Ali Kerim Bey: I had visitors! Limpet mine on the wall outside, timed to catch me at my desk. But, by good fortune, I was relaxing on the settee for a few moments. The girl left in hysterics.
Bond: Found your technique too violent?
On an otherwise normal day, a character steps out to run an inconsequential errand. They discover upon their return that the space they vacated has, in their brief absence, become the scene of a terrible accident, deadly crime, devastating battle, or even an out-and-out genocide. What would otherwise have meant certain death for an Unluckily Lucky character has been neatly sidestepped with a Contrived Coincidence.
In essence, this trope is when a character shows up fifteen minutes late to their own death because they went out for some Starbucks.
This serendipitous survival can play out any number of ways. The classic example would be when a hero's Doomed Hometown meets its doom while the hero is off doing something mostly unrelated. Almost as often, the focus is on a character fortuitously breaking routine — whether by calling in sick to work or backing out of an obligation at the last minute — on the very day disaster strikes. A common variant involves an assassination attempt that relies on the target following a set pattern and being in a certain place at a certain time, only for the target to get stuck in traffic, make an unplanned stop, or arbitrarily decide to take another route.
Note that the survivor in question is not necessarily the Sole Survivor; frequently, multiple characters simultaneously survive the same disaster this way, but, due to the unpredictable nature of their own survival, are likewise unable to anticipate the survival of anyone else, and thus carry on with their lives completely unaware of each other's continued existence. In especially dramatic cases, this may involve two characters Watching Troy Burn from opposite sides of the fire, concluding grimly that No One Could Survive That!, and then just barely missing each other as they walk away, setting up the possibility for a Quest for the Rest somewhere down the road.
The sidestepped disaster varies widely in scale from one work to another. Anything from the survivor's home up to and including their home planet may be destroyed while they are away. The critical point is that the only reason the survivor lives through the disaster is because random happenstance dictated they themselves would not be present. It's not this trope if an outside force actively maneuvers the survivor away or otherwise waits for them to get out of the line of fire before setting the calamity in motion.
The survivor is likely to suffer from Survivor Guilt, especially if it comes to light that whatever killed their family or friends was specifically intended to kill them to begin with, or that they were somehow responsible for provoking what happened. Inevitably, the survivor will want to uncover the truth about the tragedy so that they can track down their would-be killer in order to see justice done or vengeance served... or because the killer is still after them.
While large scale disaster is the most common form of this trope, it is not the only one. Serendipitous Survival can be applied to situations where the character alone is the only one in danger of death or other misfortune.
Compare Late to the Tragedy, in which the narrative devotes a significant amount of time to piecing together the tragedy's mysterious origins, but does so mostly secondhand: whoever is investigating the tragedy may be completely unrelated to its victims, with the investigator arriving potentially weeks, months, years, or even centuries after the tragedy occurs.
Subtrope to Near-Death Experience. Supertrope to But What About the Astronauts?, wherein death and destruction have swept the entire planet such that only those safely offworld could have survived, and Slept Through the Apocalypse, wherein a character is technically within the disaster blast radius but is coincidentally so well sheltered that they remain blissfully unaware throughout.
If the character's survival is not well publicized, they may end up Attending Their Own Funeral.
Compare Lifesaving Misfortune, which achieves a similar effect by having a minor inconvenience or strictly negative event save a character's life. Also compare Could Have Been Messy, when surviving something that should have been fatal with minimal injury. Inverse of Dice Roll Death, where bad luck or random chance results in someone dying.
As this is a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.
- Berserk: Rickert is one of the last surviving original members of the Band of the Hawk, and the only survivor not to be marked with the Brand of Sacrifice (unlike Guts and Casca) and therefore endlessly pursued by demons, because he was away from the camp fetching water when Griffith triggered the Eclipse.
- Chainsaw Man: Aki survived the Gun Devil destroying his house because he had gone out to play in the snow. Tragically, this was right after Aki told his little brother to go in to grab a pair of baseball gloves to play catch...
- Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba: Tanjiro stayed overnight at a friendly local's house before returning home from errands in town, only to discover his entire family had been randomly attacked and murdered by a demon so recently one of his siblings was still hanging onto life by a thread.
- When the planet Vegeta was destroyed in Dragon Ball Z, only four of its native Saiyans survived the destruction. Of the four, Prince Vegeta is noted to have been deliberately spared by Freeza and a later-released side chapter shows Goku's father deliberately sending him away to protect him a la Kal El, so they wouldn't count. Raditz and Nappa, however, were just lucky enough to be off planet and, in Raditz's case, on a mission with Vegeta, and thus survived.
- Assuming Dragon Ball Super: Broly is 100% canon, it would seem at least a few more Saiyans also happened to be offworld. Other than Broly, Paragus and Tarble, it's highly likely they died before Z.
