|Born||Juliane Margaret Koepcke
10 October 1954
|Known for||Sole survivor of LANSA Flight 508, aged 17.|
Juliane Diller (born 10 October 1954 in Lima as Juliane Margaret Koepcke) is a German-Peruvian biologist, born in Peru to German emigrants, who is best known for being the sole survivor of 92 passengers and crew in the 24 December 1971 crash of LANSA Flight 508 (a LANSA Lockheed Electra OB-R-941 commercial airliner) in the Peruvian rainforest. After the airliner broke up in midair, she survived after falling about 3 km (~10,000 feet) still strapped to her seat, before crashing through the rainforest canopy and coming to rest on the forest floor.
Juliane Koepcke was a German Peruvian high school senior student studying in Lima, intending to become a zoologist, like her parents. She and her mother, ornithologist Maria Koepcke, were traveling to meet with her father, biologist Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke, who was working in the city of Pucallpa.
The airplane was struck by lightning during a severe thunderstorm and broke up in mid-air, disintegrating at 3.2 km (10,000 ft). Koepcke, who was seventeen years old, fell to earth still strapped into her seat. She survived the fall with only a broken collarbone, a gash to her right arm, and her right eye swollen shut. "I was definitely strapped in [the airplane seat] when I fell," she remembered. "It must have turned and buffered the crash, otherwise I wouldn't have survived."
Her first priority was to find her mother, who had been seated next to her, but her search was unsuccessful. She later found out her mother had initially survived the crash, but died several days later due to her injuries.
Koepcke found some sweets which were to become her only food. After looking for her mother and other passengers, she was able to locate a small stream. She waded through knee-high water downstream from her landing site, relying on the survival principle her father had taught her, that tracking downstream should eventually lead to civilization. The stream provided clean water and a natural path through the dense rainforest vegetation.
During the trip, Koepcke could not sleep at night due to insect bites, which became infected. After nine days, several spent floating downstream, she found a boat moored near a shelter, where she found the boat's motor and fuel tank. Relying again on her father's advice, Koepcke poured gasoline on her wounds, which succeeded in removing thirty-five maggots from one arm, then waited until rescuers arrived. She later recounted her necessary efforts that day: "I remember having seen my father when he cured a dog of worms in the jungle with gasoline. I got some gasoline and poured it on myself. I counted the worms when they started to slip out. There were 35 on my arm. I remained there but I wanted to leave. I didn't want to take the boat because I didn't want to steal it."
Hours later, the lumbermen who used the shelter arrived and tended to her injuries and bug infestations. The next morning they took her via a seven-hour canoe ride down river to a lumber station in the Tournavista District. With the help of a local pilot, she was airlifted to a hospital – and her waiting father – in Pucallpa.
|“||I had nightmares for a long time, for years, and of course the grief about my mother's death and that of the other people came back again and again. The thought Why was I the only survivor? haunts me. It always will.||”|
— Juliane Koepcke, 2010
The unlikelihood of Koepcke's survival has been the subject of much speculation. It is known that she was seatbelted into her seat and thus somewhat shielded and cushioned, but it has also been theorized that the outer pair of seats – those on each side of Koepcke, which came attached to hers as part of a row of three – functioned like a parachute and slowed her fall. The impact may also have been lessened by thunder storm updraft and the landing site's "very thick foliage".
Her experience was widely reported and is the subject of one feature length fictional film and one documentary. The first was the low-budget, heavily fictionalized I miracoli accadono ancora (1974) by Italian filmmaker Giuseppe Maria Scotese; it was released in English as Miracles Still Happen (1975) and is sometimes called The Story of Juliane Koepcke. Twenty-five years later, director Werner Herzog revisited the story in his film Wings of Hope (2000). Herzog was inspired to make the film as he narrowly avoided taking the same flight while he was location scouting for Aguirre, Wrath of God. His reservation was canceled due to a last minute change in itinerary.
Koepcke moved to Germany, where she fully recovered from her injuries. Like her parents, she studied biology at the University of Kiel, graduating in 1980. She received a doctorate from Ludwig-Maximilian University and 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. Now known as Juliane Diller, she serves as librarian at the Bavarian State Zoological Collection in Munich. Her autobiography, Als ich vom Himmel fiel (When I Fell From the Sky), was released on 10 March 2011 by Piper Verlag, for which she received the Corine Literature Prize in 2011.
- Koepcke, Juliane (2011). Als ich vom Himmel fiel (in German). Munich: Piper Malik. ISBN 978-3-89029-389-9.
- When I Fell From the Sky, Titletown Publishing, 2011, ISBN 978-0-9837547-0-1
- List of sole survivors of aviation accidents or incidents
- Nicholas Alkemade, British bomber tailgunner who survived falling from his burning Avro Lancaster B Mk. II in 1944
- Alan Magee, American, World War II airman who survived a 22,000-foot (6,700 m) fall from his damaged B-17F Flying Fortress in 1943
- Vesna Vulović, a Serbian flight attendant aboard a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 who survived the highest free-fall without a parachute following the bombing of JAT Flight 367 in similar circumstances.
- "The Top Wilderness Survival Stories". Outside Online. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
- "Survivor still haunted by 1971 air crash". CNN.com. 2 July 2009. Retrieved 30 July 2011.
- From an interview published in Vice, Sept. 2010: Littlewood, Tom (January 2011). "After the Fall". Harper's (Harper's Foundation) (1,928): 20–23. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
- "Juliane Koepcke: How I survived a plane crash". BBC News. 24 March 2012. Retrieved 24 March 2012.
- "Survivor Didn't Want To Steal Boat". The News and Courier. 9 January 1972. Retrieved 11 January 2011.
- Loup, Aldo (2013). "The incredible fall of Juliane Koepcke". Naturapop.com. Natura Pop. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
- "IMDb: The Story of Juliane Koepcke (1975)". Internet Movie Database. 2011. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
- "IMDb: Wings of Hope (TV 2000)". Internet Movie Database. 2011. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
- Herzog, Werner (2001). Herzog on Herzog. Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-20708-1.
- Francois Vuilleumier (2002). "Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke". Ornitologia Neotropical 13 (2): 215–218.
- Juliane Koepcke (1987). Ökologische Studien an einer Fledermaus-Artengemeinschaft im tropischen Regenwald von Peru. OCLC 230848237. Retrieved 3 August 2011.
- Diller, Juliane and Rygiert, Beate (2011). Als ich vom Himmel fiel: Wie mir der Dschungel mein Leben zurückgab. Malik. ISBN 978-3-89029-389-9.
- "Corine Internationaler Buchpreis". Corine.de. National Exchange Association of Bavaria. 2013. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
- Plane Crashes Since 1970 with a Sole Survivor. airsafe.com
- BBC interview with Juliane Koepcke 2012, mp3 file