17 year-old Juliane Koepcke was sucked out of an airplane in 1971 after it was struck by a bolt of lightning. She fell 2 miles to the ground, strapped to her seat and survived after she endured 10 days in the Amazon Jungle!
And she was able to walk away.
How have I never heard about this story before?
In case you haven’t:
On December 24, 1971, Koepcke and her mother were traveling from Lima, Peru to Pucallpa, Peru, the city with an airport closest to Panguana, to visit their family. Things were going well on the flight until they flew into a thunderstorm. The plane was struck by lightning and started going down. Koepcke said she only remembers the “quiet” free fall into the Peruvian jungle before she passed out as she entered the trees.
Koepcke only suffered a broken collar bone. She was discovered by a team of loggers on January 3, 1972. She’d been in the rain forest for 11 days.
How did she manage to survive the crash at all?
She was the sole survivor among 91 other people on the plane.
Let’s take a closer look at an amazing story you probably never heard about.
The Ill-fated Flight:
On Christmas Eve of 1971, 17-year-old Juliane Koepcke boarded LANSA (Líneas Aéreas Nacionales S. A., translated “The South American National Airlines”) Flight 508 at the Lima Airport in Peru with her mother, Maria. The two were traveling to the research area named Panguana after having attended Juliane’s graduation ball, in Lima, on what would have only been an hour-long flight.
They had only been flying in the Lockheed Electra L-188A commercial plane for about 30 minutes when they flew through a sudden and violent storm. The plane was struck by lightening and in an instant began to break apart, at which point Juliane heard her mother declare calmly, “Now it’s all over.”
Amelia Earhart disappeared in a Lockheed Electra as well, although it was an earlier model and also a different model.
Passengers were sent falling from the plane two miles above the Peruvian Amazon rain forest.
Juliane was strapped to her seat and was catapulted from the plane, spiraling through the air, until she hit the jungle canopy, with the other two seats in her row still attached. The dense forest obviously played no small part in making her landing survivable.
The Incredible Trek:
Before Koepcke hit the ground she had lost consciousness. She awoke to a concussion, a broken collarbone, and cuts on her arms and legs. Miraculously, she was still able to walk and attempted to look for her mother and for other survivors, but with no luck.
Armed with a bag of sweets from the plane, Koepcke found a stream and followed it, reminded of her biologist father’s advice that it would always lead to a larger river and to people.
She then followed the call of the Hoatzin bird, which is found mainly near open waters, a fact she learned from her ornithologist mother, having grown up in the jungle in a hut on her parents’ research facility.
For 10 days she traveled through the jungle, often floating in the middle of the stream to avoid piranhas. Upon reaching a logging camp, Koepcke found some gasoline and used it to clean the wound on her arm, which by this point had become infected with maggots. The gasoline trick was another she had learned from her father. In another lucky turn, Koepcke was found unconscious by loggers that same day, as they rarely visited the camp.
It seems unlikely that most people would have been able to survive the ordeal. But, Koepcke, with her unique childhood experiences, had the skills to make her way through the Amazon. Many visitors have lost their lives in the jungle due to the overwhelming heat, the sheer number of insects, and all of the dangerous animals.
A young Juliane with her mother.
Now a librarian of zoology who has studied bats, Koepcke has written a book about her harrowing experience, “When I Fell from the Sky: The True Story of One Woman’s Miraculous Survival.”
There have been two films made about her as well.
Panguana research hut where Juliane spent most of her life until the accident. Via/ Wiki Commons
Years later Koepcke would be interviewed and filmed for the film “Wings of Hope” by Werner Herzog, a filmmaker who avoided dying in the same crash that Koepcke managed to survive. Herzog had tried to book a seat on the doomed Flight 508, but had been (fortunately) unsuccessful in doing so.
Amazing…, amazing…, amazing…, and amazing.
From an article by Rose Heichelbech.
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