Juliane Koepcke

Juliane Koepcke (born 10 October 1954), also known by her married name Juliane Diller, is a German-Peruvian mammalogist and biologist.

Juliane Koepcke
Ceremonia de condecoración a la doctora Juliane Koepcke - 46616983225 (cropped).jpg
Koepcke in 2019
Born (1954-10-10) 10 October 1954 (age 68)
Alma mater
Known forSurviving LANSA Flight 508

In 1971, when she was 17 years old, Koepcke survived the LANSA Flight 508 plane crash. After falling 3,000 m (10,000 ft) while strapped to her seat, the teen survived 11 days alone in the Amazon rainforest.

Early lifeEdit

Koepcke was born in Lima, Peru, in 1954 to German parents who worked at the Museum of Natural History, Lima. She was the only child of biologist Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke and ornithologist Maria Koepcke. When Koepcke was 14, her parents left Lima to establish Panguana, a research station in the Amazon rainforest. She became a "jungle child" and learned survival techniques. Educational authorities disapproved and Koepcke was required to return to the Deutsche Schule Lima Alexander von Humboldt to take her examinations. She graduated on 23 December 1971.[1]


On Christmas Eve 1971, Koepcke flew on LANSA Flight 508. Koepcke had just graduated from high school. Her mother Maria had wanted to return to Panguana with her daughter on 19 or 20 December 1971, but Koepcke wished to attend her graduation ceremony in Lima on 23 December. Maria agreed for Koepcke to stay longer and instead they scheduled a flight on Christmas Eve. All flights were booked, aside from one with Líneas Aéreas Nacionales S.A. (LANSA). Her father, Hans-Wilhelm, urged his wife to avoid journeying with the airline, which had a poor reputation.[1] They booked the flight, nonetheless. The plane was struck by lightning. The structure began to disintegrate in midair, and plummeted to the ground. Koepcke found herself still strapped to her seat—falling three kilometres into the Peruvian rain forest.

In Koepcke’s case, experts credit the fact that she was harnessed into her plane seat during her descent for her survival. She did, however, break her collarbone. She spent most of her 11 days in the rainforest making her way through the water. Koepcke's unlikely survival has been the subject of much speculation. She is known to have been belted into her seat, thus somewhat shielded and cushioned, but the outer seats of the row — those on each side of Koepcke, which remained attached to hers as part of a row of three — are thought to have functioned as a parachute and slowed her fall.[2][3] The impact may have been lessened further by a thunderstorm updraft and the thick foliage at her landing site.[2][3] As many as 14 other passengers were also later found to have survived the initial crash, but died awaiting rescue.[4]

While in the jungle, Koepcke dealt with severe insect bites and a maggot infestation in her wounded arm, but after 9 days, she was able to find an encampment. She gave herself rudimentary first aid, including pouring gasoline on the maggot infestation, causing the maggots to vacate the wound to escape the gasoline. A few hours later, the returning loggers found her, gave her first aid, and took her to a more inhabited area, where she was airlifted to a hospital.


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. The thought Why was I the only survivor? haunts me. It always will.

Koepcke, 2010[5]

After recovering from her injuries, Koepcke assisted search parties in locating the crash site and recovering the bodies of victims. Her mother's body was discovered on 12 January 1972.

Koepcke's double survival story has been the subject of books and films, including her own autobiography, When I Fell From the Sky, and a documentary film, Wings of Hope, by director Werner Herzog. Herzog was interested in telling Koepcke's story because of a personal connection. He was slated to be on her flight in 1971, but a last-minute change of plans spared him from the accident.

