“An engaging, personal, and transformative journey that challenges the skeptic and informs us all.”—Harold E. Puthoff, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Austin
In this groundbreaking book, award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author Leslie Kean investigates the unexplained continuity of the human psyche after death. Here, Kean explores the most compelling case studies of young children reporting verifiable details from past lives, contemporary mediums who seem to defy the boundaries of the brain and of the physical world, apparitions providing information about their lives on earth, and people who die and then come back to report journeys into another dimension.
Based on facts and scientific studies, Surviving Death includes fascinating chapters by medical doctors, psychiatrists, and PhDs from four countries. As a seasoned reporter whose work transcends belief systems and ideology, Kean enriches the narrative by including her own unexpected, confounding experiences encountered while she probed the question concerning all of us: Do we survive death?
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Read an Excerpt
“Airplane Crash on Fire!”
Over many decades, investigators have documented cases of children, often as young as two, reporting memories they say are from a previous life. In some cases, the children provide enough specific detailssuch as names, locations, and mode of death from this previous lifeto “solve” the case. This means that records and family members from that claimed previous life are located, and the facts provided by the child are shown to be accurate to the life of one specific person. Nightmares about the previous death, behaviors and knowledge related to a previous career, longing for past family members, and phobias related to the past life are often part of the child’s world along with the memories. Most published cases have occurred in Asian countries, but recently some have been well documented in the United States.
Needless to say, these confusing events can be very troubling for the parents of such a child, especially when the culture and religion of the family do not support a belief in rebirth. For these families, such as the ones you are about to meet, the undeniable accuracy of their child’s memories has to take precedence over any resistance they might feel. Such cases provide strong evidence for the possibility that we can be born again, and thus survive death.
Bruce and Andrea Leiningertwo attractive, well-educated, middle-class American parents from Lafayette, Louisianahad no idea what awaited them in the year 2000, when their young son James began to talk. Andrea, once an accomplished ballerina with the San Francisco Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, now teaches ballet with a local dance company. Bruce is the director of human resources for the Lafayette Parish School System. After many conversations with me, he provided original excerpts for this chapter describing his emotional and spiritual transformation throughout the ordeal.
When James Leininger was not quite two years old, his father, Bruce, took him to the Cavanaugh Flight Museum while they were visiting family in Dallas. For some reason, when they were outside on the tarmac, James shrieked with delight when he saw the F‑104 Thunderchief parked there. Once inside, the well-adjusted and happy toddler stood still by the World War II planes, fixated as if drawn by a magnet. Nothing separated him from the parked fighter planes except a single rope barrier, and he kept trying to get closer. Whenever his dad took his hand and tried to steer him to another exhibit, James resisted with desperate, piercing screams. Bruce was perplexed; it felt eerie to him. After three hours, he lured James away only by promising a trip to an airfield to watch actual flying planes take off.
The following month, James’s mother, Andrea, was pushing him in a stroller when she passed a hobby shop with a bin of plastic toys outside. She picked up a plastic propeller-driven model of an airplane and handed it to James, pointing out to him that it even had a bomb attached on its underside. James studied it for a moment, looked up and informed her: “That’s not a bomb, Mommy, it’s a ‘dwop’ tank.”
Andrea didn’t know what a drop tank was. Bruce later told her it was an extra gas tank carried by airplanes traveling long distances. Neither one could explain how James, who could barely talk, had ever heard of anything remotely like a drop tank.
James was the Leiningers’ only child, and they adored him. At the time, Bruce had just begun working for Oil Fields Services Corporation of America and Andrea was a full-time mom. Bruce was raised a Methodist, going to church every Sunday throughout his childhood, and he found comfort and safety there. As he matured, he became part of the Evangelical Christian movement, and met with the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship biweekly for Bible study and discussion. He considered himself to be “a developed Christian on a continuous path of spiritual growth.” But in a short time, Bruce felt all of that threatened by something that shook his faith and his very identity to its core.
In May, a month after James turned two, Bruce took him back to the Dallas flight museum, where he photographed the boy ecstatically mesmerized by a World War II aircraft. Since the last visit, Bruce and Andrea had watched their son become fascinated with toy airplanes, playing with nothing else. His obsession was not just with any toy planes, but with World War II airplanes in particular; he had an uncanny familiarity with them, a consuming attachment to them, and even knowledge about them that seemed to come from nowhere.
And then, the nightmares began. Actually, these were worse than your average nightmares. James was in terror, thrashing violently in a deep sleep while uncontrollable bloodcurdling screams issued from his crib. They plagued the family up to five times a week. The nightmares were so disturbing that Andrea took James to the pediatrician to find out if something was wrong with him. The doctor could offer nothing, and the repetitive dreams continued relentlessly, destroying the equanimity at home.
