Juliane Koepcke

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Juliane Koepcke
Ceremonia de condecoración a la doctora Juliane Koepcke - 46616983225 (cropped).jpg
Koepcke in 2019
Born1954 (age 64–65)
Alma mater
Known forSurviving LANSA Flight 508

Juliane Koepcke (born 1954), also known by her married name Juliane Diller, is a German Peruvian mammalogist. As a teenager in 1971, Koepcke was the lone survivor of the LANSA Flight 508 plane crash, and then survived eleven days alone in the Amazon rainforest.

Early life[edit]

Koepcke was born in Lima, Peru, in 1954 to German parents who worked at the Museum of Natural History, Lima. She was the only child of biologist Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke and ornithologist Maria Koepcke. When Koepcke was fourteen, her parents left Lima to establish Panguana, a research station in the Amazon rainforest. She became a "jungle child" and learned survival techniques. Educational authorities disapproved and Koepcke was forced to return to the Deutsche Schule Lima Alexander von Humboldt to take her examinations. She passed the examinations and graduated on 23 December 1971.[1]


Koepcke's mother Maria was working in Lima when Koepcke graduated from high school. Maria wanted to return to Panguana on 19 or 20 December 1971, but Koepcke wished to attend her graduation ceremony on 22 December. Maria agreed and they instead scheduled a flight on Christmas Eve. All flights were booked, aside from one with Líneas Aéreas Nacionales S.A. (LANSA). Her father Hans-Wilhelm urged Maria to avoid flying with the airline, which had a poor reputation.[1]

The LANSA Lockheed L-188 Electra OB-R-941 commercial airliner was struck by lightning during a severe thunderstorm and broke up in mid-air, disintegrating 3.2 kilometres (2.0 mi) above the ground. Koepcke, still strapped into her seat, survived the fall to earth with a broken collarbone, a gash to her right arm, and her right eye swollen shut.[2] "I was definitely strapped in it [the airplane seat] when I fell," she said later. "It must have turned and buffered the crash; otherwise I wouldn't have survived."[3] Koepcke's first priority was to find her mother, who had been seated next to her, but her search proved unsuccessful. She would later learn that her mother had initially survived the crash, only to die of her injuries several days later.[4]

Surviving on sweets she found at the site, Koepcke waded downstream through knee-high water, as her father had taught her that tracking downstream should eventually lead to civilization.[2] After ten days, she found a boat moored near a small shelter.[5] She poured gasoline from the fuel tank on her wounds to clear them of maggots and spent the night in the shelter.[4] 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."[6] The next morning, a small group of local fishermen discovered her and brought her to their village.[7] The following day, a local pilot volunteered to fly her to a hospital in Pucallpa,[8] where she was reunited with her father.[9]

After recovering from her injuries, Koepcke assisted search parties in locating the crash site and recovering the bodies of victims. Her mother's body was discovered on 12 January 1972.[10]


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.

Koepcke, 2010[3]

Koepcke's unlikely survival has been the subject of much speculation. It is known that she was belted 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.[2][11] The impact may also have been lessened by thunderstorm updraft and the landing site's thick foliage.[2][11]

She moved to Germany, where she fully recovered from her injuries. Like her parents, she studied biology at the University of Kiel, graduating in 1980.[12] She received a doctorate from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and returned to Peru to conduct research in mammalogy, specializing in bats.[12] Koepcke published her thesis, Ecological study of a bat colony in the tropical rain forest of Peru, in 1987.[13] Now known as Juliane Diller, she serves as librarian at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich.[2] Her autobiography, When I Fell From the Sky (German: Als ich vom Himmel fiel), was released on 10 March 2011 by Piper Verlag,[14] for which she received the Corine Literature Prize in 2011.[15] In 2019 she was awarded by the Government of Peru with the Order of Merit for Distinguished Services in the degree of Grand Officer.[16]

Portrayal in films[edit]

Koepcke's experience, having been widely reported, 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 (1974) and is sometimes called The Story of Juliane Koepcke.[17]

Twenty-five years later, director Werner Herzog revisited the story in his film Wings of Hope (1998). In 1971, while location scouting for Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Herzog would have been on the same flight as Koepcke, but for a last-minute change of itinerary.[18] Koepcke accompanied him on a visit to the crash site, a journey she described as "a kind of therapy" for her.[19]


  • Koepcke, Juliane (2011). Als ich vom Himmel fiel [When I fell from the sky] (in German). Munich: Piper Malik. ISBN 978-3-89029-389-9.
  • Koepcke, Juliane (2011). When I Fell From the Sky. Titletown Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9837547-0-1.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Williams, Sally (22 March 2012). "Sole survivor: the woman who fell to earth". The Telegraph.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Survivor still haunted by 1971 air crash". CNN.com. 2 July 2009. Archived from the original on 25 February 2018. Retrieved 30 July 2011.
  3. ^ a b Littlewood, Tom (January 2011). "After the Fall". Harper's. Harper's Foundation. 322 (1, 928): 20–23. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  4. ^ a b "Juliane Koepcke: How I survived a plane crash". BBC News. 24 March 2012. Retrieved 24 March 2012.
  5. ^ Banister, Matthew (2012). Outlook: Interview with Juliane Koepcke (Radio programme [mp3 file]). UK: BBC. Event occurs at 17:00.
  6. ^ "Survivor Didn't Want To Steal Boat". The News and Courier. 9 January 1972. Retrieved 11 January 2011.
  7. ^ Banister interview, 20:20.
  8. ^ Banister interview, 21:00.
  9. ^ Banister interview, 22:00.
  10. ^ "A 17 Year Old Girl Survived a 2 Mile Fall Without a Parachute, Then Trekked Alone 10 Days Through the Peruvian Rainforest". Todayifoundout.com.
  11. ^ a b Loup, Aldo (2013). "The incredible fall of Juliane Koepcke". Naturapop.com. Natura Pop. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  12. ^ a b Francois Vuilleumier (2002). "Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke". Ornitologia Neotropical. 13 (2): 215–218.
  13. ^ Juliane Koepcke (1987). Ökologische Studien an einer Fledermaus-Artengemeinschaft im tropischen Regenwald von Peru. OCLC 230848237. Retrieved 3 August 2011.
  14. ^ Diller, Juliane; Rygiert, Beate (2011). Als ich vom Himmel fiel: Wie mir der Dschungel mein Leben zurückgab. Malik. ISBN 978-3-89029-389-9.
  15. ^ "Corine Internationaler Buchpreis". Corine.de. National Exchange Association of Bavaria. 2013. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  16. ^ Condecoran a Juliane Koepcke por su labor científica y académica en la Amazonía peruana
  17. ^ "IMDb: The Story of Juliane Koepcke (1975)". Internet Movie Database. 2011. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  18. ^ Herzog, Werner (2001). Herzog on Herzog. Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-20708-1.
  19. ^ Banister interview, 24:20.

External links[edit]