Camping & Survival

True Survival Story: Juliane Koepcke

Revisiting the site 28 years later

I think I have stressed in previous posts how important knowledge is in surviving. One such survivor, Juliane Koepcke, proved this true. In 1971, Juliane was the sole survivor of a plane crash in the middle of the Amazon jungle. On Christmas Eve, the then 17-year old Juliane and her mother boarded a puddle jumper in Lima, Peru to spend Christmas with Juliane’s father in Pucallpa. Her parents, both accomplished zoologist, had a station in Pucallpa. Juliane had been there many times and her father taught her a lot about the flora, fauna, and the animals in the jungle.

Revisiting the site 28 years later
Revisiting the site 28 years later

About 30 minutes into the flight, the plane ran into thick clouds. Lightning hit the plane tearing off the right wing. The plane broke up in mid air and Juliane, still attached to her row of seats, fell two miles into the jungle below. “I was in a tailspin. I saw the forest beneath me- like “green cauliflower, like broccoli.” ( She woke up from the crash under the row of seats. Juliane had lost one shoe and her glasses. Her collarbone was broken, her right eye was swollen shut, she had gashes on her arms and legs and was suffering from a concussion. She says that she did not feel any pain, but was too dizzy to get up.

Juliane's book cover
The book cover

It took a half day to recover from the fall. When she was able to finally stand, her first thought went to her mother. She searched for survivers, but only found dead bodies. At first Juliane saw search planes overhead, but having no way to signal them she knew she “…had to rely on [her] own strength to get [her] out of there.” ( Fortunately, for Juliane, her father had taught her how to survive in the jungle. The key: follow a stream. Juliane’s father said that a stream would lead into a bigger body of water, which would eventually lead to civilization.

A day after the crash, foraging only candy from the crash site, Juliane found a stream and started to wade through it down stream. She walked, swam, and waded for nine days in the Amazon before finding a boat and a little hut. She waited there until a group of lumberjacks found her.

A fly had laid eggs inside one of the cuts Juliane had sustained from the crash. Those eggs quickly hatched and had turned into maggots. Juliane knew they had to come out. She first tried digging them out with a stick, but to no avail. When she reached the hut, she found some gasoline, which she poured into her wound, extracting the majority of the maggots out. Another survival tip she knew was when she lying down to sleep, she looked for a slope, a bluff, or a thick three so that she could not be attacked from behind. Having an extensive knowledge of the animals in the rainforest, she reports that she was not scared, knowing that the alligators, which she did she encounter, were not prone to attacking humans.

Juliane wrote the book titled, “When I Fell From the Sky,” released in March 2011. There is also a documentary and a movie about the plane crash and her trek to rescue. She went on to become a zoologist, like her parents, and received a doctorate from Ludwig-Maximilian University. Juliane knows she would not have been able to survive if was not for the knowledge her father taught her about the Amazon.

Plane crashes like the one Juliane experienced are extremely rare. From 1983 to 2000, 95% of airline travelers survived airplane crashes. By following 10 simple rules, you have a better chance at surviving a plane crash:

Brace Yourself!
Brace Yourself!
  1. Read the safety card and listen to the safety briefing.
  2. Wear appropriate clothing. Long pants and lace-up shoes.
  3. Keep your seat belt on.
  4. Sit close to an exit. Your chances of survival are better if you are five rows or less away from an exit.
  5. Exit the airplane quickly after impact.
  6. Check to make sure the life vest is under seat before takeoff.
  7. Learn how to brace yourself safely for impact.
  8. Forget your luggage and carry on.
  9. Be aware and stay away from distractions like headphones, a movie, a book, and sleeping pills during takeoff and landing. The first three minutes and the last eight minutes of a flight are when most accidents occur.
  10. Avoid alcohol before and during the flight.

Do you have a plane crash survival tip?

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Comments (3)

  1. My Dad ended up being in a plane crash and says the closer to the tail you can get the safer you’ll be upon impact.

  2. Shoes. I am always amazed at the passengers that wear open toed shoes. The men that wear flip flops and women that wear sandals. Yes, they are easy to take off and put back on when going through the TSA screening but how good do you think they are to walk through aircraft wreckage? I always hope that I am not in an airplane wreck but I’d rather be safe than sorry so I always wear my Danner full leather hunting boots when traveling.

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