Koepcke moved to Germany, where she fully recovered from her injuries. Like her parents, she studied biology at the University of Kiel and graduated in 1980.[6] She received a doctorate from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and returned to Peru to conduct research in mammalogy, specializing in bats.[6] Koepcke published her thesis, Ecological study of a bat colony in the tropical rain forest of Peru, in 1987.[7] In 1989, Koepcke married Erich Diller, an entomologist who specializes in parasitic wasps.[8] In 2000, Koepcke took over as the director of Panguana, following the death of her father.[8]

Now known as Juliane Diller, she serves as librarian at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich.[2] Her autobiography, When I Fell from the Sky (German: Als ich vom Himmel fiel), was released on 10 March 2011 by Piper Verlag,[9] for which she received the Corine Literature Prize in 2011.[10] In 2019, the government of Peru awarded her the Order of Merit for Distinguished Services, in the degree of Grand Officer.[11]

Portrayal in filmsEdit

Having been widely reported, Koepcke's experience is the subject of a feature-length fictional film and a documentary. The first was the low-budget, heavily fictionalized, I miracoli accadono ancora (1974) by Italian filmmaker Giuseppe Maria Scotese; it was released in English as Miracles Still Happen (1974) and sometimes is called The Story of Juliane Koepcke. In that film, she was portrayed by British actress Susan Penhaligon.[12]

Twenty-five years later, director Werner Herzog revisited the story in his film Wings of Hope (1998). While location scouting for Aguirre, the Wrath of God in 1971, Herzog would have been on the same flight as Koepcke, had it not been for a last-minute change of his itinerary.[13] Koepcke accompanied him on a visit to the crash site, a journey she described as "a kind of therapy" for her.[14]


  • Koepcke, Juliane (1987). Ökologische Studien an einer Fledermaus-Artengemeinschaft im tropischen Regenwald von Peru (Thesis) (in German). Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.
  • Koepcke, Juliane (2011). Als ich vom Himmel fiel [When I fell from the sky] (in German). Munich: Piper Malik. ISBN 978-3-89029-389-9.
  • Koepcke, Juliane (2011). When I Fell from the Sky. Translated by Benjamin, Ross. Titletown Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9837547-0-1.

See alsoEdit

Fall survivors


  1. ^ a b Williams, Sally (22 March 2012). "Sole survivor: the woman who fell to earth". The Telegraph.
  2. ^ a b c "Survivor still haunted by 1971 air crash". CNN.com. 2 July 2009. Archived from the original on 25 February 2018. Retrieved 30 July 2011.
  3. ^ a b Loup, Aldo (2013). "The incredible fall of Juliane Koepcke". Naturapop.com. Natura Pop. Archived from the original on 18 May 2013. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  4. ^ "17-Year-Old Only Survivor in Peruvian Accident". Archived from the original on 8 May 2017.
  5. ^ Littlewood, Tom (January 2011). "After the Fall". Harper's. Harper's Foundation. 322 (1, 928): 20–23. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  6. ^ a b Vuilleumier, Francois (2002). "Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke". Ornitologia Neotropical. 13 (2): 215–218.
  7. ^ Koepcke, Juliane (1987). Ökologische Studien an einer Fledermaus-Artengemeinschaft im tropischen Regenwald von Peru (in German). OCLC 230848237.
  8. ^ a b Lidz, Franz (18 June 2021). "She Fell Nearly 2 Miles, and Walked Away". The New York Times.
  9. ^ Diller, Juliane; Rygiert, Beate (2011). Als ich vom Himmel fiel: Wie mir der Dschungel mein Leben zurückgab [When I fell from the sky: How the jungle gave me my life back] (in German). Malik. ISBN 978-3-89029-389-9.
  10. ^ "Corine Internationaler Buchpreis". Corine.de (in German). National Exchange Association of Bavaria. 2013. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  11. ^ "Condecoran a Juliane Koepcke por su labor científica y académica en la Amazonía peruana". gob.pe (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 19 August 2019. Retrieved 19 August 2019.
  12. ^ "IMDb: The Story of Juliane Koepcke (1975)". Internet Movie Database. 2011. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  13. ^ Herzog, Werner (2001). Herzog on Herzog. Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-20708-1.
  14. ^ Banister interview, 24:20.

External linksEdit