- In Year Five #16 of Injustice: Gods Among Us, Batwoman and Harley Quinn exit a warehouse used as a meeting place for a pro-Joker resistance group mere seconds before Superman arrives and slaughters the entire building.
- Several Chick Tracts, including "Busted!" and "Limited Time Offer", feature a character who narrowly escapes death, realizes they could have ended up in Hell if they had died, and accepts Jesus on the spot.
- 100 Bullets: Joan D'Arcy survives being killed by a hitman raiding her office because she'd gone out to hire a mercenary to protect her from that hitman and his boss.
- The Punisher: When Punisher finally decides to cancel Rosalie Carbone's Joker Immunity and blow up her apartment, she's on vacation in Hawaii at the time.
- Superman: The people of Argo City survive the destruction of Krypton because an energy shield installed around the city to keep out germs is coincidentally enough to protect them from being killed in the planet's explosion or suffocating in the vacuum of space afterwards. note
- In Bullet Train, this happens several times, with The Wolf's backstory involving him being the Sole Survivor of his own wedding because Ladybug posing as a waiter there for a different reason accidentally bumped into him and caused Wolf to spill wine on his suit, having him go clean up and miss the cake cutting ceremony, only to watch in horror as it turns out the cake was poisoned. The biggest example happens to Carver; the hitman Ladybug was sent to replace on his contract since he got a stomach bug prior. He was actually The White Death's true target since Carver killed his wife in an accidental assassination because the White Death was out of the country trying to fix the mess in his Bolivia operation. He is not happy after learning one of the men who ruined his life got away scot-free due to dumb luck and he's just been dealing with a very unlucky snatch-and-grab crook.
- In Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle the Angels are trying to figure out US Marshal Ray Carter's cryptic message while on their way to stop the Big Bad. Natalie has a "aha!" moment that, being Natalie, has her start randomly dancing as she says "a stair", causing Dylan and Alex to stop and try to figure out what she's doing until she explains that he was talking about star names on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (Fred Astaire). Had they not stopped, they would have been in or near their car when it exploded via a hidden time bomb, instead of being enough feet away to only get knocked backward off their feet.
- At the very beginning of Children of Men, Theo avoids being a victim of a cafe bombing about thirty seconds after he purchased coffee there.
- Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): It's a subtle Rewatch Bonus, but there are two (unsuccessful) attempts by the same character to invoke this trope on others. In the opening, Emma's reassurances to Madison that Mark is safe where he is appear on the first watching to just be a mother reassuring her daughter that he's far enough away from harm due to his isolated whereabouts if the worst comes to pass, but when re-watching the scene with knowledge of the Evil All Along twist, it becomes apparent that Emma is actually assuring her co-conspirator that he'll be safe when the worst comes to pass. Shortly before Jonah and his goons are due to slaughter everyone standing between them and Mothra (an attack which Emma is secretly in on), Emma attempts to persuade Dr. Mancini to take a sleep break so he won't become a casualty – it doesn't work and he gets a bullet to the head.
- A rare villainous example occurred in Gremlins. While the hoard was in the movie theater watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the heroes snuck under the building, opened a gas line and lit a piece of cloth to cause it to explode and destroy all the gremlins. Unfortunately, Stripe had left the theater to break into a nearby department store to steal some snacks, coming back out just in time to see the explosion. Despite surviving, he wasn't happy about losing his army.
- The Hour of the Pig: Thoroughly disillusioned with the village, Courtois heads back to Paris and departs right as a knight brings the plague to the village.
- Independence Day: One of the survivors that Jasmine finds remarks that he only lived because he decided to take the subway that day. "Thank God for the Metro Rail."
- James Bond series:
- In From Russia with Love, Kerim Bey survives Krilencu's first assassination attempt, a bomb planted on the exterior wall of his office near his desk, because his girlfriend pulled him away from said desk for a make-out session mere seconds earlier. To which Bond makes a wisecrack about Kerim's "violent technique" scaring her off.
- In Licence to Kill, Bond is the last one to leave Felix Leiter's wedding, meaning that he missed Sanchez's goons arriving.
- In GoldenEye, two technicians survive the massacre at the Severnaya facility because they step out of the operations room for a cigarette and a cup of coffee respectively just before Xenia and General Ourumov arrive: Boris Grishenko and Natalya Simonova. It eventually turns out that only Natalya's cup of coffee is a true example, as Boris was in league with Janus the whole time, so his cigarette break was deliberately planned to keep him out of the way.
- Invoking a Subverted version of this is part of the Big Bad's Evil Plan in Tomorrow Never Dies — with tensions high in the South China Sea between Britain and China, the PLA calls an emergency meeting in Beijing of their top leadership, among them General Chang. Chang, however, is secretly working with Carver, and his ride will be "fortuitously" delayed by traffic when Carver launches the nuclear missile stolen from the Royal Navy and detonates it in Beijing, leaving Chang to take over the Chinese government on an emergency basis in exchange for granting Carver Media Group exclusive broadcasting rights to the only remaining market it does not yet have access to.