Then, after a few months, a turning point came when one night words suddenly accompanied the raw screams. Andrea called for Bruce to come. As he describes it:
I stood in my son’s doorway. James was lying on his back, kicking and clawing the covers in his crib, like he was trying to break his way out of a coffin. He flung his head back and forth and screamed over and over: “Airplane crash on fire! Little man can’t get out!”
James had just turned two and was beginning to learn to talk in sentences, yet his words seemed so unchildlike in their desperation. “Airplane crash on fire! Little man can’t get out!” My concern was to protect him, but I felt frightened and paralyzed. What was happening to my son?
The dreams and the same words repeated themselves over and over again, for months more. Then James started to say the same words when awake. Once, when in the car while Andrea was dropping off Bruce at the airport for a business trip, James turned to his parents as his dad got out of the car. “Daddy’s airplane crash! Big fire!” he told them. He crashed his toy planes with propellers headfirst into the coffee table so many times that the propellers broke off, damaging the table. And at night it seemed like he was reliving something all too real. It made absolutely no sense to his troubled parents.
One evening before bed, Andrea was reading Dr. Seuss to James. In a very relaxed state, James spontaneously started talking about the dream, and reenacted the crash with his little body while fully awake. His mother, trembling, asked him who the “little man” was. James said, “Me.” Bruce came to the room, asked him again, “Who is the little man?” and he repeated, “Me.” Bruce describes the conversation:
“Son, what happened to your plane?”
James replied, “It crashed on fire.”
“Why did your airplane crash?”
“It got shot.”
“Who shot your plane?”
James cocked his head and looked at me like the answer was obvious. It seemed to strike him as so inane that he rolled his eyes.
“The Japanese,” he said with disdain, like an impatient teenager.
He was only just two. It felt as if the air had been sucked out of the room.
On another occasion, James got even more specific. He told them the little man’s name was James. His parents assumed he was simply repeating his own name, as any two-year-old would, playing out some kind of scenario in his mind involving a pilot. But when they asked him more about the plane, James said that the “little man” flew a type of airplane called a Corsair. He also said that his plane took off from a boat. His dad asked him for the name of that boat, and he replied, “Natoma.” Bruce commented that the name sounded Japanese, but James assured his parents that it was American, once again with an annoyed look as if they were idiots. Bruce writes:
I flinched, as if I’d been punched. He knew the plane. How could James know the name of a World War II fighter aircraft, much less with certainty that it was the aircraft in the dream? And how the hell did James know they were launched from aircraft carriers? Nothing that he had ever seen or read or heard could have influenced him to have this memory.
I was convinced that I somehow had to trap James to find the cracks or flaws in his story. I wanted something hard, on paper, providing proof that this was some kind of fantasy. I dismissed the Japanese, the Corsair, and even the boat, as some sort of strange story in his head. But then I went onto the Internet. After reading several pages of hits on the word “Natoma,” I stared at a black-and-white picture of the Natoma Bay, a small United States aircraft carrier that fought in the Pacific in World War II. Andrea came in and I showed her as we stood there stiffly, frozen, as the hairs stood up on the back of our necks.
In a funny way, this made me mad. He wasn’t even potty trained, and he was telling me something that shook my world. I was venturing into truly unknown territory. I began to panic, quietly. My wife and her family wondered about a possible “past life.” I told them, “Never, not in my house!” I needed to be right about this. My spiritual side was ruled by the Christian faith, which did not accept reincarnation, and that was the end of that story. And the world was a rational place controlled by the scientific method. There had to be a logical explanation!
Bruce printed out information on the Natoma Bay from a website, which remains in the case file with the date of 08/27/2000 on the page. This is important, because it provides a time-stamped record of when Bruce conducted the search, in response to James’s statement, making it clear that the statements were made before anything was known about the person James might have been describing from a “past life.” The Corsair was an American fighter aircraft that was used primarily by the marines, but also the US Navy, in World War II. It’s important to note that there was no Corsair at the flight museum that James visited, and he had not been exposed to anything to do with that aircraft.
By this time, a number of family members had visited and witnessed the chilling spectacle of the nightmares. In October, when he was two and a half, James explained one evening that he could not remember the last name of the “little man” James from his nightmares. But he said that this James had a best friend. When asked for his name, James said, “Jack Larsen, and he was a pilot too.” The specificity of the name changed everything. And another important detail surfaced as well. James told his parents that his plane was shot in the engine, in front, where the propeller was. Strangely enough, all of his single engine toy airplanes had the propellers broken off their front ends from James’s continued reenactments of the crash.
