This Teenager Managed To Survive A Plane Crash And The Amazon Jungles: How Did She Do It?
No matter where you’re from or which language you speak, one thing is certain: we all love a good story. There’s just something about a really interesting, nail-biting-story that fills us up with so much excitement, yet also sends shivers down our spine. Therefore, when we hear or read something which embodies all the elements of a brilliant tale, it really takes our breath away. This is what happened when people learned about the jaw-dropping story of Juliane Koepcke, a 17-year-old girl who somehow evaded what most would consider imminent death: after falling approximately 10,000 feet from the sky into the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest, she was able to come out alive.
The Amazon is a haven for dangerous beasts, poisonous insects, and treacherous terrain: not exactly the place you’d want to be stranded in after a plane crash which left you injured. Still, Juliane Koepcke had the heart of a champion. She bested hunger, thirst, sleep deprivation, and so much more to live to tell the tale. Keep on reading to find out how this teenage girl used courage and bravery to overcome two near-death experiences.
Juliane As A Baby
Born to Hans-Wilhelm and Maria Koepcke in 1954, Juliane Margaret Beate Koepcke was brought into the world on Peruvian soil. Actually, she lived in Peru with her family for her entire life.
Her parents, on the other hand, were not native Peruvians: they were German researchers who relocated to Peru after finishing their graduate studies. It was their hope to conduct extensive research on Neotropical wildlife: sadly, they could have never expected tragedy to befall their beloved little girl 17 years later.
A Normal Childhood
Growing up as an only child in the city of Lima in Peru, Juliane’s childhood was nothing short of typical. With a father as a zoologist and biologist and a mother as a seasoned ornithologist, Juliane was raised in Miraflores, one of the more affluent sectors of Lima.
As she got older, it became clear that Juliane’s interests did not lay far from her parents’ chosen career. She had dreams of becoming a zoologist like her parents and was already taking the necessary academic material leading up to her dream career. Sadly, she could not have expected her life to turn upside-down in just a matter of time. What precipitated the tragedy in Juliane’s life?
A Family Reunion
It all started with what was supposed to have been an innocent family reunion. You see, even if the Koepcke family resided in Peru, they weren’t exactly within arms’ reach of each other. While Juliane and her mom were based in Lima, Peru, her father’s home base was actually Pucallpa, a city located in the east of Peru.
Because the family had not seen each other for an extended period of time, Juliane and her mother decided to fly out to Pucallpa for Christmas in order to be together again. Sweet, right? The entire family was extremely excited about the possibility of being able to see each other again.
Although the family couldn’t wait to be with each other again, there were early signs that something could have gone horribly wrong. Both Juliane and her mom were aware that the airline they were going to use had had a pretty bad streak of accidents. Therefore, they knew that there was some risk involved in flying with that specific company.
However, they decided to grab the bull by the horns and fly with them anyway. They were so anxious and excited about the trip that they decided to take a leap of faith. Sadly for them, they would soon learn that entrusting the airline with their lives was a fatal mistake, a decision which would prove to haunt poor Juliane for the rest of her life.
A Crucial Mistake
Originally, Maria Koepcke had spoken to her daughter about flying out of Lima days before their scheduled flight. It was expected to have left shortly before Christmas day. Juliane, on the other hand, was not having it.
She did not want to travel on the date suggested by her mother. If she had traveled on that date, she would have missed her school dance and her graduation ceremony, both of which were extremely important to her. Juliane could not fathom the idea of not going to the school dance with her classmates, so she managed to convince her mother to travel on a later date, something which she soon learned was a horrible mistake.
Juliane and her mother ended up leaving Lima to head out to see Hans Wilhelm Koepcke in Pucallpa on Christmas Eve: not the ideal date for the two women, especially given that Juliane’s mother had wanted to leave at an earlier date so that they could avoid the Christmas rush.
But Juliane had her way, and on December 24th, 1971, the two boarded a LANSA Airlines Flight 508, destination: Pucallpa.
Unfortunately for the passengers, the flight was delayed. Needless to say, all who were expected to board the flight were extremely nervous and jittery about it not arriving on time. Considering that it was the night before Christmas, the possibility of not being able to celebrate such a festive season with their respective loved-ones did not sit well with the passengers.
The flight was expected to last an hour, so the passengers sat tight and waited for boarding to be announced. Eventually, the group boarded and was en-route to Pucallpa.
