Survival From a Jungle Air Crash
The Aircraft Had Vanished
Juliane Koepcke, a slender girl of seventeen and her mother boarded a flight from Lima, on December 24, 1971.
They were flying on a LANSA Airlines Electra Flight 508, which flew regularly from Lima, the capital of Peru to Pucallpa, a jungle town 750 kilometers away.
It was the day before Christmas and everybody was in a festive mood. Juliane and her mother were on their way to spend Christmas with her father.
He was an ecologist and both her parents were Professors at a University in Lima. It was a flight of only one hour which they had taken often.
Approximately half way to Lima, the captain radioed ground control and confirmed that he would be landing in 30 minutes. That was the last they heard of him, the plane had vanished.
The Aircraft Exploded
Juliane was sitting next to the window in the third row of seats from the rear of the plane. Her mother sat next to her and a stranger against the aisle.
While they were flying over the jungle, the weather changed, and the rain began to beat against the windows. There were flashes of lightning and the plane was shaking from the severe turbulence in the air.
Juliane saw a bright yellow flame coming from the right wing, when she looked at her mother she saw despair. People on board were scared.
A minute later Juliane found herself still strapped in her seat and flying away. Then she lost consciousness.
She later said that before she passed out she had looked down and thought to herself that the jungle trees looked like cauliflowers. That means that she must have fallen very, very far.
Juliane Survives Against All Odds
It was raining when she woke up. She was lying under the three seats. I would imagine that as she was slender and the airline seats are normally high at the back, the seats took the most impact after crashing onto the ground.
A bone was protruding from her neck, and her one eye was swollen so badly that she could hardly see. She also had a bump on her head and a gash on her foot.
One of her shoes and her glasses were missing. There was no sign of her mother or any of the other passengers.
She had no energy to get up and look around and she soon fell into a disturbed sleep under the seat.
The next morning she woke up and still felt dizzy and disoriented. She slowly crawled out and looked around. She found a packet of sweets on the ground and put it in her pocket.
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Finding her way through the jungle
Her Parents Had Taught Her To Follow a River If Lost
Her parents had taught her about the perils of the jungle when they had lived in it. That it was the snakes and the insects that were more dangerous and not the big animals.
She picked up a long stick with which to probe the ground for snakes and insects, as her father had taught her.
While looking around she found a small stream and decided to follow it as she had been taught.
Her father had told her that should she be lost, she should always follow a stream, as it leads to a river.
Rivers act as the roads in the jungle, and the Indian tribes and the white plantation people live on their banks.
Rivers In The Tropical Forest Are Alive With Insects
Rivers in the tropical forest of Peru meander and circle. They are also alive with mosquitoes, millions of them, all blood thirsty, and with caymans and piranhas, the fish that would be attracted by blood.
Sometimes she had to walk in the river when there were too many vines and obstructions on its banks.
She felt sick when she discovered three dead girls strapped in a row of seats covered with flies.
On the third day she saw vultures flying around. Where there are vultures there are usually bodies.
She came upon a piece of the plane fuselage and saw twisted cables and smelled burnt fuel. In the afternoon she saw rescue planes flying around, but they could not see her.
She Ate Only The Sweets She Had Found
She was not hungry and only ate the sweets and drank water from the clear stream. She was swollen from the stings of the mosquitoes and horseflies.
Eventually the stream did run into a larger river. As she struggled on downstream along its bank she saw parrots, monkeys and humming-birds.
The open wound on her foot was getting worse, due to infection by insects. Every time the flies sting, they were laying eggs in her wounds, out of which were hatching maggots.
She watched helplessly as they emerged. Her ring was a spiral that could be stretched so she started using it to gouge the maggots out of the wounds on her legs and arms.
Each one was about a centimeter long, and they were eating her alive. One of the sores was now large enough to hold a finger.
She prayed that God would help her. She was scared that they may have to amputate, if she survived.
The river that she was slowly following was widening. Sometimes when the water looked clear she risked swimming.
Walking along the banks of the river had become harder. Lack of food and the heat made her weak.
She Found A Hut
On the tenth day, in the late afternoon, Juliane was looking around for a place to spend the night.
And then suddenly she saw a boat moored on the river bank. It was close to a path that led to a small hut.
She entered the hut and saw a small outboard motor covered in plastic and beside it a can of petrol.
Someone was obviously coming back, but the problem was when. She decided to spend the night in the hut.
The monkeys screamed and she could hear the screeching of parakeets.
The following morning she wanted to keep on walking because she realized that it might be weeks, before the people came for their boat.
However, the rain was pouring down so she decided to stay until it stopped. She was removing some of the maggots when she heard voices.
Rescued At Last
Three men rushed in out of the rain and stood staring at her in surprise. The men were mestizo, half white, half Indian hunters.
After she had explained, they said that they knew about the crash. One of them had been in the search plane but they could see no wreckage of the plane.
They helped her to extract thirty more of the worms from the wounds on her legs and arms. They also washed her with salt water and put salve on her wounds.
The lovely fruit mash they made for her, she could not eat. They took her down river with their boat the next morning. The river became wider, swifter and more dangerous.
When she looked at the river bank, she saw that it became more and more impassable. There were dangerous rapids and whirlpools at the junction with another river.
It took hours to reach the jungle settlement of Tournavista. The villagers stared at Juliane. Her eyes were bloodshot, and her face was disfigured and swollen out of shape from the insect bites.
This village was an agricultural settlement and it had a small dispensary. They washed and treated her wounds.
She was given an injection against inflammation and a special medicine was used to clear out all the worms.
An American Doctor Looked After Her
Nearly twelve days after the crash, she boarded a small twin engine plane that took her to the US mission base, near Pucallpa.
There an American doctor looked after her. Her father arrived to stay with her and told her that her mother was dead.
Search planes had found the wreckage, after she had given directions. Pieces of the plane was scattered over several kilometers.
She was not the only passenger to survive the plane crash. There were at least twelve people who survived, some for ten days. Their bodies had decomposed very little or not at all.
However, Juliane was the only one that made it out of the jungle, most probably because of the knowledge she had obtained from her parents on how to survive when lost in the jungle.
Her Survival Was Amazing
Had she walked away from the hut that day, she would most probably not have survived.
It would have taken her days to reach a settlement and in her weakened state very unlikely that she would have made it. Juliane now lives in Kiel Germany.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2017 Anita Hasch