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Juliane Koepcke

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Juliane Koepcke
Koepcke in April 2019
Born (1954-10-10) 10 October 1954 (age 69)
Lima, Peru
Erich Diller
(m. 1989)
RelativesHans-Wilhelm Koepcke (father)
Maria Koepcke (mother)

Juliane Margaret Beate Koepcke /Joo-lia-nay, KOP-kay/ (born 10 October 1954), also known by her married name Juliane Diller, is a German-Peruvian mammalogist who specialises in bats. The daughter of German zoologists Maria and Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke, she became famous at the age of 17 as the sole survivor of the 1971 LANSA Flight 508 plane crash; after falling 3,000 m (10,000 ft) while strapped to her seat and suffering numerous injuries, she survived 11 days alone in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest until she was rescued by local lumberjacks after finding their camp.

Early life[edit]

Koepcke was born in Lima, Peru on 10 October 1954, the only child of German zoologists Maria (née von Mikulicz-Radecki; 1924–1971) and Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke (1914–2000). Her parents were working at Lima's Museum of Natural History when she was born. At the age of 14, she left Lima with her parents to establish the Panguana research station in the Amazon rainforest, where she learned survival skills. Educational authorities disapproved and she was required to return to the Deutsche Schule Lima Alexander von Humboldt to take her exams, graduating on 23 December 1971.[1]


On 24 December 1971, just one day after she graduated, Koepcke flew on LANSA Flight 508. Her mother Maria had wanted Juliane to return to Panguana with her on the 19th or 20th of December 1971, but Koepcke wanted to attend her graduation ceremony in Lima on 23 December. Maria agreed that they would stay for her graduation and instead they scheduled a flight for Christmas Eve. All flights were fully booked except for one with LANSA. Koepcke's father, Hans-Wilhelm, urged his wife to avoid flying with the airline due to its poor reputation.[1] Nonetheless, the flight was booked. The plane was struck by lightning mid-flight and began to disintegrate before plummeting to the ground. Koepcke found herself still strapped to her row of seats, falling 3,000 m (10,000 ft) into the Amazon rainforest.

Koepcke survived the fall but suffered injuries such as a broken collarbone, a deep cut on her right arm, an eye injury, and a concussion. She then spent 11 days in the rainforest, most of which were spent making her way through water by following a creek to a river. While in the jungle, she dealt with severe insect bites and an infestation of botfly larvae in her wounded arm. After nine days, she was able to find an encampment that had been set up by local lumberjacks. A few hours later, the returning lumberjacks found her, poured gasoline onto her wound, and used a canoe to transport her for the next 11 hours to a more inhabited area. She was soon airlifted to a hospital.[2]

Koepcke's unlikely survival has been the subject of much speculation. Experts have said that she survived the fall because she was harnessed into her seat, the window seat, which was attached to the two seats to her left as part of a row of three. That was thought to have functioned as a parachute which slowed her fall.[3][4] The impact may have also been lessened by the updraft from a thunderstorm Koepcke fell through, as well as the thick foliage at her landing site.[3][4] As many as 14 other passengers were later discovered to have survived the initial crash but died while waiting to be rescued.[5]


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 in 2010[6]

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.

Koepcke returned to her parents' native Germany, where she fully recovered from her physical injuries. Like her parents, she studied biology at the University of Kiel and graduated in 1980.[7] She received a doctorate from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and returned to Peru to conduct research in mammalogy, specialising in bats.[7] She published her thesis, "Ecological study of a bat colony in the tropical rain forest of Peru", in 1987.[8]

In 1989, Koepcke married Erich Diller, a German entomologist who specialises in parasitic wasps.[9] In 2000, following the death of her father, she took over as the director of Panguana.[9] She currently serves as a librarian at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich.[3]

Koepcke's autobiography Als ich vom Himmel fiel: Wie mir der Dschungel mein Leben zurückgab (German for When I Fell from the Sky: How the Jungle Gave Me My Life Back) was released in 2011 by Piper Verlag.[10] The book won that year's Corine Literature Prize.[11] In 2019, the government of Peru made her a Grand Officer of the Order of Merit for Distinguished Services.[12]

Portrayal in media[edit]

Koepcke's survival has been the subject of numerous books and films, including the low-budget and heavily fictionalized I miracoli accadono ancora (1974) by Italian filmmaker Giuseppe Maria Scotese, which was released in English as Miracles Still Happen and is sometimes called The Story of Juliane Koepcke. She was portrayed by English actress Susan Penhaligon in the film.[13]

Koepcke's story was more faithfully told by Koepcke herself in German filmmaker Werner Herzog's documentary Wings of Hope (1998). Herzog was interested in telling her story because of a personal connection: He was scheduled to be on the same flight while scouting locations for his film Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), but a last-minute change of plans spared him from the crash.[14] He had planned to make the film ever since narrowly missing the flight but was unable to contact Koepcke for decades since she avoided the media; he located her after contacting the priest who performed her mother's funeral.[14] Koepcke accompanied him on a visit to the crash site, which she described as a "kind of therapy" for her.[15]


  • Koepcke, Juliane (1987). Ökologische Studien an einer Fledermaus-Artengemeinschaft im tropischen Regenwald von Peru [Ecological studies on a bat community in the tropical rainforest of Peru.] (Thesis) (in German). Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.
  • Koepcke, Juliane (2011). Als ich vom Himmel fiel: Wie mir der Dschungel mein Leben zurückgab [When I Fell from the Sky: How the Jungle Gave Me My Life Back] (in German). Munich: Piper Malik. ISBN 978-3-89029-389-9.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Williams, Sally (22 March 2012). "Sole survivor: the woman who fell to earth". The Telegraph.
  2. ^ Koepcke, Juliane (2011). When I Fell From the Sky (1st English ed.). Green Bay, WI: TitleTown Publishing. p. 67. ISBN 978-0-9837547-0-1.
  3. ^ a b c "Survivor still haunted by 1971 air crash". CNN.com. 2 July 2009. Archived from the original on 25 February 2018. Retrieved 30 July 2011.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "17-Year-Old Only Survivor in Peruvian Accident". Archived from the original on 8 May 2017.
  6. ^ Littlewood, Tom (January 2011). "After the Fall". Harper's. Vol. 322, no. 1, 928. Harper's Foundation. pp. 20–23. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  7. ^ a b Vuilleumier, Francois (2002). "Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke". Ornitologia Neotropical. 13 (2): 215–218.
  8. ^ Koepcke, Juliane (1987). Ökologische Studien an einer Fledermaus-Artengemeinschaft im tropischen Regenwald von Peru (in German). OCLC 230848237.
  9. ^ a b Lidz, Franz (18 June 2021). "She Fell Nearly 2 Miles, and Walked Away". The New York Times.
  10. ^ Diller, Juliane; Rygiert, Beate (2011). Als ich vom Himmel fiel: Wie mir der Dschungel mein Leben zurückgab [When I fell from the sky: How the jungle gave me my life back] (in German). Malik. ISBN 978-3-89029-389-9.
  11. ^ "Corine Internationaler Buchpreis". Corine.de (in German). National Exchange Association of Bavaria. 2013. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  12. ^ "Condecoran a Juliane Koepcke por su labor científica y académica en la Amazonía peruana". gob.pe (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 19 August 2019. Retrieved 19 August 2019.
  13. ^ "IMDb: The Story of Juliane Koepcke (1975)". Internet Movie Database. 2011. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  14. ^ a b Herzog, Werner (2001). Herzog on Herzog. Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-20708-1.
  15. ^ Banister interview, 24:20.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]