Nature Turns Evil
Unfortunately for the passengers on board LANSA Airlines Flight 508, the forces that be weren’t on their side on December 24th, 1971. A little less than half-an-hour into the flight scheduled for Pucallpa, the airplane became the brunt of some adverse weather conditions.
Clouds began to gather, surrounding the plane, engulfing it in sure mishap. In the face of possible doom, would the pilot turn the plane around and hope to fly another day, or will he brace the storm?
The pilot and his crew decided to press onwards through the inclement weather and sinister clouds. Although the crew knew that there were clear risks involved, they were determined to bring the passengers safely to their destination.
It also didn’t help that the passengers were generally ill-at-ease given that the flight didn’t leave on time. Adding another disappointment to these hopeful flyers the day before Christmas wasn’t an option. With that, the pilot charted the plane’s course right through a dangerous thunderstorm.
The Storm Rages On
After flying into the thunderstorm, it became apparent that such a decision probably wasn’t the best. By that time, the plane had ascended to roughly 21,000 feet. As expected when flying through turbulent weather conditions, the plane started rattling, and passengers could feel their seats trembling in place. However, the passengers were relatively calm as this was expected.
What they did not expect was for the rattling to become even more intense, nor for the plane to be tossed to-and-fro in the wind. Understandably so, the passengers screamed, but that only added to the confusion and fear. Meanwhile, by this time, luggage and other items placed in the overhead bins floated out and into the aisle of the plane. It was mayhem on board: but that wasn’t the worst part.
As the storm raged on, the pilot and his crew struggled to keep control of the vessel. While the passengers knew that they were in for a rather rocky, turbulent plane-ride, none of them could have predicted the worst.
Suddenly, lightning struck one of the plane’s fuel tanks. Consequently, not only was the right wing completely destroyed but to make matters worse, the tank caught on fire. The plane couldn’t endure any more damage or torture: it began to freefall nearly 21,000 feet above the ground, plummeting straight for Earth.
They Were In For The Worst
The worst was about to happen. Descending rapidly from the sky with a pilot and crew incapable of controlling the aircraft, all hope was gone. Sensing that death was imminent, Maria leaned over to her daughter and spoke these words: “This is it.”
As saddening a phrase as that is to say to your child, she was right: all hope was lost, and there was no chance of survival. The guttural siren of the engine drowned out the helpless cries of the passengers spiraling to meet their doom.
With no warning or due notice, the entire crew on board the cabin lurched forward and the plane made its quick drop back to Earth. Suddenly, Juliane could have heard absolutely no sound on board the aircraft. Then, the unbelievable happened: the plane started to disintegrate midway through the air, causing Juliane along with everyone else in her row to be forcefully ejected out of the plane.
Immediately, Juliane began her freefall descent to the Earth for about two miles. As she fell, she was able to behold the great, natural beauty of the Peruvian Amazon in all its splendor. Granted, this wasn’t the ideal time to be basking in the beauty of nature, but every cloud has a silver lining, right? Sadly, she could not enjoy the view for too long, as the sudden shift in altitude caused her and her companions to go unconscious as they pummeled to the ground.
A Ray Of Hope
The plane began to self-destruct in midair, expelling the companions on board and sending them to their doom. Neither Juliane nor the other passengers could have followed the events as they unfolded: they were subjected to nature’s play. Somehow, Juliane, despite falling for about two miles into the Amazon, was able to survive the fall. Exactly how she did, we don’t know.
Many presume that the Amazon’s dense shrubbery and forests cushioned the blow for Juliane, easing her descent and sparing her life. Still, the fact that she was able to survive such a fall is incredible and unbelievable. The only person who would have known for sure is Juliane, but she was unconscious when she landed. What’s more, she stayed unconscious for several hours until she woke up the next day laying on the Amazon floor.
Juliane Made It
Luck was definitely on Juliane’s side on December 24th, 1971. She was able to survive a fall from the sky straight to Earth. That said, she didn’t come out unscathed. While she had her life, she inherited a few injuries from the ordeal: fractures, open wounds which were cut too deep from God-knows-what; you name it. Her right eye swelled up so much because of the change in air pressure from being expelled from the plane that she couldn’t open it.
In an effort to gauge her surroundings and get a general sense as to what was going on, Juliane attempted to rise from what had been her resting place for the last few hours: the forest floor. However, her body wasn’t ready to begin the long, arduous journey of escaping the forest just yet. Her concussion sent her right back to her unconscious state. She was able to regain consciousness after a while, and after another day, she was finally able to stand on her own two feet. However, the journey had just begun.
