Girl Falls 10,000 Feet From Plane And Leaves The Rescue Team Speechless

 

Teenager Juliane Koepcke didn't watch her life flash before her eyes as she plummeted 10,000 feet towards dense jungle terrain. That's because she was knocked unconscious, at the complete and total mercy of the storm that put her into that position to begin with. When she came to, somehow alive, a new mission not on her initial travel itinerary crystallized: find mom and find rescue — or die.

Juliane's Journey

In 1971, German citizen and respected South American bird researcher Maria Koepcke planned a holiday vacation with her 17-year old daughter, Juliane. Leaving from Peru, their itinerary was simple — but it turned completely deadly.

Family Time

Maria (left) planned to meet up with her husband (right) for Christmas, so she booked tickets on the Peruvian airline Lineas Aéreas Nacionales S.A., or LANSA. A time before Yelp and Google reviews, the ornithologist didn't know the airline's reputation.

Bad Omen

See, during the '60s and '70s, LANSA was the fastest way to travel from one Peruvian city to another; however, despite offering frequent flights, the airline was plagued with fatal mishaps.

WikiCommons

Infamy

In 1966, for instance, LANSA Flight 501 careened into a mountain, killing all onboard. A few years later, LANSA Flight 502 crashed. Of the 100 passengers, only one survived, and the crash took the lives of two more people on the ground.

New Haven Register

Winter Flight

Yet, even with its history, LANSA was still the go-to airline. In December 1971, Flight 508 took off from the capital city of Lima. With a small crew and less than 100 passengers — including Maria and Juliane — the takeoff went as planned.

Lightening Strikes

But any hopes of a safe trip were dashed just 40 minutes into the flight, when the small plane flew into a thunderstorm. Suddenly, a bright light lit up the aircraft — lightning had struck the fuel tank!

Bokito TV / YouTube

Free Fall

The right wing of the plane broke away as passengers let out screams. Christmas gifts and luggage were sent flying into the storm as the pilot lost the last bit of control. The plane nosedived. Juliane and Maria held each other tight.

Stern Magazine

Her Last Moments

In an interview with BBC's Outlook, Juliane vividly remembered the crash. Her mother said, "That is the end, it's all over." Then, tragically, her daughter was ripped from her side as Juliane's seat was pulled from the carriage. She flew into the storm before plummeting to the earth. Everything went black.

Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores/Flickr

Rare Luck

When Juliane awoke, she found herself still strapped to her seat — and completely alone. She was alive...somehow. It seemed the dense jungle had broken her fall, enough to allow her to survive. She took stock of her injuries.

United Archives/Getty Images

Search Party

Her collarbone was broken, and there were deep wounds along her legs and arms. Even worse, with her glasses lost in the crash, the near-sighted Juliane had to navigate with bad vision. Her first instinct was to locate her mother.

Different Approach

Juliane called out, but the only sounds she could hear were that of the jungle. She had to think of a new plan. If she could find help, then maybe they could locate her mother and any other survivors.

Education Pros

Wearing only a short, sleeveless dress and sandals, Juliane tried to shake away any fears. After all, she had spent over a year with her family at a research center in the Amazon. She wasn't a stranger to the Peruvian jungles, so she pulled from her knowledge.

Miracles Still Happen

Survival Skills

Because her sight was limited, Juliane used her sandal to strike the ground before her in an effort to scare away any dangerous creatures. Half-blind, she stumbled into the crash site, where she searched for any food or water. The only thing she could find were some candies.

Dick Culbert/Flickr

Jungle Landscape

So, she kept moving. After finding a creek, Juliane stayed in the waters and followed it downstream, a safer approach than staying on land. During the day, the sun burned her. At night, she froze. But she had a strong will to survive.

Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

Birds of Prey

On the fourth day, Juliane recognized the sounds of a king vulture. She knew from her parents' research that from the predator bird, a large mass of dead flesh was nearby. Juliane was horrified when she saw what the birds had noticed.

Bart van Dorp/Flickr

Unmarked Graveyard

The crash site. Passengers were still strapped to their seat, but unlike Juliane, the fall had rammed them into the ground, headfirst. Juliane got close enough to see that her mother was not among them. She continued on, her injuries getting worse.

Hopes and Dangers

Maggots were all over her wounds, causing infection, and, on the 10th day, as she wandered into a river, Juliane questioned her sanity. Up ahead, she saw something that truly didn't make sense.

Good Fortune

There was a motor boat in the near distance, docked along the riverbank. A mirage, she thought. Who would live out in the dense Peruvian jungle? As she neared the boat, however, she realized it was very real. Her stomach turned. Did she want to meet the owner?