- Jason X is rare for the franchise in that it has multiple minor characters survive or avoid being attacked by Jason at least temporarily this way.
- An automatic door closes between Jason and Kinsa right after he kills her boyfriend and as Jason is stalking Crutch the engineer of the ship he gets distracted by the arrival of The Cavalry.
- Janessa walks out of Lowe's cabin right as Jason passes by it and turns the corner. It also counts as Missed Him by That Much.
- The Professional: Matilda is out getting groceries while her family is being killed by corrupt cops. She comes back, acts nonchalant, and hooks up with the titular Antihero for safety, and then revenge.
- Road to Perdition: Connor Rooney goes to the Sullivan house to kill Michael Sullivan's son Mike Jr., not trusting Mike Jr. to keep his mouth shut. Due to Mike Jr. being held after school for detention by writing lines, he arrives home right as Connor kills his mother and his brother Peter, and narrowly avoids being noticed.
- Star Trek (2009): The Enterprise fails to go to warp in formation with the rest of the reaction force responding to Vulcan's distress signal because Sulu mistakenly "left the parking brake on". The ship ends up running a few minutes behind, which gives them time to realize they're walking into a trap. They arrive in system in the midst of the debris field that is all that remains of the fleet Nero just destroyed.
- Star Wars: When R2-D2 runs off in A New Hope, Luke Skywalker has to chase after him and hopefully get him back before anybody notices so he won't get in trouble. This, and the subsequent meeting with Obi-Wan Kenobi, delay Luke enough that he doesn't get home until long after Stormtroopers looking for R2 and C-3PO have already raided it, burning the farm and killing his aunt and uncle.
- The Terminator: After being stood up by her Friday night date, Sarah decided to leave her apartment and go to a movie. This ended up preventing the Terminator from killing her when he inevitably showed up. Unfortunately, it also resulted in the death of her roommate/best friend Ginger when the Terminator mistook her for Sarah.
- Three Days of the Condor. The protagonist Joe Turner, a CIA analyst, misses an assassination attempt after he leaves his workplace to pick up lunch for everybody. He goes out the back entrance because it happens to be raining, so the hit squad waiting outside doesn't see him leave and assume their targets are all on site when they break in and start killing everyone.
- The Transporter: Frank Martin survives the bomb the bad guys placed in his car (in retaliation for him opening the package containing Lai) because he spends an extra five seconds buying drinks for the two traffic cops he had to knock out when he did and that were in the car's trunk.
- The Avenger: In the first book of the series, Benson is on an commercial airplane flight with his wife and daughter when he gets up to use the bathroom. When he returns his wife and daughter have disappeared and everyone on the plane swears he was alone when he boarded. Everyone else on the plane was involved in a smuggling ring. The plane had slowed down to drop its illegal cargo over a lake, and the crew had murdered his family and threw them into the lake at the same time. If Benson had been in his seat they would have done the same to him.
- Discworld: In Guards! Guards!, when the dragon learns to summon itself and destroys the cult for daring to command it, the only survivor apart from the leader is Brother Fingers, because they'd sent him out to steal some eats. When the Watch responds to the attack, they find him just staring in shock at the melted ruin, still holding a stack of pizza boxes.
- At the beginning of Gunner Kelly by Anthony Price, Kelly is sent on an errand by his employer and thereby misses an assassination attempt intended for him.
- When the Manticore System is hit by the Oyster Bay attack in the Honor Harrington book Mission of Honor, the space station Weyland suffers the least fatalities because its commanding officer had scheduled a surprise evacuation drill that day. Sadly, the CO is on the station overseeing the exercise and is killed when Weyland is destroyed.
- In Death: In Survivor in Death, nine-year-old Nixie Swisher survives the attack that kills the rest of her family because of not one, but two coincidences. She gets up to get a drink at the exact time the murder team arrives, and she had a friend sleeping over that night who resembled her enough for the killers to mistake for her.
- Jaws: Ben Gardner's mate isn't with him when the shark kills Ben and destroys his boat due to "something about a dentist appointment."
- Tortall Universe: In The Immortals, the story of Daine's Dark and Troubled Past begins with her family's farm being attacked by bandits and burned to the ground while Daine happens to be in the next hamlet over helping with a difficult lambing.
- The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga: There are twelve bloodlines of the Lords of the Blood, who tame magic for use by humans by their mere continued existence. All of themnote are wiped out in the Great Fire, a Fantastic Nuke attack during a war between Donderath and Meroven... except for Blaine McFadden, heir to a bloodline who was banished to a Penal Colony for murdering his father at the start of the first book, and therefore not killed when the Great Fire struck his family's manor.
