The story of how Juliane Koepcke survived the doomed LANSA Flight 508 still fascinates people today—and for good reason.
A Doomed Flight
On December 24, 1971, 17-year-old Koepcke and her mother boarded a flight to Iquitos, Peru—a risky decision that her father had already warned them against. LANSA was an airline with a terrible reputation, but it was too late. The trip was already booked.
Mid-flight, a nightmare ensued. Lighting struck the plane, causing it to break apart and plummet toward the ground. Terrified and still strapped to her seat, Koepcke fell 10,000 feet, crashing into the middle of the Amazon rainforest.
In a seemingly miraculous twist of fate, the teenage girl survived the long fall but still sustained serious injuries: a concussion, a broken collarbone, an eye injury, and a cut on her right arm. But her suffering wasn’t over yet.
For the next 11 days, Koepcke fought for her life. She spent most of her time wading through water, trying to escape the jungle. The insects came for her and soon her injured arm teemed with an infestation of maggots. Finally, after nine brutal days, she stumbled across a local fishermen’s encampment. But Koepcke had more than luck on her side.
She Didn’t Give Up
You see, thanks to her parents, she’d already learned survival skills at the Panguana research station they’d established in the Amazon rainforest. These essential skills allowed Koepcke to treat her own wounds. When she arrived at the encampment, she performed first aid on herself, even drenching her arm in gasoline to drive out the maggots.
When the fishermen found the battered teen, they tended to her and transported her by canoe to a more populated area. After being airlifted to a hospital and recovering, Koepcke faced her trauma head on. She joined the search parties, returning to the jungle to help search for the crash site and find the other victims.
Sadly, Koepcke was the sole survivor of the LANSA flight 508 tragedy. Though 14 other passengers survived the crash, they all perished while waiting to be rescued. There were 91 fatalities in total.