A Move For Help

Desperate and nearing death, Juliane investigated. After finding a small path, she found a hut with a gasoline can nearby. She remembered her father had used gasoline on the wound of a family pet once, which gave her an idea.

WikiCommons

Gasoline

The pain was sharp as Juliane sucked gasoline out of the can and tried to clean her wounds as best as she could. Exhausted, she passed out right there in the hut, unaware she was crashing an occupied home.

The Boatmen

The next morning, local boatmen discovered her in the hut, bloody, covered in maggots, and smelling like gasoline. They were frightened, believing her to be a water spirit from their folk tales.

Reunion

Weak, Juliane talked to the boatmen in the little Spanish she knew. Thankfully, they understood. The men did their best to treat her wounds, and, after a seven-hour boat ride, brought Juliane to a hospital. When she finally saw her father, they hugged in silence.

Survivor's Guilt

After a rescue party found Maria Koepcke's body, Juliane learned her mother had indeed survived the plane crash but for only a few days. Juliane is still haunted by what her mother's final days must have been like. No one fared well in the Amazon.

Wings of Hope

Experiences

Juliane kicked her own experience around in her head. Was there something she could've done differently to save her mother? It wasn't until she heard the story of Yosseph or "Yossi" Ghinsberg that she understood how incredibly lucky she was.

Yossi

Yossi was no ordinary man. Born in Tel Aviv, 1959, he traveled the world, optimistic, yet unaware he would encounter a life-or-death situation that never seemed to end.

Military Life

As a young man, he joined the Israeli military. To his delight, as a navy recruit, he not only got to travel out of the country, but he also learned many survival tips, became fit and strong and saved a lot of money.

Papillon

Eventually, Yossi became inspired to travel to Venezuela by Henri Charrière's book Papillon, an autobiography about being wrongly convicted of murder in France, being imprisoned in French Guyana, and eventually escaping to Venezuela.

Marcus Stamm

So Yossi made the trip. While hitchhiking from Venezuela to Colombia to further explore South America, Yossi met a man named Marcus Stamm, a teacher from Switzerland. The two traveled together, this time to La Paz, Bolivia.

La Paz

Soon after arriving in La Paz, the two new friends went hiking in the Amazon rainforest. While they planned their trip out to the details, they stumbled upon another eager explorer: Kevin Gale, an American wildlife photographer who couldn't wait to capture the Amazon.

Hunt for Gold

Before embarking into the Amazon, an Austrian man named Karl Ruprechter approached Yossi and his friends in La Paz. He claimed he was a geologist off to find a gold quarry and impressed the trio with knowledge of the terrain. They didn't hesitate to follow him into the vast and dangerous wilderness.

Asariamas

They started their journey towards the gold quarry in the small village Asariamas. The locals were kind and welcoming, giving them supplies but also an ominous warning: the jungle holds great peril.

Into the Woods

But set in their ways, the men didn't heed the warnings; after all, Karl was an expert, and they were four healthy men with a strong wanderlust. The group trekked into the jungle, ready to battle any obstacle... well, not any obstacle.

Slow Down

Marcus Stramm, the Swiss teacher, began developing trench foot. As the days went on, the infection became more and more painful. He was slowing the group down — and they were running out of food.

Shotguns

Karl had a shotgun for hunting game, but the only thing the group could find were monkeys. Eating them felt wrong, but the hikers were starving. Eventually, they grilled their first monkey, but the already weakened Marcus refused to indulge.

Tuichi

As Marcus' conditioned worsened, the group could no longer continue walking to Karl's promised gold quarry. Instead, they built a raft and tried to float down the Tuichi river. It was then Karl began acting suspicious and scared: apparently, he couldn't even swim. What else was he hiding?

Afraid of the water, Karl went back to the nearest village on foot, taking the weakened Marcus with him. Yossi and Kevin thought they'd be fine sailing on but soon hit a powerful current. Kevin swam to shore, but Yossi wasn't so lucky.

After getting swept down a waterfall, Yossi hit his head on the sharp rocks on the way. For half an hour, he fought to keep his wounded head above the water, gasping for each life-saving breath.

When the water finally calmed down, Yossi swam to shore. However, the moment he stepped onto the land, he was overwhelmed with a sense of doom. He was alone in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. How would he ever survive?

Yossi's spirits lifted when he noticed his backpack miraculously resting on the river's shore. In addition to some helpful supplies, the bag contained a special book. It had brought Yossi's uncle a lot of luck during the Holocaust, and now it would hopefully help keep Yossi alive.

