In 1971, Juliane Koepcke, then 17 years old, was a resident of Peru. She had grown up in the bush with her parents, who were both zoologists doing research in the rainforest. She and her mother flew on Christmas Eve that year to visit Lima to see family.
Lightning hit the aircraft during a violent thunderstorm that it encountered. Juliane found herself plummeting through the air while strapped into her seat as the plane split up in midair. Her only injuries were a fractured collarbone, a gash on her arm, and a few bruises when she somehow survived and landed in the Amazon rainforest alone.
Juliane wore a short-sleeved dress and shoes and had no food, water, or survival gear. She spent days wandering through the thick bush, dodging insects, hunger, and dehydration. In search of civilization, she found a little brook and followed it downstream.
Juliane came upon some loggers nine days after the disaster, and they carried her to a neighboring settlement. She was ultimately taken by air to a hospital, where she discovered she was the only person to survive the collision. Ninety other passengers and crew members had also perished in addition to her mother.
Juliane’s tale of overcoming overwhelming difficulties to survive in the Amazon jungle captivated the world’s attention. Her story inspired books, documentaries, and even a Hollywood movie. As a scientist, Juliane spent the rest of her life researching the rainforest and fighting for its preservation. She continues to be a source of inspiration for many due to her extraordinary resiliency and will to live.