Needless to say, as soon as Juliane got a sense of where she was and what happened, the first thing that occupied her mind was the whereabouts of her mother. Was she alive? If so, how badly injured was she? Was she safe? Thoughts began to flood poor Juliane’s mind. She was set on finding her mother. She called her name in the thick forest-bush hoping to get a response: none came.
To make matters worse, looking for her wasn’t a walk in the park: Juliane couldn’t find her glasses after the crash. What’s more, she was injured, could barely walk, and had only had one shoe. She had no idea what dangers could have been lurking for her in the Amazons. Still, she persevered: propelled by her desire to find her mother, she devised an ingeniously creative way to secure her safety.
Wounded and hurt, Juliane still managed to come up with a brilliant way to maneuver in the forest. As she walked in the jungle, she would toss her shoe out in front of her. Her belief was that as the shoe landed with a thud, the sound it made would frighten any snakes or harmful creatures lurking in the forests.
Given that she didn’t have her glasses with her, her vision was extremely poor. Thankfully, her quick-thinking managed to keep her away from danger for the moment. With her new strategy implemented, Juliane searched high-and-low for her beloved mother. Sadly, she could not find her mother. Not even the other passengers who were on board the plane. Doubt and hopelessness began to flood poor Juliane’s mind.
Keeping The Faith
For an entire day, she combed the woody forests of the Peruvian Amazon in search of her mother. Although she was unable to find her, the constant walking jogged her mind and stamina: she was finally recovering some of her senses from the unfortunate crash.
The possibility of her never finding her mother began to hover over Juliane’s head like a dark cloud. Nonetheless, she tried to keep her spirits alive and to at least try to save herself. Thanks to her adrenaline and sheer shock from being in an accident, Juliane’s body began to go into survival mode. However, that wasn’t the only thing going for Juliane.
Luckily for Juliane, experience played a huge part in securing her survival in the Amazon. When she was younger, Juliane had enrolled in a few survival training classes. Surely, while she may have appreciated the life lesson, she would have never expected to have to put what she learned theoretically into a practical situation!
Even more bizarre is the fact that some odd years before the plane crash, Juliane was with her parents in the jungle not too far from where she currently found herself. Coincidence? I think not. Juliane knew a thing or two about survival. However, there was a major factor which hindered her severely.
She Had Nothing
One of Juliane’s major setbacks was the fact that she had had nothing but the clothes she had been wearing. Juliane had no weapons, no food, no inventory, no nothing. How was she going to make it on her own with not even a basic tool to help ease her burden?
Perhaps if she had a lighter, she might have been able to start a fire with the hope that the smoke emitting from the flames would be a Mayday distress call to anyone who would have seen it. Sadly, she had nothing. And that’s not all.
The Amazon Has Eyes
We all know that the Amazon is home to some of the world’s richest, coolest, and most diverse plant and animal species. People from all over the world take organized tours to experience the wonders of such a magical place. Unfortunately for Juliane, she was not blessed with the luxury of an experienced tour guide who knew the ins-and-outs of the Amazon. She was alone, exposed to the elements and to the animals which lived there.
For some reason, the animals she met within the Amazon did not fear her. They did not flee upon seeing her, nor did they flinch. Juliane was scared that there would have been no civilization or settlement close-by. Nonetheless, she continued marching onwards, unaware of the fact that predators were stalking her in the distance.
A Tasty Meal
As much as Juliane tried to keep a calm disposition and not let the dangers and fears of being in the Amazon get to her, she could not shrug off the fact that she wasn’t alone. It wasn’t so much the wild animals which bothered her: the insects were the real pests. The flying and crawling creatures of the Peruvian Amazon were relentless in their torture of poor Juliane.
She couldn’t rest for one moment without being swarmed by them. As a result, sleeping was a huge challenge for her. Mosquitos and other bloodsuckers were drawn to her like a moth to a flame, her unhealed, bloody wounds being a natural attraction for them. Still, she kept on walking, determined to leave this hell-hole and find civilization. Then, she made a shocking discovery.
She Found Humans
For days, Juliane had not seen any sign of life. Although she hadn’t quite given up on finding her mother, she was all but dejected. However, after walking extensively, she stumbled upon a saddening discovery.
Juliane ended up finding a piece of the plane’s wreckage, but not what she was hoping for exactly. The wreckage she found was a row of seats from the fallen plane. Unfortunately, the passengers who were found by Juliane in that row of seats did not have her luck in surviving.
