Juliane Koepcke

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Juliane Koepcke
Ceremonia de condecoración a la doctora Juliane Koepcke - 46616983225 (cropped).jpg
Koepcke in 2019
Born (1954-10-10) 10 October 1954 (age 66)
Alma mater
Known forSurviving LANSA Flight 508

Juliane Koepcke (born 10 October 1954), also known by her married name Juliane Diller, is a German Peruvian mammalogist.

As a teenager in 1971, Koepcke was the sole survivor of the LANSA Flight 508 plane crash, then survived ten days alone in the Amazon rainforest. She survived a fall of 3,000 meters (9,843 feet), still strapped to her seat.

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 required to return to the Deutsche Schule Lima Alexander von Humboldt to take her examinations. She graduated on 23 December 1971.[1]


Koepcke was about to graduate from high school. Her mother Maria had wanted to return to Panguana with her daughter on 19 or 20 December 1971, but Koepcke wished to attend her graduation ceremony in Lima on 23 December. Maria agreed for Koepcke to stay longer and instead they 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 his wife to avoid flying with the airline, which had a poor reputation.[1] They booked the flight, nonetheless.

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 onto her seat, survived the fall to earth, suffering a broken collarbone, a gash to her left leg and her right arm, and her right eye was 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 initially had survived the crash also, only to die of her injuries a few 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 also has been theorized that the outer seats of the row—those on each side of Koepcke, which remained attached to hers as part of a row of three—functioned as a parachute and slowed her fall.[2][11] The impact may have been lessened further by a thunderstorm updraft and the thick foliage at her landing site.[2][11]

Koepcke moved to Germany, where she fully recovered from her injuries. Like her parents, she studied biology at the University of Kiel and graduated 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, the government of Peru awarded her the Order of Merit for Distinguished Services, in the degree of Grand Officer.[16]

Portrayal in films[edit]

Having been widely reported, Koepcke's experience is the subject of a feature-length fictional film and a 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 sometimes is called The Story of Juliane Koepcke. In that film, she was portrayed by British actress Susan Penhaligon.[17]

Twenty-five years later, director Werner Herzog revisited the story in his film Wings of Hope (1998). While location scouting for Aguirre, the Wrath of God in 1971, Herzog would have been on the same flight as Koepcke, had it not been for a last-minute change of his 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 (1987). Ökologische Studien an einer Fledermaus-Artengemeinschaft im tropischen Regenwald von Peru (Thesis) (in German). Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.
  • 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. Translated by Benjamin, Ross. 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. Archived from the original on 22 March 2012.
  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. Archived from the original on 18 May 2013. 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.
  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. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  16. ^ "Condecoran a Juliane Koepcke por su labor científica y académica en la Amazonía peruana". Archived from the original on 19 August 2019. Retrieved 19 August 2019.
  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]