Juliane Koepcke

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Juliane Koepcke
Alma mater
Known forSurviving LANSA Flight 508

Juliane Koepcke, also known by her married name Juliane Diller, is a 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.


Koepcke was a 17-year-old German Peruvian high school senior studying in Lima, intending to become a zoologist, like her parents. On 24 December 1971 she and her mother were traveling to meet with her father.[1]

The Líneas Aéreas Nacionales S. A. (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 [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 was unsuccessful. She later discovered that her mother had initially survived the crash, but died from her injuries several days later.[4]

Koepcke found some sweets which became her only food. After looking for her mother and other passengers, she found 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.[2]

During the trip, Koepcke could not sleep at night because of 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 35 maggots from one arm, then waited until rescuers arrived.[4] 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."[5]


Koepcke's unlikely 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.[2][6] The impact may also have been lessened by thunderstorm updraft and the landing site's thick foliage.[2][6]

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.[7] She received a doctorate from Ludwig-Maximilian University and returned to Peru to conduct research in mammalogy, specializing in bats.[7] Koepcke published her thesis, Ecological study of a bat colony in the tropical rain forest of Peru, in 1987.[8] Now known as Juliane Diller, she serves as librarian at the Bavarian State Zoological Collection in Munich.[2] Her autobiography, Als ich vom Himmel fiel (When I Fell From the Sky), was released on 10 March 2011 by Piper Verlag,[9] for which she received the Corine Literature Prize in 2011.[10]

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 (1975) and is sometimes called The Story of Juliane Koepcke.[11] Twenty-five years later, director Werner Herzog revisited the story in his film Wings of Hope (1998); Herzog, while location scouting for Aguirre, the Wrath of God, would have been on the flight but for a last-minute change of itinerary.[12]


  • 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. ^ "The Top Wilderness Survival Stories". Outside Online. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Survivor still haunted by 1971 air crash". CNN.com. 2 July 2009. Retrieved 30 July 2011.
  3. ^ a b From an interview published in Vice, Sept. 2010: 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. ^ "Survivor Didn't Want To Steal Boat". The News and Courier. 9 January 1972. Retrieved 11 January 2011.
  6. ^ a b Loup, Aldo (2013). "The incredible fall of Juliane Koepcke". Naturapop.com. Natura Pop. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  7. ^ a b Francois Vuilleumier (2002). "Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke". Ornitologia Neotropical. 13 (2): 215–218.
  8. ^ Juliane Koepcke (1987). Ökologische Studien an einer Fledermaus-Artengemeinschaft im tropischen Regenwald von Peru. OCLC 230848237. Retrieved 3 August 2011.
  9. ^ Diller, Juliane; Rygiert, Beate (2011). Als ich vom Himmel fiel: Wie mir der Dschungel mein Leben zurückgab. Malik. ISBN 978-3-89029-389-9.
  10. ^ "Corine Internationaler Buchpreis". Corine.de. National Exchange Association of Bavaria. 2013. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  11. ^ "IMDb: The Story of Juliane Koepcke (1975)". Internet Movie Database. 2011. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  12. ^ Herzog, Werner (2001). Herzog on Herzog. Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-20708-1.

External links[edit]