And finally, James provided another piece of the puzzle, out of the blue, on Thanksgiving weekend. He was waiting for cartoons to come on, and when he became impatient, his dad asked him to come sit on his lap. They started looking through the book The Battle for Iwo Jima, which Bruce had ordered as a Christmas present for his father, a former marine. (James’s grandfather lived fourteen hundred miles away in Pennsylvania and was only at the house once during these events.) When they turned to a page with a photo of Iwo Jima, James pointed to it and said, “Daddy, that’s when my plane was shot down and crashed.” He used the word “when” rather than “where” while pointing to a photo of Iwo Jima and an accompanying diagram, never mentioning the island by name.
Each time a new clue was revealed, Bruce became more deeply unnerved. “The more I learned from James, the stronger my mission became to prove that the nightmares and everything else were simply the coincidental rants of a child,” he writes. “I was hardened into a committed skeptic. Now that I had the name Jack Larsen, I could find out about him and this would make my point, I reasoned. I had to represent the voice of reason within the family.”
At this point, Bruce assumed that the person in the dream, who died in the crash, was Jack Larsen. When Bruce asked James for the name of the “little man” in his dream, he always said James, which was simply his own name. Since Bruce didn’t accept that James was dreaming about a past life, he concluded that therefore Jack Larsen was the important name, and that Larsen was likely the subject of the dream. (In retrospect this reasoning seems odd, but it made sense to Bruce at the time as he struggled to deny what was happening.) So, if Larsen was the person crashing in the dream, he was now dead. Bruce began to search for records. He found the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) website, which listed US soldiers who were either missing in action or buried abroad. On that list, there were 170 Larsons or Larsens killed in World War II, but only ten of them had a first name of Jack, James, or John.
Bruce then spent many months diligently researching anything he could find to help explain what James was saying. He found that the USS Natoma Bay had been commissioned by the navy in October 1943, so the Jack (or John) Larson (or Larsen) crash would have to have been between then and the end of the war in August 1945. The Corsair did not enter naval carrier service until 1944. And he discovered that the Natoma Bay had been at Iwo Jima to support the invasion by US Marines there in March 1945.
Sometime later, Bruce searched “World War II War Veteran Reunions” and dozens of websites popped up. One of them, Escort Carriers Sailors and Airmen Association, contained a reference to a Natoma Bay Association reunion. Over a period of weeks, Bruce attempted to call people listed there, saying he was researching a book about the Natoma Bay. He finally reached Leo Pyatt, who said he flew thirty-six combat missions off the aircraft carrier, in the VC‑81 squadron, during the battle for Iwo Jima. Bruce printed out information during this search dated from the year 2000, which remains in the case file.
Bruce asked Pyatt if he knew a Jack Larsen, and Pyatt didn’t even pause. He said yes, he knew a Jack Larsen who “flew off one day and we never saw him again.” He also told Bruce that he didn’t know of any Corsairs being flown off the Natoma Bay. Bruce was both relieved and disturbed:
Table of Contents
Part 1 Is There "Life" Before Birth?
Chapter 1 "Airplane Crash on Fire!" 17
Chapter 2 The Case of James 3 36
Chapter 3 Investigating Cases of Children with Past-Life Memories Jim B. Tucker, MD 43
Chapter 4 "The Old Me" Cyndi Hammons 54
Chapter 5 Fifty-five Verified Memories 67
Part 2 To Death and Back Again
Chapter 6 The Shoe on the Ledge Kimberly Clark Sharp, MSW 83
Chapter 7 Journeys out of Body 92
Chapter 8 "Actual-Death" Experiences 100
Chapter 9 The NDE and Nonlocal Consciousness Pim van Lommel, MD 114
Chapter 10 Intermission Memories: Life Between Lives 127
Chapter 11 End-of-Life Experiences Peter Fenwick, MD 133
Part 3 Communications from Nonlocal Minds
Chapter 12 My First "Personal Experiment" 151
Chapter 13 An Almost Perfect Reading 161
Chapter 14 Research into Mental Mediumship Julie Beischel, PhD 170
Chapter 15 How Do They Do It? 181
Chapter 16 Finding George 189
Chapter 17 Trance Mediumship and Drop-in Communicarors Alan Gauld, PhD, DLitt 197
Chapter 18 Seeking the White Crow 221
Chapter 19 After-Death Communications 224
Chapter 20 Interactive Apparitions Loyd Auerbach, MS 247
Part 4 The Impossible Made Real
Chapter 21 Human-Generated Phenomena 269
Chapter 22 From Object Movements to Materialized Hands 280
Chapter 23 Possible Evidence of Survival Erlendur Haraldsson, PhD 294
Chapter 24 The Enigma of Full-Form Materializarions 305
Chapter 25 My Astonishing Second "Personal Experiment" 321
Chapter 26 A Life in Two Worlds Stewart Alexander 345