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True Story of Survival: Juliane Koepcke Fell Out of an Airplane and Survived Ten days in the Amazon Jungle

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Juliane Koepcke

Juliane Koepcke

It was Christmas Eve in 1971. Juliane Koepcke was anticipating a normal flight when she boarded LANSA Flight 508 with her mother. Koepcke and her mother were flying from Lima, Peru to a city in the eastern part of the country known as Pucallpa. They were going to visit her father. He had a job working in the Amazonian Rainforest. Both of Koepcke's parents were German zoologists. The family had relocated to Peru so the parents could study wildlife. The day before the flight Koepcke had gotten her high school diploma. Her goal was to study zoology like her parents.

Early Life

In 1954, Juliane Koepcke was born in Lima, Peru. Both of her parents worked for the Museum of Natural History in Lima. Her mother was Maria Koepcke and her father was Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke. He was a trained ornithologist. When she was 14, the family moved to Panguana, Peru to set up a research station in the Amazon rainforest. She was considered a jungle child and learned quite a bit about the Amazon rainforest. Educational authorities forced her to go back to Lima to take her school examinations.

Juliane Koepcke and family

Juliane Koepcke and family

Crash

LANSA Flight 508 was scheduled as an hour-long flight. Koepcke was in seat 19F. During the beginning of the flight, it was a smooth ride. Suddenly clouds grew darker, and the turbulence experienced by the plane increased in intensity. The plane was quickly in the middle of a huge thunderstorm. It was flying through fast-moving black clouds and lightning flashes. These flashes were so bright, they lit up the entire inside of the plane. A bolt of lightning struck the plane, and the aircraft broke into pieces. Koepcke was aware of people screaming and seeing the burning motor. The next thing she heard was the sound of wind quickly moving past her ears.

Landing

Koepcke was strapped into her seat. Her seat started to spin around as she descended. Many believe this buffered her crash. When the plane broke apart, it was two miles up in the air. She remembers being on the ground and realizing she had survived the plane crash. Koepcke couldn't see too well out of one of her eyes. It was swollen shut. Shortly after waking up after the crash, she went back into unconsciousness. It was more than a day and a half before Koepck was able to remain awake.

Survival

A gash to her right arm, a broken collar bone, and a right eye swollen shut were her injuries. Koepcke's first thought was to find her mother. She was wearing white sandals and a sleeveless mini-dress. Koepcke is very short-sighted and lost her glasses. She had also lost one shoe but used the one she did have to test the ground in front of her as she walked. After Koepcke left where she had landed, she found a small stream. Koepcke then began to wade through water that was knee-high. She moved downstream. Koepcke found a small well but there were no people around. She was feeling hopeless at this moment. Koepcke remembered a survival principle taught to her by her father. He said always travel down a stream. It will flow into a bigger one and then a bigger one. Eventually, it will lead you to civilization.

Journey Downstream

Moving downstream, Koepcke would sometimes walk and other times she swam. During the fourth day of her journey, she discovered three fellow passengers. All of them were still strapped to their and dead. She found a big bag of candy among the passengers. This would be her only source of food for the rest of her journey. Koepcke heard and saw rescue helicopters and planes above her. Attempts by her to get their attention failed.

Boat

After several days, Koepcke discovered a boat moored near a shelter. The boat had plenty of fuel in its fuel tank. There was also gasoline nearby. Koepcke poured gasoline on her wounds. This removed the maggots from the injury on her arm. She had seen her father do this to remove maggots from a dog's wound. Koepcke said 35 were removed. She didn't want to take the boat because she refused to steal it.

Newspaper article about Juliane Koepcke

Newspaper article about Juliane Koepcke

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Rescue

Near the boat was a hut with a palm leaf roof. After cleaning her wound with the gasoline, Koepcke decided to spend the night in the hut. The next day she heard voices of several men outside the hut. To her, it felt like she was hearing the voices of angels. The men were initially shocked when they saw her. They believed she could be a water goddess. It is a local legend about a person who is part dolphin and part white-skinned blonde woman. Koepcke introduced herself in Spanish. She explained what had happened. The men treated her wounds and gave her something to eat. The next day they took her to civilization. A few days later she saw her father. They could hardly speak and just held one another. Eventually, her mother's body was found. It is believed she initially survived the crash but was hurt so badly, she couldn't move and died a few days later.

Juliane Koepcke recovering after crash

Juliane Koepcke recovering after crash

Recovery

Shortly after being rescued Koepcke went back to Germany where she was able to completely recover from her injuries. She studied biology like her parents and eventually received a doctorate from Ludwig-Maximilian University. Koepcke returned to Peru to perform research specializing in bats. She is now known as Julianne Diller. Koepcke is a librarian at the Bavarian State Zoological Collection in Munich.

Book by Juliane Koepcke

Book by Juliane Koepcke

Koepcke returned to the site of the crash in 1998. She did this as part of a documentary called “Wings of Hope,” which is about the story of her survival. During the filming, they found Koepcke's seat 19F, and she sat in it. Koepcke felt the experience was therapeutic. She believes she can now look at the incident from a distance. It provided her with a sense of closure. She wrote a memoir called “When I Fell From the Sky.” Koepcke still wonders why she was the only survivor. It is a question that will haunt her for the rest of her life.

Sources

New York Times

BBC News

The Famous People

All That's Interesting


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