Julian Koepcke - 10 Days In The Amazon Jungle
This is a little known story of death, hardship and survival that happened over forty years ago in the hostile and uninhabited Amazon jungle of Peru. Because of the era and location the story was little reported by news agencies and is known mostly by the people involved and the locals of the area.
At 11:00 PM on the evening of December 24, 1971 a seventeen year old German girl accompanied by her mother boarded a plane at the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, Peru for a 90 minute flight to Pucallpa to visit her father over the holiday's. Shortly after take off the plane entered a violent thunderstorm and was struck by lightning subsequently obliterating the plane. Ninety two of the ninety three passengers died. This is the miraculous story of the only survivor.
Julian Margaret Koepcke had just graduated from her Lima, Peru high school earlier that day and was excited about the trip to see her father who was working at an isolated research camp in the Amazon rain forest near Pucallpa, Peru. Julian's father, Hans-Wilhelm was a renowned zoologist and her mother, Maria, was an ornithologist doing wildlife research in the rain forest. Julian, a thin, blond girl who wore glasses for her nearsightedness, lived in Lima while her father and mother were in the jungle but visited their camp as often as her schooling would allow.
The Lockheed Electra Turboprop was flying at an altitude of 21,000 feet when it encountered the storm about midnight some where over the dark rain forest. As the storm intensified and the plane began to shake from the heavy turbulence Julian became frightened and clung to her mother. When the lightning struck, it hit one of the 4 propeller engines causing it to explode, tearing off the wing and ripping open the fuselage. Julian was sucked into the black, night sky and the plane disintegrated.
When Julian awoke, some ten hours later, she was still strapped in her seat and it was raining. She had blacked out during the more than two mile plunge and was suffering from a broken collarbone, a deep gash to her calf, a sever concussion and an eye injury. The sudden change in air pressure when she was sucked out of the plane caused the capillaries in her eyes to burst. As the plane came apart in midair pieces of the wreckage had spread for more than a mile and a half across the dense Amazon jungle. From the position of the seat Julian could see into the dimly lit jungle. She was alone, injured and frightened. But alive.
Julian remained in the seat most of the first day blacking in and out and to weak to move. As she slowly began to regain her senses her first thoughts were of her mother. She searched for a full day, crawling on hands and knees through the jungle and calling out, until finally, she accepted the inevitable and went to sleep.
For eight more days Julian wondered through the jungle looking for help or a way out. At one point she heard the sound of king vultures, the biggest new-world vultures in South America. She followed the sound and found the bodies of three of her fellow passengers still strapped in their seats and partially buried into the ground. Killed instantly from the violent impact of the fall. Later that day she came across a cool water spring flowing from the rocks of a hillside. Remembering what her father had told her to do if she was ever lost, she started following the stream, knowing that it would eventually lead to a river and to civilization.
By now Julian was very weak from hunger and her wounds were beginning to become infected. Maggots were in her open wounds and she would stop occasionally to pick them out. Julian continued to follow the little stream and it did indeed, finally, lead into a river where she collapsed from exhaustion and fell asleep.
She was awakened by the rain lying on the sandy beach along the river. As she opened her eyes she saw a canoe floating in the waters edge just a few feet from where she lay. At first, she thought it was a mirage or her injured eyes playing tricks on her. She closed her eyes tight and looked again. The canoe was still there drifting in the current. It was a real canoe, not a hollowed out log used by the more primitive inhabitants of the forest, with an outboard motor. The canoe was tied up to a tree next to a well worn trail that led away from the river up into the jungle.
Julian mustered her strength and followed the trail up the hill and after a short way found a camp with a shelter. The camp was empty and Julian sat down in the shelter out of the rain. The camp was crawling with tree frogs. Julian sat and watched the frogs. At one point she considered catching one of the frogs to eat but realized she was to weak. Later she learned that the frogs were poison Dart frogs and would have killed her almost instantly had she ate one.
Julian heard the men before she saw them. As the three men came up the trail she just sat there and stared, to weak and exhausted to react. The 3 fishermen gave Julian what assistance they could in the form of a small amount of food and water but it was much to late in the day to start down the river. Julian slept through the night and the following morning the fishermen took her downstream to a village where she received medical attention in a small missionary facility. Julian remained in the village for several days until a visiting missionary arrived and she was flown out to Pucallpa and reunited with her father.
With the help of Julian's directions, Maria, her mother, and all other passengers were eventually recovered and buried in a small cemetery in Yarinacocha. An Italian movie and a German documentary was made about the ordeal of Julian Margaret Koepcke but little more was ever heard. Julian is now a biologist and lives in Germany.
14 others survived the crash but died in the jungle awaiting rescue.