On Christmas Eve 1971, in the skies above the desolate, remote jungles of Peru, LANSA Flight 508 got its ass rocked like a hurricane by a ginormous bolt of lightning that blew the entire fuselage apart like a humongoid human-filled flying pipe bomb with wings. Juliane Koepcke, a quiet seventeen year-old high school senior on her way to visit her father, fell two miles out of the sky, without a parachute, crunching into the dirt floor of the Amazon Rain Forest with enough velocity to fracture the skull of Bahamut the World Fish. When she somehow miraculously awoke and came to her senses (a feat which few of her fellow passengers managed to accomplish), she was still strapped in to her seat. She had a broken collarbone, a severe concussion, deep cuts in her arms and legs, and one of her eyes had been swollen shut like Stallone the end of Rocky II. You know, the sort of injuries you'd expect from someone who just plummeted through a few thousand feet of freefall and splashed down in a goddamned rainforest.
Juliane unbuckled her apparently-indestructible airline seat belt (she was obviously paying attention when the flight attendant was going through that whole "here's how you properly fasten your safety belt" portion of the spiel) and briefly surveyed the wreckage. All she saw were corpses and empty seats. She was alone in the Amazon, with the thick canopy jungle above her preventing her from signaling for help, and effectively crotch-stomping any hope for a successful or timely rescue. Juliane Koepcke had no food, no tools, no gear, no powerbars, no means to make fire, no maps, and no compass. Shit, she only had one shoe, having lost the other one during that whole "careening through the atmosphere" thing, which I guess is understandable. It was just her and the wilderness, mano-e-womano.
Now, I touched on the Amazon River Basin somewhat in my article on EL TITANOBOA MONSTRUO, but perhaps this would be a good time for me to get into this in a little more detail. The Amazon is one of the most insane, hardcore jungles ever devised – a ghastly hellhole of unrighteous suckitude filled with horrors beyond that which most hack basement-dwelling sci-fi authors could ever dream up in their wildest LSD-inspired psychotic delusions. This place is right up there with the Congo, rural Siberia, and the Sahara Desert in terms of "terrible places you would only really want to visit if you enjoy being miserable and suffering a slow and painful death". It is home to thousands of species of venomous creatures, dozens of other non-poisonous things with large, pointy, flesh-rending teeth, revolting man-eating monsters, and giant evil gorillas that can face-punch people so hard their necks explode. It's the home of the Candiru Fish, a sick reject from God's murderous asshole that makes its living by swimming up peoples' urethras and embedding itself with a couple of horrific, groin-cringingly sharp spines. I mean, this place almost killed Teddy Roosevelt, a guy who is pretty much widely believed to be one of the most badass men to ever take a dump in the bathroom of the Oval Office, so you KNOW it's not something you should really jerk around with if you can help it. Shit, the fact that I even need to reference the TITANOBOA when talking about this place should give you a good idea of how retardedly insane this place is. You’d have better odds for survival working as a custodial technician in Ravenholm or sweeping out air ducts on LV-426.
Well, as I mentioned previously, Juliane Koepcke was just a young high school senior, but I should also say that she was working towards a degree in flippin' zoology at a school in Lima, Peru, so it wasn't like she was awkwardly terrified of a little bit of torrential rain or knee-deep mud or giant carnivorous predators or anything. It also didn't hurt that both of her parents were famous German biologists, either. In fact, she'd grown up living in a number of different research stations in the middle of this godforsaken jungle, so I guess I don't have to tell you that this ridiculously tough broad wasn't going to give up and start digging her own grave with a broken set of chopsticks just because she was lost and alone in one of the cruelest and most inhospitable jungles on the planet. Forget that. She wasn't going down without a fight, and she had every intention of giving this nightmarish deathzone a giant barefooted roundhouse kick right in its horrible dripping serrated mandibles. Juliane searched through the wreckage, grabbed the few pieces of candy and food that she was able to scrounge up from the debris, and started walking off into the jungle.
Though she was disoriented and concussed, Juliane kept her wits about her and didn’t just go running around screaming and falling down all over the place like some slutty bimbo in a bad horror movie. This unbreakable survivor knew that her best chance of making it out of this craptastic situation was to link up with civilization as quickly as possible, and that most people tend to live near waterways of some form or another, so she pressed through the underbrush until she found a small creek, and she just started following it downstream. When the creek ran into a larger body of water, she followed that. When the vegetation on the river bank was too thick, she waded through knee-deep, piranha- and candiru-infested waters without even giving a crap. She just constantly pushed herself on, fighting forward, driving ahead through sheer force of will alone.
For eleven days (!) Juliane Koepcke trudged through the Amazon Rain Forest without any gear or food, smashing her way through the snarls of vegetation and plant life, avoiding the man-eating crocodiles she routinely encountered, and fighting off insect swarms, clouds of leeches, and other disgusting creatures of blood-sucking and/or multi-legged insanity. She drank river water, battled through infection and disease, foraged for whatever scraps of food she could get her hands on, and did a bunch of other badass Bear Grylls-types of shit just to stay alive long enough to find help.
Finally, after a week and a half of this hellish, ball-sucking death march, the semi-conscious, zombie-esque Koepcke shambled into a remote, makeshift logging camp on the edge of the rain forest. She fell down, curled up, and waited for help, which arrived the following day. The loggers gave her some very rudimentary first aid (part of which involved pouring gasoline on her to clean out her wounds, which sounds like it was probably a whole lot of fun), and took her on a seven-hour canoe trip to the nearest town, where a local pilot then flew her to the hospital for treatment. Of the 92 people on board Flight 508, this unassuming 17 year-old woman was the only one who walked out of the wilderness alive.
Of course, Juliane Koepcke wasn't done yet. She went on to get a PhD in Zoology, proving that this survivor could take the most horrible shit mother nature could throw at her and it wasn't even going to slow her down. Nowadays she studies bats in Germany or something, which is pretty sweet if you ask me. Her survival story remains one of the most badass demonstrations of human endurance that I've ever come across.
Kopcke returned to the debris-riddled crash site in 2000 to film a documentary.
She's just hard like that.
Gonzales, Laurence. Deep Survival. W.W. Norton, 2004.
Herzog, Werner. Wings of Hope. Directed by Werner Herzog. Werner Herzog Filmproduktion, 2000.
Leslie, Edward E., and Sterling Seagrave. Desperate Journeys, Abandoned Souls. Houghton Mifflin, 1998.
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