The first danger Yossi encountered was a wild boar. Boars tend to be extremely aggressive and can rip right through the skin with their tusks. Yossi ran for his life through the jungle, eventually shaking the boar off but also wearing himself out.

Less than a week into his solitude, Yossi noticed something in the sky. As it came closer, he realized it was a plane — the same type in which he'd flown to La Paz. Desperate, he called out, waving his arms up and down, but he went unnoticed.

A few nights later, Yossi woke up in excruciating pain. He itched and ached all over his body and couldn't figure out why. It wasn't until the sun rose that he noticed he'd slept on a termite nest!

After the first week, Yossi's food supply was gone and so was his energy. He felt hunger like he'd never imagined. He searched for fruits and bird's eggs and ate dead monkeys when he spotted them.

Despite his efforts to keep himself fed, Yossi quickly lost weight. To make matters worse, he was dehydrated, sleep-deprived, injured from the waterfall, and covered in termite bites. He really needed a break, but the jungle was not about to ease up on him.

Once he finally got to sleep, he was abruptly awakened by the sound of a growl. As soon as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he realized he was staring straight into the eyes of a full-grown jaguar, ready to pounce.

With his heart beating nearly out of his chest, his instincts took over. He reached for his lighter and his mosquito repellent as fast as he could, creating a flamethrower to scare off the jag. Luckily it worked, but it became nearly impossible for a paranoid Yossi to fall asleep after that.

The fauna of the jungle was an obvious threat, but the flora and climate were just as dangerous. When the foursome had begun their hike, the rain season was still two weeks away, but now? It came pouring down all day long, creating floods, and threatening to drown Yossi once again.

As Yossi was too busy trying to wade through the knee-deep water, he could no longer watch his step. Before he could correct his mistake, however, he found himself sinking into quicksand. Just when he accepted his fate, the floods moved, and he pulled himself out.

His socks and shoes had been wet and dirty for too long, and he began to develop a foot infection. To distract himself from the pain so he could keep walking, he did the only thing he could think of...

Yossi rolled around on a nest of fire ants, letting them sting him everywhere. Adrenaline shot through his body, and he found the strength to keep going. Out of nowhere, he noticed a woman beside him. He couldn't believe his eyes. They spent the next few days in each other's company, her presence reinforcing his will to live. But who was she?

Several days later, he woke up without the pain but also without the mystery woman. It seemed too good to be true. She had been a hallucination. Upon this realization, Yossi fell to his knees, crying, and began to pray for his misery to end.

Suddenly he heard the vague sound of an engine coming from the river. He figured it was another plane that wouldn't notice him, but he followed the noise nonetheless. Once he reached the water, he noticed a boat in the distance.

The boat was not only real, but it was also manned by Tico Tudela, a Bolivian fisherman, along with Kevin Gale. Kevin had reached civilization in 3 days and begged the locals to help him look for his friend. Yossi was elated to see Kevin but wondered what happened to Karl and Marcus.

Yossi lost over 30 pounds during his 3 weeks on the verge of death. Meanwhile, Karl and Marcus were nowhere to be found. Yossi later learned Karl was a wanted criminal, who had taken strangers into the jungle before.

During the ensuing 3-months hospital stay, Yossi replayed the beauty and the dangers of the jungle over and over in his head. Everybody who heard his story thought he was crazy, but he felt so thankful to the local people that he wanted to return.

When Yossi revisited Bolivia, the local people were delighted to see him. He moved there for a while and helped build an eco-lodge from which the indigenous people could profit. He also worked on protecting intellectual properties of the people in that region.

Yossi also published several books, including his own autobiography called Back From Tuichi: the Harrowing Story of Survival In The Amazon Rainforest, and traveled the globe giving inspirational speeches. His idol, Henri Charrière would be proud.

In 2017, Yossi's books were adapted into a movie called Jungle, and he was portrayed by no one other than Daniel Radcliffe. Of course, playing the part was a whole lot safer than living it. The movie, ironically, was available for streaming on Amazon.

Kevin and Yossi remained friends. After appearing on the docuseries I Shouldn't Be Alive, Kevin was also involved with the production of Jungle. Although he continued pursuing his love for photography, he was not as eager to return to the rainforest as Yossi.

The two survivors would never forget their fateful trip to the Amazon. They didn't understand why Karl took them into the forest, and they deeply mourned their lost friend Marcus. But their adventure changed their entire lives: neither of them would've changed their decision to make that hike, even if they could.

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