There’s A Silver Lining
While it’s extremely difficult to find positivity in the face of several tragic deaths, perspective can be a hell of a thing. Luckily for Juliane, the wreckage didn’t only leave dead bodies in its wake. Thankfully, she was able to salvage a bag of lollipops which she found near the wreckage dump.
She had also stumbled upon a Christmas cake, but unfortunately for her, it got mixed in heavily with mud so much so that she couldn’t ingest it. Although eating a bag of lollipops isn’t the number-one-meal recommended by nutritionists, at least Juliane was able to get something in her stomach to keep her going. How much more time would she have to wait for her to secure her next meal?
Blessings Come In Twos
Despite the tragic discovery of her fellow passengers’ death, at least Juliane was able to find something to munch on to keep her going.
But that’s not all: the forces that be were so gracious as to grant Juliane a second blessing. Relatively close to the row of seats discovered by Juliane, she uncovered a gem which would be crucial to her survival.
Follow The Drinking Gourd
Very near to the wreckage, Juliane managed to find a source of water. She stumbled upon a small, almost minuscule stream of water flowing onto a stone. Well, more like she heard the water. Whatever the case, she was able to follow the sound of the water splashing on the rock to discover its location.
She couldn’t rely on her eyesight given that her vision was blurry. For Juliane, this discovery was a gem. Not only did it mean that she could drink water, but it also meant something even more important: something which, thankfully, she learned in her survival skills crash-course.
The Answer Lays In The Water
Many, many years prior to the unfortunate airplane crash, when Juliane was a child, her father taught her about the importance of water when you’re lost. He relayed to her a story which stayed with her for the rest of her life. Apparently, there was a US-American expedition team conducting research in the Peruvian Amazon jungles.
In that group, a man got seriously injured, and the unit needed to make its way back to civilization. Somehow, the team found a source of water which they followed until eventually, they ended up at the research station where Juliane’s parents worked.
Stay Close To The Water
Given that she had found a body of water, albeit tiny, Juliane knew what she must do. The source of that tiny stream of water is probably a larger creek or stream. While she wasn’t entirely sure, she hoped that discovering that larger body of water would eventually lead her to the sea: after all, all rivers flow into the sea, right?
If not, considering that many Peruvians use rivers as a means of transportation, somewhere in the back of her mind she thought that she might even meet up with a village or tribe who could help her. With no hope left and virtually no options from which to choose, Juliane stayed steadfast to the water as she trekked on.
Relying On Faith
Although Juliane’s quick-thinking creative skills got her through the Amazon relatively unscathed, it was remembering her father’s advice about following the water to its source which saved Juliane’s neck. She traced the tiny flow of water to its source: it just so happened that it ended up flowing right into one of the major tributaries in the entire Amazon.
Upon arriving at that major river, Juliane was able to trudge through the river’s waters, albeit they got all the way up to her waist. Nonetheless, she searched for any sign of civilization that she could find. Still, Juliane wasn’t out of the woods just yet.
Monsters Are Everywhere
Juliane was very much aware of the fact that the Amazon’s waters are nothing in which you should be taking a casual swim. The waters are home to several dangerous predators which could kill her if she’s not careful.
Being the resourceful and intelligent girl that she is, Juliane found a stick which she used to unsettle the waters before she took any further steps. She knew that there were eels and stingrays (among other things) in the water which, if given the opportunity, could do a pretty big number on her. Still, there was worse to fear.
One of Juliane’s biggest fears while wading in the water was that her open wounds would attract piranhas eager for a meal. Out of all the Amazon river’s most dangerous predators, piranhas definitely rank high up that list, and they were not creatures which Juliane would have wanted anywhere near her.
Luckily for Juliane, the river’s currents were too strong for the piranhas to properly organize an attack against her. Thankfully, she was spared for now. She kept on pushing, walking through mud, water and everything in between in the hopes of finding civilization. She drank river water and consumed the few lollipops she had left to keep her going. Little did she know that the worst wasn’t over just yet.
Julian was determined to get out of the Amazon safely. She continued wading through the dangerous waters of the Amazon clinging to hope and faith. She believed that she would find a way back to civilization somehow. Along the way, she encountered some reptiles which she would rather not have seen. She saw crocodiles slipping into the rivers’ waters from the banks.
Anyone would have been petrified to know that crocodiles were within a hair’s breadth of their skin in murky waters, but not Juliane. She was aware that crocodiles, at least in the Amazon, aren’t known to attack humans. While she didn’t exactly want to prove this hypothesis, she relied on her gut feeling and kept trudging. She eventually hit a goldmine!
