Lightening strucks plane

How she survived 3 km. free fall & 11 days in dense forests

Her plane crashed in dense rainforests but the survival techniques learned, a few years ago, saved her life…

Juliane Koepcke’s acquaintance with the jungle life

Juliane Koepcke was born on October 10, 1954, in Lima, Peru. She was the only child of biologist Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke and ornithologist Maria Koepcke. When Juliane was 14, her parents left Lima to establish Panguana, a research station in the Amazon rainforest.

During this period of one and a half years, she became familiar with jungle life. She got training from her parents about survival techniques, which later helped her escape from the jungle on her own!

The Doomed LANSA Flight 508 from Lima to Pucallpa

In 1971, when Koepcke was in high school, her mother Maria booked the doomed LANSA Flight 508 from Lima to Pucallpa on Christmas Eve. Maria,s husband Hans-Wilhelm urged her to avoid flying with this airline, which had a poor reputation with 2 recent accidents. But she booked the flight, nonetheless as all other flights were already booked.

The plane took off and everything was going fine but suddenly a severe thunderstorm started. The plane was struck by lightning and broke up in mid-air. Koepcke just 17 years old at that time recalls “I saw a very bright light on the outer engine on the left“. My mother said very calmly: “That is the end, it’s all over.” Those were the last words I ever heard from her.

Juliane survived the plane crash and 3 km. fall

The plane broke up 3.2 kilometres above the ground and passengers were thrown into the air. Koepcke, still strapped onto her seat started falling freely whirling in the air seeing the jungle approaching below. She survived the fall to earth, as the seat buffered the crash and also because of the thick foliage at her landing site.

She had a broken collarbone, a gash to her left leg and to her right arm, and her right eye was swollen shut. After regaining consciousness the next day, her first priority was to find her mother, who had been seated next to her but her search proved unsuccessful.

Koepcke, just 17 and all alone in dense forests for 11 days

She found that her injuries were not very severe and she could walk but now her main problem was coming out of dense Peruvian rain forests. At this time her childhood training with her parents, of surviving in the jungle, proved useful.  She found some sweet packets from the plane wreckage on which she survived for many days. Koepcke waded downstream through knee-high water, as her father had taught her that tracking downstream should eventually lead to civilization.

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She saw alligators but knew they seldom attacked humans. After 3-4 days vultures had started arriving as there were human bodies around, luckily she didn’t encounter snakes & spiders. She kept walking in streams to avoid poisonous plants on the jungle floor. However, she knew that in shallow water Piranha attack was a threat so she remained midstream. A wound in her arm got infested with maggots.

Juliane Koepcke
Juliane Koepcke (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

After ten days, she found a boat moored near a small shelter but nobody was nearby. She poured gasoline from the fuel tank on her wounds to clear them of maggots as she had seen his father doing this with his dog with a similar wound filled with maggots. Then she spent the night in the shelter taking out maggots from the wound.

Koepcke said: “I remained there but I wanted to leave. I didn’t want to take the boat because I didn’t want to steal it”. The next morning, a small group of local fishermen discovered her and brought her to their village. The following day, a local pilot volunteered to fly her to a hospital in Pucallpa, where she was reunited with her father. 

Koepcke’s search for her mother in a dense forest

After getting medical aid, Koepcke assisted search parties in locating the crash site and recovering the bodies of the victims. She wanted to find her mother. Her mother’s body was discovered on 12 January 1972, she also initially survived the crash, but died of her injuries several days later.

Later she moved to Germany, where she fully recovered from the injuries. She returned to Peru to conduct research in mammalogy, specializing in bats. Koepcke published her thesis, Ecological study of a bat colony in the tropical rain forest of Peru, in 1987. 

In 1974 a movie was also made about her miraculous escape named “Miracles still happen“.

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