- Star Craft Ghost Nova: Nova survives the massacre of her own noble family and several others because she bailed on a class trip at the last second and was halfway home when the assassins struck both her home and the shuttle. She arrived right afterwards and psychically killed the attackers pretty much by accident.
- Alexis Carew: Queen Annalise of New London ascended the throne at age fifteen when her parents and older brother died in an avalanche during a skiing vacation. She survived it because she was cooped up in their cabin with a nasty cold (the cabin was buried, too, but stayed standing long enough for rescuers to reach her).
- Noninterference: Magda only survives an attempt to kill her with a sabotaged starship because she decides not to board it at the last minute in order to avoid a stalker.
- Rihannsu: The Romulan Way: In a flashback, Terise Haleakala-LoBrutto wonders if she should transfer back to the USS Excalibur rather than become an agent on ch’Rihan (Romulus), reflecting that while the war games it has scheduled don’t sound fun, they also sound a lot less dangerous than deep-cover work. Possibly unbeknownst to her, the entire crew of the Excalibur perished in “The Ultimate Computer”; Terise would have died if she hadn’t stuck with the supposedly more perilous assignment.
- In the Backstory of the RCN series, deuteragonist Adele Mundy's entire family was purged for their involvement in the Three Circles Conspiracy to overthrow the Republic of Cinnabar's government. Adele escaped execution because she had left Cinnabar for university a few days earlier.
- The Dark Elf Trilogy: Drizzt, as Matron Do'Urden's third son, is slated to be sacrificed at birth to the drow goddess Lolth as payment for House Do'Urden's victory in its war with another house. However, the middle Do'Urden brother murders his elder brother during the battle in a Starscream-style gambit, and the Do'Urden women spare the infant since he's technically no longer the third son. He later ends up one of the few survivors of the entire family after House Baenre storms the family estate on orders from Lolth when their last attempt to kill Drizzt for heresy fails.
- Rebel Force: Mazi and his brothers survive the destruction of Alderaan because they'd convinced their parents to let them go to a sports tournament on Alderaan's neighboring planet Delaya and were just about to head home when the Death Star blew Alderaan up. Many Alderaanians on Delaya survived under similar circumstances.
- WIEDERGEBURT: Legend of the Reincarnated Warrior: Eryk's unnamed Second Love in the Bad Future timeline incurred spiritual poisoning during training and left Nevaria to search for a cure, and therefore wasn't in town when it was destroyed in a massive Demon Beast invasion.
- Inverted with Mattimeo. When Slagar and his slaver gang drug the assembled abbeydwellers during the feast, two mice and one vole happen to be in the kitchens. When they return, they catch them in the act of kidnapping the abbey children, and the slavers promptly kill two of them, gravely injure the third one.
- Both Len and Erin have lucky near-death experiences throughout The Promise (2011):
- After ordering two of his men to wash the unit's halftracks after having a chamberpot dumped on their heads, Len departs in his jeep, narrowly missing an Irgun ambush that kills the men washing the halftrack.
- Len is caught in the 1946 King David Hotel bombing and only survives because his superior ordered him to warn people in the other rooms to step away from the windows following the diversionary blast.
- Erin leaves a Haifa cafe mere moments before a suicide bomber's vest goes off inside, and sustains only superficial shrapnel wounds.
- The main antagonist in the Flashpoint episode "Behind the Blue Line" was a former soldier suffering an extreme case of Survivor's Guilt because of this trope, especially because one of the men killed was someone he convinced to sign up.
- Game of Thrones:
- The Blackfish was one of the few survivors of the massacre known as the "Red Wedding" by virtue of the fact that he went to use a privy right before the slaughter started and escaped at some point during or afterward.
- Later, in Season 6, Sandor has joined up with a small religious group led by a former knight. One afternoon a group of bandits comes by, and when they don't get what they want imply they'll come back later to take it by force. While Sandor is some distance away chopping firewood, the bandits return and kill the group.
- In one episode of Gilligan's Island, a typhoon hits the island and the castaways take shelter in a cave. Unfortunately, the cave is too small for all of them, so they draw straws to see who will remain outside. Believing he isn't necessary, Gilligan fixes it so that he's the one outside the cave. When Skipper finds out, he runs out to join his buddy, with the other castaways soon joining him. A few minutes after the last of them leaves the cave, a lightning bolt strikes the cave and causes it to collapse.
Skipper: Gilligan, little buddy. We came out to save you, and you saved us!
- An episode of Law & Order featured a woman who survived having a hit put out on her because she didn't show up where she was supposed to be. It takes the police some time to realize this because a woman who looked like the intended victim who was there was murdered instead.
- Madam Secretary: In one episode Jay reveals that when he was stationed in Afghanistan, four of his coworkers were killed in a Taliban bombing, which he survived due to not being in the car with them. He has some Survivor's Guilt over this, as well as over not staying on in Afghanistan afterwards.
