This is an incredible story of a teenager, Juliane Koepcke, who walked away from the wreckage of a plane after falling nearly two miles to Earth. She was travelling with her mother Mariato to be reunited with her father and was the only survivor of the crash.
The pair were flying from Peru’s capital Lima to the city of Pucallpa in the Amazonian rainforest when their plane hit a storm.
The German family lived in Peru, where Hans-Wilhelm and Maria, both zoologists, worked at a research outpost in the rainforest.
Hours before the flight, 17-year-old Juliane had been at her high school graduation on Christmas Eve 1971.
As LANSA flight 508 flew through the thunderstorm, the plane with 91 people on board was battered by severe turbulence.
“I don’t like this,” her mum said as they were rocked around in bad turbulence. Luggage, including Christmas presents, bounced around the cabin.
Within moments, lightning struck the Lockheed L-188A Electra and caused a fire.
“My mother and I held hands but we were unable to speak. Other passengers began to cry and weep and scream,” Juliane told the BBC in 2012.
“After about 10 minutes, I saw a very bright light on the outer engine on the left.
“My mother said very calmly: ‘That is the end, it’s all over’. Those were the last words I ever heard from her.”
Later, Juliane would learn the American-built turboprop plane, with its small, rigid wings, wasn’t designed to withstand extreme turbulence.
As the fire took hold, a wing broke off and the plane began to disintegrate, plunging into a nose-first free fall towards the jungle below.
All 86 passengers and six crew were likely doomed. Some people got sucked out of the plane as it broke apart mid-air.
“I heard the incredibly loud motor and people screaming and then the plane fell extremely steeply,” Juliane told VICE in 2010.
“And then it was calm – incredibly calm compared with the noise before that. I could only hear the wind in my ears. I was still attached to my seat.
“My mother and the man sitting by the aisle had both been propelled out of their seats. I was freefalling, that’s what I registered for sure. I was in a tailspin.”
After a terrifying free fall of about 9700 feet the teenager landed on the floor of the Amazon jungle.
It has been suggested the row of seats Juliane was strapped to, which were empty on either side of her, slowed her fall enough for her to survive it.
It also likely broke her fall when she hit the ground. When she landed she blacked out and woke up the next morning.
“I had a serious concussion, so I couldn’t sit up. My eye was swollen,” Juliane told VICE of the moment she woke up.
“I was lying underneath my seat and I wasn’t strapped in anymore.
“I could see a bit of the forest but also a bit of the sky. I knew that I had survived a plane crash. The concussion and the shock only let me realise basic facts.
“I didn’t really think about myself. I was more concerned about where my mother was.”
It took Juliane half a day to find the strength to get up and walk around.
She had a broken collarbone, a strained vertebrae, a partially fractured shin, a cut on her arm and a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Because of the sudden change in pressure when she was ripped out of the plane, the capillaries in her eyes popped, making her look like “a zombie from a movie”, she said.
But she was able to walk around in search of help, surviving off a bag of lollies she found among the wreckage.
She was familiar with the Amazonian jungle, thanks to the work of her parents followed the survival instruction advice given by her father to follow the river.
On the fourth day, she came across crash victims but was unable to find her mother’s body.
Juliane continued looking for help, staying close to the riverbank, battling against the harsh heat and rain.
At one point, she realized flies had laid eggs in the wound in her arm, causing dozens of maggots to hatch underneath her skin and eat a hole through it.
After 10 days, she came across a motor boat on the river and a barrel of diesel fuel. She used the fuel to disinfect the wound and kill off most of the maggots. She also found a small shack, where she took shelter where some local workers found her, 11 days after the crash.
They gave her food, helped treat her wounds, and took her to a hospital where she was finally reunited with her father. “He could barely talk and in the first moment we just held each other,” Juliane told the BBC.
“For the next few days, he frantically searched for news of my mother. On January 12, they found her body.
“Later I found out that she also survived the crash but was badly injured and she couldn’t move. She died several days later. I dread to think what her last days were like.”
Peruvian investigators found the crash to be caused by “intentional flight into hazardous weather conditions”, perhaps due to the pressure to keep up with busy schedules during the Christmas holidays despite the dangerous weather conditions.
“Of course I had nightmares for a long time, for years, and of course the grief about my mother’s death and that of the other people came back again and again,” Juliane told VICE.
“The thought – why was I the only survivor? It haunts me. It always will.”