time the ambulance arrived, he already felt completely paralyzed and necrosis had begun to set in. As he lay dying, Ian saw a vision of his mother praying for him, and after he made it to the hospital, he was clinically dead for a period of 15–20 minutes. That’s when he found himself in a very dark place and began to hear people screaming.
“From the darkness I began to hear men’s voices screaming at me telling me to ‘shut up’—that I ‘deserved to be there’—-that I was ‘in Hell.’ I couldn’t believe it, but as I stood there a radiant beam of light shone through the darkness and immediately began to lift me upward. I found myself being translated up into an incredibly brilliant beam of pure white light—it seemed to be emanating from a circular opening far above me (I felt like a speck of dust being drawn up into a beam of sunlight).”
As he walked toward the light, Ian says he could feel it giving off a “living emotion,” and that God then spoke to him. McCormack hasn’t written a book but has shared his story with several news outlets and talk shows.