- M*A*S*H had an episode where one patient was a young soldier who had been in a foxhole with his buddies and left to get food just before said foxhole was hit by artillery fire. The soldier is understandably devastated and has been unable to eat since due to the circumstances.
- On The Mentalist a former football star is presumed dead when a bomb explodes in his car. However, the agents then discover that the man is still alive. The man is a notorious womanizer and he kept a apartment within walking distance of the bar he owned. On the night of the bombing he hooked up with a female fan and they snuck out to have sex in the apartment. His assistant was tasked with moving the car and was killed by the bomb.
- In Mike & Molly, Mike and Carl step out of their squad car during a traffic jam to deal with a rude motorist. Moments later, a girder falls on the car, crushing it. This close call gets Carl thinking about how he lives his life and leads to him proposing to Molly's sister Victoria but then changing his mind.
- In The Pretender episode "Crash", Jarod befriends a student while waiting for a plane and offers his ticket to him so he won't miss registration. When the plane crashes, Jarod's motivated to find out why in part because he feels responsible for the young man's death.
- Sam from Quantum Leap takes the place of a lounge pianist. Shortly after he leaps in, an employee at the lounge asks to borrow his car to drive a drunken patron home and he readily hands over the keys, a move the employee says is out of character for him. Then Al shows up and explains that the pianist was supposed to die right around then from a car bomb. Just after he says that, there's an explosion in the parking lot.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "The Best Of Both Worlds: Part I", Riker declines promotion to captain of the USS Melbourne, a choice which Picard criticizes. However, in "Part II", we see that the Melbourne was among the ships annihilated by the Borg at the Battle of Wolf 359. When Shelby spots the Melbourne among the wreckage, Riker lowers his head, both to mourn the lives lost and also to think about how lucky he was to have escaped certain death.
- Ellen Harvelle of Supernatural survives the utter destruction of her bar and the slaughter of everyone in it because they'd run out of pretzels and she'd stepped out for a few minutes to get some.
- Teen Wolf: The Hale fire — set by rogue werewolf hunters — kills almost the entire Hale family, since all its supernatural members are magically trapped inside the house. Derek and Laura only survive because they happen to still be at school. Unfortunately, grade schoolers get home a lot earlier than highschoolers.
- In Texas Rising the Wykoff family is massacred by a Comanche raiding party. Nate, their slave, survived because he was working away from the farmstead and did not get back till the Comanches had already left.
- The Top Gear segment on the Vampire dragster was originally supposed to have James May driving it, but he was forced to pull out due to a scheduling conflict. Richard Hammond took his place and ended up having a very serious crash which resulted in the dragster hitting the ground upside-down. Hammond suffered a serious brain injury, but eventually made a full recovery. However, it's believed that May (who's significantly taller than Hammond) would have been decapitated if he'd been driving.
- Exploited in The Good Place. In their original timelines, the four humans did die, but Michael's interference saved them. Chidi's survival is the best example of this because he was the only one "indirectly" saved (had Michael not cycled by when he did, Chidi would have been crushed by the AC). Michael physically pulled Eleanor and Tahani out of harms way, and unlocked the safe Jason was in.
- After Eleanor escaped her would-be demise, she tells her friends about this. They both give examples that are played for laughs. One of them was in New York two weeks before 9/11, while the other one had a warehouse near their old dentists place burn down.
- Bosch: In the first episode of season 5, father and son pharmacists Jose Esquivela Sr. and Jr. have a tense argument over Sr.'s plans to report to the police a pill mill they've been supplying oxycodone to. It ends with Jose Jr. leaving the store to go for a walk to clear his head and buy coffee. While he's out, two gunmen from the pill mill walk into the pharmacy and execute Jose Sr., then make a narrow getaway. Jose Jr. doesn't return until well after the police arrive and lock down the scene, and realizing what happened, he hastily seeks out his cousin for help. While Bosch and Edgar go after the pill mill operatives, Pierce and Vega are tasked with finding Jose Jr. before the killers do, narrowly finding him just as one of the gunmen from the shooting shows up at the house he's hiding at in Bakersfield. (This is a significant deviation from the book that season 5 is adapted from, Two Kinds of Truth, where Jose Jr. is executed in the pharmacy alongside his father)
- Monk: In "Mr. Monk and the Rapper", renowned rapper Extra Large is killed in a car bombing and it is believed his longtime rival Murderuss was responsible. It's eventually discovered that Extra Large's death was not intentional, and he was killed mistakenly by the head of Fresh Rhymes Records, his recording label, who was trying to kill his business partner with the bomb (said partner had been the limo driver's last passenger before Extra Large), but missed his mark by a target because when setting the timer (using an old pocket watch), he forgot that Daylight Savings Time took effect that night.