The Journey Takes Its Toll
By now, Juliane had been wandering around the vast jungles of the Peruvian Amazon for well over a week. She was still in pain from her injuries and open wounds for which she had not been able to treat with proper care since the accident. Thankfully, she was smart enough to cover her open, bloody wounds with leaves so that mosquitos wouldn’t keep targeting her.
For Juliane, it had been a stressful, physically and emotionally exhausting 10 days. She desperately wanted to find a way back home, to hope that what she was experiencing was all a hopeless dream. Unfortunately, it wasn’t: Juliane had to accept it. Just when she was at another low point, hope showed up on her door.
Was She Dreaming?
Juliane ended up stumbling upon a boat. Can you imagine her luck? First, she managed to survive a fall from as high up as two miles. Then, she’s able to find a source of sustenance to keep her going for the few days. Now, she’s found a boat! However, because of the extended period of time which Juliane spent in the Amazon, by this point, she began to hallucinate.
Was she really seeing a boat? Could she have really found a way out of the Amazon? Juliane could have taken the boat and sailed out of the Amazon in search of a nearby community. She didn’t: she opted to use some of the boat’s gasoline to clean out her open wounds. However, this wasn’t the highlight for Juliane: as she approached the boat, she was greeted with yet another discovery.
Juliane found a hut! Finally, she was able to secure a proper place to rest her body and plan for the future days. That wasn’t the only thing on Juliane’s mind: where there’s a hut, there might also be people! What an opportune time to find both a boat and a hut. Juliane was quickly losing stamina and her poor diet was beginning to make her extremely sluggish.
She attempted to catch some frogs to eat them, however, her weak body couldn’t match the speed of her prey, and thankfully so. Juliane wasn’t aware of this at the time, but the frogs she tried to catch were, in fact, lethal poison-dart frogs. With nowhere to turn to, she retreated to the hut where she fell asleep. She feared that she would have died there: little did she know, hope was on the way.
Saved At Last
After eleven long, arduous, perilous days stuck in the Amazon, Juliane was finally saved. In the morning, it just so happened that three Peruvian-Indians came across her body in their hut. They were lumber workers in the area. But that wasn’t the least shocking thing to them.
Historically, in native-Peruvian tribes, it was believed that water spirits lived in the waters of the river. These spirits were described as having blonde hair and pale skin, befitting Juliane’s description. After introducing herself to the tribe in Spanish, they willingly took her with them in their boat, eventually bringing her to a village relatively closeby which had radio and airfield.
A Sad Encounter
Juliane’s hopes of surviving the Amazon were finally becoming a reality. When she got to the village, she was quickly transported to Pucallpa, this time, safely. Upon her arrival, she was finally able to be reunited with her father who had been desperately trying to get a hold of his wife and daughter after hearing about the tragic plane crash.
By this time, the father and daughter had already had a very, very rough start to their 1972, and it was about to get even worse.
A Loss In The Family
After Juliane was taken to the hospital to formally treat her wounds and injuries, attention was then refocused to another crucial bit of information which she and her father had to find out: what happened to Juliane’s mother? Based on the information which Juliane was able to provide, rescue workers pinpointed the exact spot of the plane’s crash and were also able to locate the bodies of the passengers who were on board.
Sadly, when the rescue mission commenced, it soon became clear that there was no hope left. Juliane’s mother had died in the crash: she, along with all of the other 91 passengers all met their end in the crash. Juliane was the only passenger to have survived the tragedy. Her family would no longer be the same due to the unfortunate passing of her mom. How did Juliane deal with such a traumatic experience?
Juliane was the lone survivor of one of the most tragic accidents in the history of airplane accidents: in fact, the accident is considered to be the worst lightning-related incident to ever occur.
How did she move on knowing that her mother wouldn’t be by her side? Just how would she deal with the pain caused by her mother’s loss? Not only that, the psychological trauma of experiencing and living through what she had to do cannot be qualified in words. How was she going to keep living?
One Day At A Time
The road to recovery wasn’t easy for Juliane. After several months of being tormented by nightmares, the guilt of surviving such an ordeal, and the loss of her mother, she was finally able to regain some of her sanity.
As people got a hold of her story, she turned into a celebrity (so to speak). She got a lot of mail from fans praising her skills and showing her loads of support. She eventually went to Germany to study mammology. She also became an author, writing an autobiography titled “When I Fell From The Sky,” which went on to win an award. Currently, Juliane is married and works at a research institute in Munich. She has her life, and for that, she is thankful.