Who is Juliane Koepcke?

Isabella Portu, News Editor

Juliane and Maria Koepcke were forced into taking a last-minute flight from Lineas Aéreas Nacionales Sociedad Anonima, specifically Lansa flight 508, traveling directly over the Amazon rainforest. This is when the already poorly made aircraft, built off of scraps of other planes, heads into hazardous weather conditions and begins rapidly falling out of the sky… Straight into the amazon rainforest.

Photo via Pixabay under Pixabay License

The Amazon rainforest covers more than 2.5 million miles of land, covering the ground with dense tree cover. Juliane Koepcke awoke strapped to an empty three-seat aisle in the middle of the Amazon. She had extensive injuries covering her body, an infected gash on her shoulder, a torn ligament in her knee, and clavicle bones that were so broken they were touching each other.

Juliane spent over 10 days traveling 2 miles deep into the rainforest before she found any kind of civilization. In these ten days, she drank water from leaves, ate leftover candy she discovered at the crash site, and faced various challenges from her new dangerous environment. Kopecke took on caimans, different venomous species, starvation, gangrene, and the mental toll of being abandoned in the amazon at only 17 years old.

On the 11th day, Juliane found her salvation -a small hut located by the river she had traveled along, with a new boat tied up to a dock nearby. Once inside, she used gasoline to clean her infected wound and safely rested for several days. She was rescued by Peruvian fishermen who owned the hut.

How was Juliane the only one able to survive these conditions? Koepcke was born in 1954 to renowned ornithologists Maria and Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke. The Koepcke’s worked closely with the amazon studying and identifying neotropical bird species. Due to their line of work, they raised Juliane with a strong respect for the rainforest, taking her on hikes from a young age, and at some point in her high school career, moved remotely to a stilt house deep within the amazon. This provided Koepcke with a unique set of skills and knowledge that allowed her to distinguish edible and non-edible plants and animals and get a feel for how inhabited the area was.

Since the accident, Juliane has obtained her Ph.D. in mammalogy, specializing in bats, as well as continuing research in the Amazon rainforest and giving speeches worldwide. In 2011 she wrote a book about her experience called “When I fell from the Sky” and produced several movies and documentaries.

To this day, Juliane, now 68, flies regularly and currently works as a librarian at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich. She’s been married to her spouse Erich Diller, who’s a fellow entomologist, for the past 34 years. Juliane Koepcke is an international inspiration whose message of positivity and endurance serves as a serious wakeup call to those doubting their capabilities.