- The Book of Boba Fett: In "The Streets of Mos Espa", Boba Fett is in Mos Eisley negotiating a Protection Racket on behalf of the Sand People with the head of the Pyke Syndicate. He returns to the camp to discover the Kintan Striders swoop gang has burned down the camp and killed everyone. Actually, the Pykes did it to get out of the Protection Racket and framed the Striders.
- Breaking Bad: In "Caballo Sin Nombre", Mike sneaks onto the Whites' family residence to plant bugs around the house while everyone's out. Right as he's finishing up, Walt himself arrives, trying to break into the house after being kicked out. Mike manages to leave without being seen, but as he's in his car preparing to drive away, he notices two cartel hitman entering the house intending to kill Walt. Walt only just barely avoids being murdered because Mike happened to be there, quickly sent a message to Gus, who in turn sent a warning text to the hitmen signifying Walt was off-limits to them, as well as the fact Walt was in the bathroom taking a shower and the two hitmen sat in the bedroom waiting him for him to finish rather than just killing him as he was washing himself. Walt never finds out just how close he was to being killed, although he does notice an object in the bedroom is in a different place than where he last left it...
- In the beginning of Tales of Phantasia, Toltus gets destroyed by Mars looking for a pendant belonging to Cress, who just happened to be out hunting with his friend Chester. Not that this does Cress any good, since Mars catches up to him later in Euclid.
- Early in GoldenLand, you raid a convoy transporting an artifact, whose guards, a group of Albertan shieldmaidens, fight you to the death. Much later on, you meet a wayward shieldmaiden who can join you as a Non-Player Companion and eventually reveals that she was supposed to be part of that convoy, but took a short leave on the day you slaughtered her sisters-in-arms. If you don't tell her right away, she learns the truth about your involvement eventually, and either attacks you or lets herself be persuaded to stand down.
- The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind: Yagrum Bagarn is the last of the Dwemer, who all mysteriously disappeared from Tamriel thousands of years ago, seemingly as part of an attempt to ascend to godhood Gone Horribly Wrong. While even Bagarn himself is uncertain as to what happened, he speculates that he survived it because he wasn’t in Tamriel when it happened; he left to explore another realm shortly beforehand, only learning what happened when he returned home to find the city he lived in completely empty.
- Half-Life: Alyx: Russell mentions in one conversation that he almost landed a job at Black Mesa and even went to their research facility for an interview. He didn't make the cut, but was encouraged to apply again in two years. Less than half a year afterwards, the Resonance Cascade happened. Understandably, Russell is glad he didn't get the job.
- At the start of Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars, the Philadelphia space station gets destroyed by a Nod warhead after the defensive measures protecting it are sabotaged. Secretary of the Treasury Redmond Boyle isn't onboard the station at the time, thus the chain of command ends up with him as acting director of GDI. Kane's Wrath reveals that this was an intentional outcome on Kane's part, allowing Redmond Boyle's brash, impulsive decision making to fire the Ion Cannon on Nod's Sarajevo temple which was holding a liquid Tibeirum bomb at the time, sparking the Scrin invasion. One mission involves Nod forces sabotaging Boyle's journey to the energy summit on the Philadelphia in order to ensure his survival and hasty promotion.
- Mafia II: After setting off a bomb at the Clemente Family meeting, Vito and Joe survey the damage... and spot Clemente himself, their target, emerging from the bathroom. Cue dramatic and violent chase to take him out.
- Early in Red Faction, Parker ends up being too late to get on a shuttle that was stolen by a group of miners to escape Mars. However, the shuttle doesn't get far before being destroyed by Ultor's missiles, leading Hendrix to remark that "Maybe being slow isn't such a bad thing."
- Refreshing Stories: Satomi cheated on her husband Hiroshi with her boss Tetsuo. They decided to go to a hotel one day while Hiroshi at home hears about Satomi's company building catching fire. He called Satomi to see if she is safe and he became immediately suspicious when he had to point out to her that the building was on fire.
- Stand Still, Stay Silent: Onni, Tuuri and Lalli's hometown got wiped by a malevolent entity arranging for The Plague to be spread at a gathering. Lalli was both among the town's handful of The Immune inhabitants and a child at the time. Onni and Tuuri, while not immune, elected to postpone going to the gathering in favor of having a nap and reading a book respectively. Someone realized there were individuals in their Typhoid Mary phase at the gathering and sent Lalli to warn Onni and Tuuri early enough for them stay completely out of the chain of contamination.
- In one episode of American Dad!, Stan is trying to catch a cab, but decides to give it to a young newlywed couple and catches another. There is then an accident where a sign is knocked off a building and crushes the cab, killing the couplenote . The brush with near death shakes Stan up.
- Exaggerated in the Futurama episode "A Bicyclops Built for Two" in which Alcazar claims he survived the depopulation of the Cyclopian planet because he was cleaning a pool at the time and the massive fireball passed over him safely. Subverted after Alcazar is revealed to be a shapeshifting con artist who built fake ruins to scam women of several species into marrying him.
