Juliane Koepcke The girl who fell from the airplane

Do you believe you’ve ever had a bad fall? Wait until you hear Juliane Koepcke’s story. Not only did she once fall from a height of 10,000 feet, but she also survived 11 days in the jungle before being rescued. It all began on Christmas Eve, 1971, during a fateful flight.

Juliane Koepcke was only 17 years old when she had her near-death experience. Juliane was technically a German citizen, but she was born and raised in Lima, Peru, where she led a typical high school life. Juliane and her family were no strangers to travel, as both of her parents were scientists who had established a research station in the Peruvian jungle. Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke, her father, was a biologist who at the time was working in the city of Pucallpa. With Christmas approaching, Juliane and her mother decided to take a flight from Lima to the Amazon jungle in order to celebrate the holiday with him.

Absolutely terrible Christmas Eve

Juliane later revealed the tragic news that her mother had wanted to fly down a few days earlier but had been talked into flying out on Christmas Eve. There were good reasons for Juliane to want to delay the flight, despite the fact that she would come to regret her choice. That was especially true when you consider that she had no idea how disastrously wrong the plan would turn out to be. You see, she had two important events to attend in the two days prior to Christmas Eve: her senior prom and graduation. Since both of these events meant a lot to Juliane, her mother agreed that Christmas Eve was as good a day as any to go on a trip.

Certainly, the initial 30 minutes of LANSA Flight 508 were uneventful. As usual, Juliane took her usual window seat, and the stewardesses began passing around mediocre airline sandwiches. The plane flew straight into a storm, and disaster quickly ensued. Storm clouds rolled in quickly, blocking out the sun, and then lightning struck repeatedly in every direction. This is when the turbulence on the plane reached new heights, and passengers started freaking out as their belongings flew out of the overhead compartments and sandwiches went flying everywhere.

This was the turning point

Then the time came that would forever alter Juliane’s life. In her own words, she describes seeing “a blinding white light over the right wing.” I can’t tell if that was a lightning strike or an explosion. Time has no meaning to me. The plane starts a steep descent. As a passenger in the rear, I have a clear view of the cockpit from the aisle. The plane’s low roar is filling my ears, head, and entire body. As chaos surrounds me, I hear my mother’s voice say, “Now it’s all over.”

Though it’s hard to imagine a more terrifying sound than a plane descending towards its own destruction, Juliane soon heard what might have been it. The terrifying silence that followed the passengers’ screams was deafening. Juliane realized she was still falling but off the plane when she looked around. She was still securely fastened to her seat when it was apparently sucked out into the air.

Obviously, the seatbelt was still trying to do its job, but it was choking her to the point where she passed out. When she finally came to, she was still freefalling. As she plummeted towards their depths, she could see the treetops of the Peruvian rainforest below her, and she was probably pretty sure that was where she was going to end up. To make a long story short, it appears that Juliane was accompanied that day by an angel who had other plans. Let us be clear: her physical condition was far from ideal when she regained consciousness, but the fact that she did so at all is nothing short of miraculous.

Here we are in the jungle

When she finally started to wake up, she had a broken collarbone, a deep cut on her leg, and a concussion that probably made all the others seem like a party. She was so confused that she pretty much had to lie there for the rest of the day and night. When she was finally able to get up and move around a little, she tried to remember everything her parents had ever taught her about surviving in the jungle. Luckily, they had taught her a lot.

She looked for signs of people for 11 days, but the only food she had was a small bag of candy she found in the wreckage. In the end, a small stream that turned into a river was what saved her. She remembered that their father had always told her to follow a river downstream because that’s where most people were. She walked along its bank, swam in it, or just floated down it for more than a week. And to make things even worse, Juliane would often see or hear planes or helicopters looking for the plane that had crashed. The forest canopy made it so that none of them could see her.

Lucky for her, she didn’t give up hope, and one day she found a small hut. It turned out that it belonged to three missionaries who would take her to a hospital. She found out later that she was the only person on the plane who had survived the crash. She went on to write an amazing book about the experience called When I Fell From the Sky. In 1998, a movie called Wings of Hope was made about her amazing story of survival.

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