In 1971, Juliane Koepcke, a 17-year-old, was aboard an airplane flying over the Peruvian rainforest along with her mother. A lightning strike hit the plane, causing her to be sucked out of the aircraft while still strapped to her seat. Plummeting two miles down, she experienced the terrifying ordeal.
“The plane abruptly descended, entering a nosedive. Darkness enveloped everything, accompanied by the chilling sounds of screams and the thundering roar of the engines echoing in my mind. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the noise ceased, and I found myself outside the airplane. I was in a freefall, firmly attached to my seat, tumbling head over heels. The only sound was the gentle susurration of the wind. The jungle canopy spun toward me, and then consciousness slipped away, erasing any memory of impact. Later, I learned that the plane had shattered into fragments some two miles above the earth. When I awoke the next day, my gaze met the jungle canopy above, and my initial thought was: ‘I have survived an airplane crash.'”
Initially, Koepcke’s instinct was to locate her mother, yet her search proved fruitless. After consuming some discovered confections from the crash site, she followed the course of a river downstream. Ten days later, she stumbled upon a tethered boat. To address her wounds, infested with maggots, she poured gasoline from the boat’s tank, then spent the night in an improvised shelter.
“I lingered there, desiring to depart. Taking the boat felt akin to theft, and I wished to avoid that.”
The ensuing day, loggers came across her, leading to a reunion with her father. Subsequently, Koepcke learned that her mother had initially survived the crash, only succumbing to her injuries a few days later.
Following in her parents’ footsteps, Koepcke pursued studies in biology at the University of Kiel in Germany, eventually graduating in 1980. She earned her doctorate from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, returning to Peru to engage in mammalogy research, with a specialization in bats.