LANSA Flight 508

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LANSA Flight 508
Accident summary
Date December 24, 1971
Summary Pilot error, Lightning strike
Site Puerto Inca, Peru
Passengers 86
Crew 6
Injuries (non-fatal) 1
Fatalities 91
Survivors 1 (Juliane Koepcke)
Aircraft type Lockheed L-188A Electra
Operator Lineas Aéreas Nacionales Sociedad Anonima
Registration OB-R-941
Approximate flight path of OB-R-941

LANSA Flight 508 was a Lockheed L-188A Electra turboprop, registered OB-R-941, operated as a scheduled domestic passenger flight by Lineas Aéreas Nacionales Sociedad Anonima (LANSA), that crashed in a thunderstorm en route from Lima, Peru to Pucallpa, Peru, on December 24, 1971, killing 91 people – all 6 of its crew and 85 of its 86 passengers.[1] The sole survivor was 17-year-old Juliane Koepcke, who fell 2 miles (3 km) down into the Amazon rainforest strapped to her seat and remarkably survived the fall, and was then able to walk through the jungle for 10 days until she was rescued by local lumbermen.[2][3]

Flight history[edit]

LANSA Flight 508 departed Lima's Jorge Chávez International Airport just before noon on Christmas Eve on its way to Iquitos, Peru, with a scheduled stop at Pucallpa, Peru. The aircraft was flying at Flight Level 210 (about 21,000 ft / 6,400 m above Mean Sea Level) when it encountered an area of thunderstorms and severe turbulence. There was evidence the crew decided to continue the flight despite the hazardous weather ahead, apparently due to pressures related to meeting the holiday schedule.[4][5]

At about 12:36 p.m. local time, a lightning strike ignited the fuel tank in the right wing, which quickly led to structural failure of the aircraft. As the plane disintegrated, a 17-year-old German Peruvian teenager, Juliane Koepcke, fell down into the Amazon rainforest 2 miles (3 km) below, strapped to her seat. Despite sustaining a broken collar bone, a deep gash to her right arm, a concussion and an eye injury in the fall, she was able to trek through the dense Amazon jungle for 10 days, until she was rescued by local lumbermen, who subsequently took her by canoe back to civilization. It was later discovered that as many as 14 other passengers also survived the initial fall from the disintegrated plane but were unable to seek help and died while awaiting rescue.[5]

Accident investigation[edit]

Peruvian investigators determined the following sequence of events leading to the accident:[1][2]

"About forty minutes after take-off, the aircraft entered a zone of strong turbulence and lightning. After flying for twenty minutes in this weather at FL210 lightning struck the aircraft, causing fire on the right wing which separated, along with part of the left wing. The aircraft crashed in flames into mountainous terrain."

The final summary of the cause of the accident was:[4]

"The aircraft suffered a lightning strike, which led to a fire and the separation of the right wing. Intentional flight into hazardous weather conditions."

Koepcke's survival[edit]

Juliane Koepcke was a high school senior studying in Lima, intending to become a zoologist, like her father, Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke. Her mother, Maria Koepcke, a leading Peruvian ornithologist, was travelling with Juliane from Lima back to their home Panguana, a nature reserve they had founded a few years previously, near Pucallpa, where the father was awaiting their return in time for Christmas.

When Koepcke landed in the jungle, still strapped to her seat, she had a broken collar bone and an eye injury. She had learned survival skills from her father and was able to follow a small stream until she reached a logging camp eleven days later, from where she was rescued and returned to Pucallpa.

Koepcke's survival was featured in a television documentary film called Wings of Hope in 2000 by director Werner Herzog,[6] who was almost on Flight 508 himself. Koepcke's memoir Als ich vom Himmel fiel has been published by the German publisher Piper Malik on March 10, 2011.[7] (The English edition When I Fell From the Sky, was published by Titletown Publishing on November, 2011.)

See also[edit]

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