- Inspector Gadget once took a trip to England to look into a case. While he was at his hotel, a MAD agent broke in to try to kill him. The agent fights with Brain for a bit, and successfully manages to blow up Gadget's room. While Brain is looking at the damage, Gadget walks through the door and says "Bathroom must be down the hall."
- In The Simpsons episode "Catch 'Em If You Can", Homer and Marge ditch an out-of-town family visit at the last second to take a vacation elsewhere without telling their kids. The hotel they were supposed to be staying at gets completely destroyed by a tornado. Marge calls the kids, who are relieved that she's alive, but immediately catch on when she still claims to be staying at the hotel.
- Star Wars Rebels: In "Empire Day", Zeb at one point has Agent Kallus in his gun sights, but is told by Kanan to shoot the Inquisitor. A much larger threat who arrived on the scene at the same time, instead. Kallus' survival ends up having some interesting consequences.
- A variation in Buzz Lightyear: The Adventure Begins. Due to Mira taking a shuttle, Buzz going after her, and Booster and XL being on 42 at the time, the four of them weren't on Star Command when Zurg blasted it with his Mind Control Ray, meaning they were the only ones left who could stop Zurg's plan.
- In Gargoyles, the Manhattan Clan go through this in the Five-Episode Pilot. Goliath and Hudson are led on a Wild Goose Chase by Hakon and his men, while Brooklyn, Lexington, Broadway, and Bronx have been sent down to the rookery due to Brooklyn and Lexington fighting with humans. As a result, when Hakon slaughters the rest of their clan, they are the only survivors alongside Demona, whose own survival is revealed later on to be due to going down to the shore below the castle just before sunrise.
- This is the trigger for Aang's backstory in Avatar: The Last Airbender. After hearing how the Elders intended to take him away from his mentor Gyatsu, compounded by feeling alienated from the other airbenders for being the Avatar, Aang ran away from the air temple, only to end up caught in a storm, resulting in him and Appa being in an iceberg for 100 years. Because of this, Aang ended up escaping the Fire Nation's genocide of the Air Nomads, leaving him the Last of His Kind.
- Bugs Moran survived the St. Valentine's Day Massacre because he left home late and when he arrived at the garage where his gang was meeting, he spotted a police car in a side alley. The police car was most likely a fake used by the assassins who thought that Moran was already inside the building and moved in for the kill (having mistaken one of the men, Albert Weinshank, who had the same height and build as Moran, for the real man). If Moran arrived a bit earlier he would have been killed with the seven of his associates already in the building. Three other members of Moran's gang, Ted Newberry, Henry Gusenberg and Willie Marks, also survived because they also arrived late and spotted what they thought was a police raid.
- On November 28, 1942, the Boston College football team lost to their archrivals from Holy Cross in a stunning 55-12 upset. The BC team, who were undefeated going into the game and expected to win that year's national championship and an invitation to the Sugar Bowl, were so devastated by the loss that they canceled a planned post-game celebration at Boston's Cocoanut Grove nightclub... which caught fire that night, resulting in the deaths of nearly 500 people.
- One day in 1950, a church in Nebraska exploded five minutes after choir practice was scheduled to begin. There were no casualties, however, because completely by coincidence, every single member was late that day.
- During pre-production of You Only Live Twice, the leading Eon Productions team, including producer Albert R. Broccoli, the film's director Lewis Gilbert, set designer Ken Adam and cinematographer Freddie Young, decided to stay one day more in Japan to watch a ninja demonstration. Their original flight home crashed on Mount Fuji. Had they decided to board that flight on schedule, this could have meant the premature end of the James Bond film series.
- On March 27, 1977, KLM Flight 4805, amongst many other aircraft, was diverted to the regional airport on Tenerife due to a terrorist attack at its destination, Gran Canaria International Airport. Passengers on this flight were allowed to disembark and relax in the terminal. One passenger in particular decided to sneak out and not re-board the plane in spite of the regulations she would violate, as she lived on Tenerife anyway and wanted to see her boyfriend; going to Gran Canaria and then coming back the next day would've been redundant especially after the flight being delayed for so long. In doing that, she managed to avoid getting caught up in the Tenerife airport disaster, which took the lives of everyone on the KLM plane and the vast majority of the passengers and crew on the Pan Am plane it collided with, and in fact she was the only passenger of the former to survive as a result.
- Michael Jackson was scheduled to have a meeting in the World Trade Center on the day of 9/11, but overslept and missed it.
- Seth MacFarlane was supposed to be on American Airlines Flight 11, but missed his flight by ten minutes due to a massive hangover and his travel agent messing up the departure time.
- Mark Wahlberg would've been on the same plane as MacFarlane, but at the last minute he and his friends decided to instead charter a plane to Toronto for a film festival. Wahlberg was deeply affected by his near-brush with death.
- Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe had just returned to his hotel to get his camera for a visit to the WTC observation deck when he saw the news of the plane crashing.
- Kenny Chesney was supposed to have filmed the music video for his single "The Tin Man" at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, but the label decided to cancel the shoot only a few days prior.
- Larry Silverstein, the buildings' leaseholder, had a dermatologist appointment scheduled on the day of the attack.
- New York Yankees infielder Enrique Wilson was originally scheduled to return home to his native Dominican Republic aboard American Airlines Flight 587 on November 12, 2001, which crashed shortly after takeoff and killed a total of 265 people, but because the Yankees had lost the World Series instead of won Wilson had decided to return home a few days earlier.
- A number of First Class passengers cancelled their tickets on the RMS Titanic, including Milton Hershey and Alfred Vanderbilt. Sadly, three years later, Vanderbilt would not be so lucky on the RMS Lusitania when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat.
- Swiss tennis player Marc Rosset was due to board Swissair Flight 111 after his early exit from the 1998 US Open. He decided to stay in New York to train instead whilst an electrical fire caused the plane to crash into the Atlantic off the coast of Nova Scotia, killing all 229 onboard.
- After playing a concert in Alpine Valley, Wisconsin, musician Stevie Ray Vaughan was initially offered three seats aboard a helicopter going from the venue to the hotel in Chicago where he and the rest of the tour group were staying, and offered the other two to his brother Jimmie and Jimmie's wife Connie. When they arrived at the departure point, they were told there had been a mistake and there was actually only one seat available, not three. Stevie Ray was eager to get back to the hotel and Jimmie and Connie didn't want to split up, so they agreed that Stevie Ray would take the seat, while Jimmie and Connie stayed back to wait for a later flight. The helicopter in question crashed into a ski slope just after takeoff, and everyone aboard was killed instantly.
- Adolf Hitler escaped unscathed from assassinations attempts at least twice this way:
- He left a meeting in a beer hall in Munich thirteen minutes before a bomb exploded there. It's been depicted in some works of fiction like 13 Minutes.
- Hitler was in such a position when the Operation Valkyrie bomb exploded at his Rastenburg HQ that the table actually shielded him from the blast. It wasn't due to him moving, rather one of the officers moved the satchel with the bomb elsewhere far from him under the table.
- During World War II, Jon Pertwee was a crewman aboard HMS Hood. He transferred off to undergo officer training right before the ship departed to intercept the German battleship Bismarck. The Bismarck sank the Hood, only three crewmembers survived.
- When Patrick Macnee served in the Royal Navy during World War II, he was hospitalized with bronchitis shortly before D-Day (June 5, 1944), in which he should have taken part. He later found out his torpedo boat was sunk with all hands that day.
- Operation Wooden Leg was an Israeli airstrike on the Palestine Liberation Organization's Tunis headquarters, conducted in retaliation for the murder of Israeli tourists off the coast of Cyprus by pro-Palestinian terrorists. Yasser Arafat survived the attack because he'd decided to go out jogging that morning.
- Soviet vice admiral Rudolf Golosov wanted to delay his return from Moscow to Vladivostok one seemingly ordinary day in 1981 so he could visit his daughter and got permission to do so from his commanding officer Emil Spiridonov at the last minute. This meant he wasn't in a horrific plane crash that wiped out most of the Soviet Pacific Fleet's senior officers.
- On 25 July 2000, two Concorde flights (in the morning and the afternoon) were planned. A French couple had tickets for the afternoon flight, but met a friend who was taking the morning one. To spend more time with her, they exchanged their tickets and took the morning flight too. Later that day, the afternoon flight crashed. The encounter with their friend literally saved the couple's lives.
- The concept of the designated survivor in the American government is an attempt to invoke this just in case: for big events like the State of the Union speech where the whole of Congress is gathered in one place, one person is designated to stay behind in an undisclosed location, so that if a mass-casualty event wipes out the entire rest of the government, a Sole Survivor will remain to take the reins. This practice began during the Cold War for fear of nuclear attack, and is the centerpiece of ABC's Designated Survivor. It's never panned out like this before, but you never know...
- In his autobiography and in a Behind The Music episode, Waylon Jennings relates that he was scheduled to be on the "Winter Dance Party" plane with Buddy Holly, as one of Holly's band members. However, Jennings deliberately gave up his seat to J.P. Richardson, better known as The Big Bopper, because Richardson was ill. Holly, who had chartered the plane for himself and the band, joked "Well, I hope your ol' bus freezes up." Jennings joked back "Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes." Tragically, the plane did crash, killing Holly and everyone else aboard. Jennings was haunted by those words for the rest of his life. The infamous coin flip did occur, but between Holly's other band member Tommy Allsup and Ritchie Valens.