Lightening strucks plane

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

The plane carrying Juliane Koepcke crashed in dense rainforests but the survival techniques learned, a few years ago, saved her life…

The acquaintance of Juliane Koepcke with the jungle life

Juliane Koepcke was born on October 10, 1954, in Lima, Peru, as 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. Her parents taught her how to survive in the jungle. These survival techniques later helped her escape from the jungle, after the accident, 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 lightning struck the plane and it 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 plane crash in Amazon and the 3 km. fall

The plane broke up 3.2 kilometres above the ground and the accident threw all the passengers into the air. Koepcke, still strapped onto her seat started falling freely whirling in the air seeing the jungle approaching below. She fell down to the ground, but her seat and the thick foliage at her landing site buffered the crash.

She had a broken collarbone, a gash to her left leg and to her right arm, and her right eye swelled shut. After regaining consciousness the next day, she started finding her mother, sitting next to her in the plane, but her search proved unsuccessful.

Juliane Koepcke, just 17 and 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 survival 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 she remembered her father’s words 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 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 could attack her, so she remained midstream. By this time, the maggots infested her arms’ wound.

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. She remembered her father did 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 wanted to leave with the boat but stayed there as she didn’t wanted to steal it. The next morning, a small group of local fishermen arrived and brought her to their village. The following day, a local pilot volunteered to fly her to a hospital in Pucallpa, where later she reunited with her father. 

Juliane Koepcke 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. The search party discoverd her mother’s body 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 came about her miraculous escape named “Miracles still Happen“.

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