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The story of Juliane Koepcke who survived a plane crash and the Amazon jungle

In 1971, 17-year-old Juliane Koepcke boarded a plane destined for Christmas with her mother. Their journey took a tragic turn when lightning struck the aircraft, causing it to disintegrate mid-flight. Juliane, still strapped to her seat, plummeted 2 miles into the dense Amazon rainforest. Miraculously, she survived the fall, sustaining injuries like a broken collarbone and deep gash on her arm. This is her story.

Juliane Koepcke was flying over the Peruvian rainforest with her mother on Christmas Eve 1971 when their plane was hit by lightning and disintegrated in mid-air. She was the only survivor of the 92 passengers and crew on board LANSA Flight 508. She fell nearly 10,000 feet, still strapped to her seat, and landed in the dense jungle. She had a broken collarbone, a gash on her leg, and a ruptured knee ligament, but she was alive.

 



Photo of Juliane Koepcke at the crash site


She had spent most of her childhood in the rainforest, where her parents were zoologists who ran a research station. She knew how to survive in the wild and what dangers to avoid. She decided to follow a stream, hoping it would lead her to a river and then to a village. She had no food, no shoes, and no tools, but she had a determination to live.

 

For 11 days, she walked through the jungle, enduring hunger, thirst, pain, and loneliness. She faced threats from piranhas, crocodiles, snakes, and insects. She suffered from sunburn, infection, and maggots in her wounds. She hallucinated about her mother, who had died in the crash, and wondered if anyone was looking for her.




Cover of Juliane Koepcke's book: "When I Fell from the Sky: The True Story of One Woman's Miraculous Survival"

 

On the tenth day, she found a small boat moored near a shelter. She waited there, hoping someone would come. The next day, she heard the sound of an engine and saw three men approaching. They were lumberjacks who worked in the area. They were shocked to see her, but they quickly took care of her. They gave her food and water, cleaned her wounds, and took her to a nearby village. From there, she was flown to a hospital in the city of Pucallpa, where she was reunited with her father.

After recovering from her injuries, Koepcke assisted search parties in locating the crash site and recovering the bodies of the victims. Her mother's body was discovered on 12 January 1972."




Werner Herzog and Juliane Koepcke during filming the documentary 'Wings of Hope' in 1998


Juliane’s story of survival amazed the world. She later wrote a book about her ordeal, called When I Fell From the Sky. She also became a zoologist like her parents and returned to the rainforest to study wildlife. She said she never lost her love for the jungle, even after everything she had been through. She said: “The jungle is my home.”

Koepcke's story is also depicted by herself in German filmmaker Werner Herzog's documentary, "Wings of Hope" (1998). Herzog had a personal connection as he was initially scheduled to be on the same flight while scouting locations for his film "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (1972). However, a last-minute change of plans spared him from the crash.

 

 

 

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