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August 11, 2023

The Incredible Survival Story of Juliane Koepcke, the Girl Who Fell From the Sky

On December 24, 1971, just one day after she graduated, Juliane Koepcke (born October 10, 1954) flew on LANSA Flight 508. Her mother Maria had wanted to return to Panguana with Koepcke on December 19 or 20 1971, but Koepcke wanted to attend her graduation ceremony in Lima on December 23. Maria agreed that Koepcke could stay longer and instead they scheduled a flight for Christmas Eve. All flights were booked except for one with LANSA. Koepcke’s father, Hans-Wilhelm, urged his wife to avoid flying with the airline due to its poor reputation. Nonetheless, the flight was booked. The plane was struck by lightning mid-flight and began to disintegrate before plummeting to the ground. Koepcke found herself still strapped to her seat, falling 3,000 m (10,000 ft) into the Amazon rainforest.

Koepcke survived the fall but suffered injuries such as a broken collarbone, a deep cut on her right arm, an eye injury, and a concussion. She thexn spent 11 days in the rainforest, most of which were spent making her way through the water. While in the jungle, she dealt with severe insect bites and an infestation of maggots in her wounded arm. After nine days, she was able to find an encampment that had been set up by local fishermen. She gave herself rudimentary first aid, which included pouring gasoline on her arm to force the maggots out of the wound. A few hours later, the returning fishermen found her, gave her proper first aid, and used a canoe to transport her to a more inhabited area. She was soon airlifted to a hospital.

Koepcke’s unlikely survival has been the subject of much speculation. Experts have said that she survived the fall because she was harnessed into her seat, the window seat, which was attached to the two seats to her left as part of a row of three. That was thought to have functioned as a parachute which slowed her fall. The impact may have also been lessened by the updraft from a thunderstorm Koepcke fell through, as well as the thick foliage at her landing site. As many as 14 other passengers were later discovered to have survived the initial crash but died while waiting to be rescued.
“I learned a lot about life in the rainforest, that it wasn’t too dangerous,” she told the BBC in 2012. “It’s not the green hell that the world always thinks.”
After recovering from her injuries, Koepcke assisted search parties in locating the crash site and recovering the bodies of victims. Her mother’s body was discovered on January 12, 1972.

Koepcke returned to her parents’ native Germany, where she fully recovered from her injuries. Like her parents, she studied biology at the University of Kiel and graduated in 1980. She received a doctorate from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and returned to Peru to conduct research in mammalogy, specializing in bats. She published her thesis, “Ecological study of a bat colony in the tropical rain forest of Peru”, in 1987.

In 1989, Koepcke married Erich Diller, a German entomologist who specializes in parasitic wasps. In 2000, following the death of her father, she took over as the director of Panguana. She currently serves as a librarian at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich.

Koepcke’s autobiography Als ich vom Himmel fiel: Wie mir der Dschungel mein Leben zur├╝ckgab (German for When I Fell from the Sky: How the Jungle Gave Me My Life Back) was released in 2011 by Piper Verlag. The book won that year’s Corine Literature Prize. In 2019, the government of Peru made her a Grand Officer of the Order of Merit for Distinguished Services.

1 comment:

  1. 2nd photo is not Juliane. It is Susan Penhaligon in a movie about the incident:




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