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What’s the Most Insane Thing someone Survived?

Part of a brown river in a jungle

There are lots of incredible moments throughout history where people have survived against all odds, but there is one story in particular that we are going to talk about today. Survival situations are never going to be easy, but the story of Juliane Koepck just goes to show that even when the odds are stacked against you, you might still be able to get through it.

This is the story of a seventeen-year-old girl that was on a plane flying over the Peruvian Rainforest with her mother when the plane was suddenly struck by lightning. She was the sole survivor of the 508 passengers on board, but surviving the rainforest is no easy thing to do. What happened next is entirely incredible, and we will tell you all about it below.

The Survival Story of Juliane Koepeck

On Christmas Eve of 1971, Juliane Koepeck boarded a plane with her mother in Lima, Peru, to visit a nearby city. The flight was only supposed to be an hour-long journey, but around 10 minutes into the flight, they were met with heavy turbulence and the plane shook so violently that luggage flew out of the overhead storage. 

Things only continued to go downhill from there, and around halfway through the flight, the plane was greeted by a crazy thunderstorm that made flying conditions even more terrifying. The plane was struck by lightning, and moments later, it was hurtling towards the ground. 

At some point throughout the fall, the seat that Juliane had been strapped to has somehow come free, and she ended up outside of the plane. The last thing that she remembers before she passed out was freefalling through the air. When she finally woke up again, it was the following day, and she was completely alone in the middle of the Peruvian jungle. 

It was miraculous that she had managed to survive the almost 2-mile fall at all, but she was very injured, which you might have expected. Both of her eyes were almost swollen shut, she had a broken collarbone, a ligament in her knee had ruptured, and there was a gash in her leg. It was difficult for her to stand at first as she felt so dizzy, so she crawled across the ground, shouting out for her mother. But no answers came. 

The only sounds that she could hear were those of the jungle, but thankfully, Juliane’s surroundings weren’t unfamiliar to her. Before the crash, she had actually spent a year and a half at a research station with her parents that was around 30 miles away. She had been in the jungle before and was able to learn lots about her surroundings and the dangers that could be present. This gave her the upper hand in this situation, as she knew what she was dealing with. 

She was wearing a short, sleeveless mini-dress with white sandals, but one of her shoes was missing, and she had lost her glasses. She kept the other shoe as her sight wasn’t great, and she would use that foot to test the ground in front of her before she moved forward. At times, she could hear planes flying overhead in search of the wreckage, but the forest was so dense that she couldn’t see them. 

Juliane stayed hydrated by licking the water from tree leaves until she came across a small creek. She searched for the wreckage and for her mother, but she couldn’t find them, so instead, she followed the stream that followed on from the creek in the hope that she would find civilization. She walked in the water as she knew it was safer than walking on land.

The only food that she had with her was a bag of sweets that she had found at the crash site, but once these were gone, she had nothing left. Starving and afraid, she kept going through the hot and wet conditions. It rained multiple times a day, and it got very cold at night, and she had nothing to keep her warm. 

On the fourth day of her journey, she heard the sounds of a landing king vulture, which was a familiar sound to her from her time at her parent’s reserve. However, this was an unsettling thing to be hearing, as these are animals that will only land when they find decaying flesh. Juliane knew that they were after the dead bodies from the crash, but she had to carry on.

Sometime later, she turned a corner in the creek and found a bench with three deceased passengers on it, face down in the ground. She panicked, never having seen a dead body before, and thinking that one of them could have been her mother. Upon further investigation, she found that none of these people was her mother.  

Eventually, the stream broke off into a larger river and the jungle was too dense to walk through at this point, so she started to swim. While she was in the water, she sustained second-degree sunburn, and she still had no food with her. The plants and wildlife that surrounded her were too dangerous to even think about eating them, so she carried on without any food. 

By the tenth day on her journey, she could barely stand, and she drifted along the edge of the river, feeling lonelier than ever before. After sleeping, she woke up on the riverbank and saw a boat that she hadn’t noticed before. Juliane thought that she must have been hallucinating, so she reached out and touched it, confirming that it was real. This gave her the hope that she needed to continue, and she then found a small man-made path into the jungle that she followed. 

After following this path, she found a hut that had a palm-leaf roof and a litre of gasoline. She had a wound on her upper-right arm that was infected with maggots that were around a centimetre long. Juliane thought back to a time where her dog had a similar infection and remembered that her father had put kerosene in it. So, she sucked out the gasoline and put it into the wound.

The pain was excruciating through this process as the maggots tried to get further into the wound, but she was able to pull out around 30 maggots from inside the wound. She decided to spend the night at this hut, and she woke the next day to the sounds of the voices of several men outside the hut.

When they saw her, they were immediately alarmed and stopped talking to each other. They thought that she was some kind of water goddess, which was a local legend in that area. Juliane introduced herself in Spanish and explained the entire situation, telling them all about what had happened. They were able to treat her wounds and gave her something to eat. The next day, they took her back to civilization.

The day after she was rescued, she saw her father, who could barely talk as they held each other. For the days that followed, her father searched for news of her mother, and her body was located on the 12th of January. It was later discovered that Juliane’s mother had also survived the initial crash, but she was so badly injured that she couldn’t move. She had died several days later, unable to do anything.

Did Juliane Koepcke Write a Book About Her Story?

Yes, Juliane Koepcke wrote a book called ‘When I Fell From The Sky: The True Story of One Woman’s Miraculous Survival’. This book is a recount of the events that took place surrounding the incident. You can get your hands on her book here.

How Far Did Juliane Koepcke Fall?

Juliane Koepcke fell 10,000 feet and survived. It is also estimated that around 12 other people survived the fall and impact, one of these including Juliane’s mother, but Juliane was the only one who survived in the end.

How Likely is it for a Plane to be Struck by Lightning?

It is estimated that a plane will be struck by lightning at least once per every 1000 hours of flight. This works out to be around one lightning strike per plane every year. However, planes are unlikely to crash due to a lightning strike as they are constructed in a way that prevents this.