Imagine being an alone survivor in a plane crash and in Amazon Rainforest. The horror of losing everything within a minute, after light hits your airplane. Juliane Koepcke as a teenager in 1971, was the lone survivor of the LANSA Flight 508 plane crash and then survived 11 days alone in the Amazon Rainforest.
On Christmas eve of 1971, an airplane departed from Lima, Peru and on its the way the plane was struck by lightning which broke the plane apart mid-air. The accident killed every person on the board, except one, a teenage girl named Juliane Koepcke. Juliane now not only had to suffer the loss of her mother but also have to survive on her own in the Amazon Rainforest. Everything was against her but she survived, the Journey of Juliane Koepcke and her surviving in the rainforest for 11 days.
Although Juliane was born to German parents Maria and Hans-Wihelm on October 10, 1954, in Peru. Her parents worked for the Museum of Natural History in Lima, Peru. When Juliane turned 14 her parents decided to leave the city and set up Panguana Ecological Research station in the Amazon Rainforest. Little did she knew that three years later, the decision of her parents to homeschool her would save her life.
Juliane was homeschooled and accompanied her parents on research trips where she learned about the plants, animals, and insects. She also learned various ways to survive in the rainforest. Her research came to an end when Educational authorities disapproved of her staying there. She returned to Lima to finish high school.
On Christmas eve of 1971, her mother came to meet her and together they would fly to visit her father for Christmas. Her mother wanted to leave sooner but due to Juliane’s school dance and graduation ceremony, they decided to leave on Christmas eve.
Traveling around the festival is quite difficult as all the tickets are booked, the same happened with Juliane and her mother. With all the flights booked they managed to find one with Lineas Aereas Nacionales Sociedad Aninima–LANSA. However, the airline had a poor safety record and Hans-Wilhelm had previously urged Maria(Juliane’s mother) to avoid the flight.
Around noon on December 24, LANSA domestic passenger flight 508 departed Lima’s Jorge Chavez International Airport for Iquitos Peru. There was no problem until the plane reached halfway to the destination but the Lockheed L-188A Electra Turboprop aircraft which was traveling at about 21,000 feet was struck by lightning in a thunderstorm. Juliane remembers Maria saying “That is the end, it’s all over.” Sadly those were the last words she would her mother speak.
At 10,000 feet the plane broke apart and disintegrated. Juliane was still strapped into her airplane seat, she lost consciousness only to lost it again as she freefell to the ground. She woke up in the Amazon Rainforest; wet, muddy and alone the next morning and her neck, shoulder and ankle were bruised. Her right eye was swollen shut. During the fall she lost her glasses, she was near-sighted
Surviving Amazon Rainforest
Juliane woke up at 9 A.M., feeling dizzy again, searched for their mother, but only the voices of Jungle answered her. She tried finding others but only she managed to survive the fall. She heard planed overhead searching for the wreck, but due to the dense tree canopy couldn’t see them.
The only way she will be visible to the rescuers is that she needs to get somewhere wide open so that they can see her. She headed to the rainforest, using her only shoe remeaning she found her way ahead. She would throw the shoe ahead in order to check out if there is no camouflage snake and other insects are present if they are she doesn’t want to step on them. She would reach for her shoe and do the same again through her way.
The only thing edible she found from the crash was a bag of candy and that was it, just a bag of candy and she licked water from tree leaves when thirsty. In order to find civilization, Juliane found a small creek and followed it, as it would lead to a river which can lead to civilization.
Juliane Koepcke followed the trickle which grew into a stream. Other than candy she had nothing to eat and since it was rainy season there was no fruit to pick to. Juliane knew from her trip with her parents that most of the plants in the forest are poisonous.
It would rain the whole day and with the temperature drop at the night Juliane cowered under bushes, curled up, shivering in her mini dress which she was wearing at the time of the crash. The wounds on her arm would turn a place for flies to lay eggs. She squeezed them but nothing happened which troubled her into thinking that she might lose her arm.
Walking along she spotted King Vulture and suspected that there were more dead bodies as she approached near three passengers were buried 2 feet deep into the ground attached to their seats.
On December 28th her watch stopped and she got confused later counting the days, but a few days later she found a ray of hope when she heads the call of a hoatzin, a subtropical bird that lives near the water. Juliane thought that people would be settled by the water. She followed the sound picking up her face and finally, Juliane made her way to the bank of a large river. But there were no humans.
At night she huddles on the riverbanks, restlessly dozing, her cuts and scrapes infected. The last piece of candy was eaten 2two days ago now she would drink water to keep her stomach full. Juliane felt something sharp in her back when she checked her hand came bloody. Turned out that the sun had severely burned her back as she swam.
With no food eaten over in days, Juliane Koepcke suffered hallucinations, sometimes she saw the roof of a house or heard chickens clucking. Each day it got harder to get into the cold water and swim. She somehow managed to travel with the help of logs in the water.
She was exhausted after traveling the whole day on the logs and swam to shore where she dozed off on a gravel bank. She woke to an amazing sight: a boat but refuse to stole the boat and went ahead where she found a tiny hut with a palm leaf roof. There was no one there but she found a liter of gasoline.
She poured the gasoline on her wounds as she remembered her father doing the same to cure a dog of warms. The gasoline hurt her but was able to get out the germs inside her wounds. She saw a hut and went there to rest.
After resting a day it started raining so she thought of resting one more day and then she heard voices in the evening and thought it was her imagination. But for a single time, this was not her imagination, and three lumberjacks came out of the forest who gave her food and healed her. The next morning they took her to a lumbar station.
From the lumbar station, a local pilot flew her to a hospital in Pucallpa. Julianelate came to know that her collarbone was actually broken, she had torn ACL and partially fractured her shin. She reunited with her father in the hospital. Later the police and sir force interviewed her in order to get information about the crash.
The LANSA flight 508 crash killed 91 people; which included 6 crew members and 85 of it’s 86 passengers. She was the only one to escape death.
Juliane Koepcke was hailed as the Miracle Girl and people sent her letters from all over the world.
Juliane Koepcke and her father moved to Germany where she recovered fully, she continued studying zoology like her parents and got a Ph.D. Famed director Werner Herzog made a documentary about Juliane Kopecke’s ordeal. He located the crash site and filmed Juliane retracing some of her steps. In 2011, Juliane published her autobiography.