Interesting Facts

Juliane Koepcke: The Teenager Who Fell 10,000 Feet And Trekked The Jungle to survive

In 1971, a high school student was sucked out of an airplane after it was struck by lightning. She fell 10,000 feet to the ground while still strapped to her chair and survived. Only to endure a 9-day trek to the nearest civilization.

The 17-year-old was traveling from Lima, Peru, to Pucallpa, Peru’s eastern city, to see her father, who was working in the Amazonian Rainforest. Juliane Koepcke was born on October 10, 1954, in Lima, Peru. Her parents were both zoologists from Germany who moved to Peru to study wildlife.

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Juliane Koepcke received her high school diploma just 24 hours before the crash..Photo Credit: Youtube

She had just received her high school diploma the day before the flight and planned to follow in her parents’ footsteps and study zoology.

The Crash Of LANSA Flight 508

The flight was supposed to last an hour. It was a smooth ride seated in 19F until the clouds darkened and the turbulence increased.

The plane was suddenly surrounded in a massive thunderstorm. The plane was surrounded in pitch-black clouds at this point, with flashes of lightning glistening through the windows. The plane was shattered when a lightning bolt struck the motor.

Then everything accelerated. “You can only try to reconstruct what really happened in your mind,” Koepcke said. People’s screams and the motor drowned out everything else until she could only hear the wind in her ears.

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Map of the flight path and the crash site. Photo credit: youtube

Juliane Koepcke, still strapped to her seat, had only realized she was free-falling for a few moments before passing out.

She fell down 10,000 feet into the Peruvian rainforest.

Juliane Koepcke Somehow Survives A 10,000 Feet Fall

Juliane Koepcke suffered a broken collarbone and a deep calf gash. But she was still alive. And she’d spend the next 11 days fighting for her life.

When she awoke the next morning, the concussion combined with the shock had limited her ability to process information. She’d made it through a plane crash. She couldn’t see out of one eye very well. She then went back to being unconscious. Koepcke took a half-day to fully recover.

She attempted to locate her mother but was unsuccessful. She discovered after she was rescued that her mother had survived the initial fall but had succumbed to her injuries.

In the midst of looking for her mother, Koepcke had come across a small well.

She was beginning to feel hopeless at this point, but then she remembered her father’s survival advice: if you see water, follow it downstream. “A small stream will flow into a larger one, and then into a larger one, and then into an even larger one, and eventually you’ll run into help.”

So her journey down the stream began. She walked and swam at different times. She came across three fellow passengers still strapped to their seats on the fourth day of her journey. They were all dead, except for one woman. Juliane Koepcke prodded the woman, assuming it was her mother, but it wasn’t. A bag of sweets was among the passengers. It would serve as her only food source for the rest of her days in the forest.

Around this time, Koepcke heard and saw rescue planes and helicopters overhead, but she was unsuccessful in attracting their attention.

The plane crash prompted Peru’s largest search in history, but due to the dense forest, aircraft were unable to spot any wreckage, let alone a single person. She couldn’t hear them after a while and realized she was on her own to find help.

On her ninth day in the jungle, Koepcke came across a hut and decided to rest there, thinking she’d die alone in the jungle. After that, she heard voices. And not just any old voices. Three Peruvian missionaries who lived in the hut owned them.

Juliane Koepcke said, “The first man I saw seemed like an angel.”

The men, on the other hand, were not so happy. They were a little scared of her at first, thinking she might be Yemanjábut, a water spirit they believed in. Nonetheless, they allowed her to stay another night, and the following day, they transported her by boat to a nearby hospital.

Koepcke was reunited with her father after receiving treatment for her injuries. She also assisted authorities in locating the plane, and they were able to locate and identify the crash victims over the course of a few days.

Juliane Koepcke was the only survivor of the 91 people on board.

Because she was interrogated extensively by the air force and police, in addition to being thrown into the public eye, her mourning and grief did not show up until later. Everything that had happened to her, her injuries, and the death of her mother. Juliane Koepcke developed a severe fear of flying and suffered from nightmares for years.

Life After Her Survival Story

In 1980, she went on to study biology at the University of Kiel in Germany, where she earned her doctorate. She returned to Peru to conduct mammalogy research. Juliane Koepcke became Juliane Diller after marrying.

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Juliane Koepcke standing in front of a piece of the plane wreckage over two decades later. Photo credit: youtube

She returned to the crash site in 1998 for the documentary Wings of Hope, which memorialized her incredible story. She sat in seat 19F once more on her flight with director Werner Herzog. The experience was therapeutic for Koepcke.

It was the first time she was able to look at the incident from a distance and, in some ways, gain closure that she hadn’t gotten before. Her remarkable story of survival inspired her to write a memoir, which she titled When I Fell From the Sky

Despite overcoming the trauma of the incident, she was left with one question: why was she the only survivor? It hasn’t left her mind. “It always will.”

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