Today on STORMBRINGER we respect possibly the greatest survivalist of all time . . .
On Christmas Eve 1971, in the skies above the desolate, remote jungles of Peru, a bolt of lightning that blew the fuselage of LANSA Flight 508 open like a Coke can going under a car tire. 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 flatten an elephant. She somehow miraculously awoke and came to her senses 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. Mild injuries for someone who just plummeted several thousand feet through the air; obviously the triple canopy foliage of the jungle broke her fall.
Juliane unbuckled her airline seat belt 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 preventing her from signaling for help. Juliane Koepcke had no food, no tools, no gear, no powerbars, no means to make fire, no maps, and no compass. It was just her, against the wilderness.
The Amazon is one of the densest, most impenetrable jungles on Earth. It is home to thousands of species of venomous creatures, dozens of other non-poisonous things, to include the Candiru Fish that swims up peoples' urethras and embeds itself with a couple of horrific sharp spines.
As previously mentioned, Juliane Koepcke was just a young high school senior, but she was working towards a degree in zoology at a school in Lima, Peru. Her parents were famous German biologists, and she'd grown up living in a number of different research stations in the middle of this self-same jungle. 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, knowing that her best chance of making it out of this situation was to link up with civilization as quickly as possible. Knowing that 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. She 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 blood-sucking and/or multi-legged disgusting creatures. She drank river water, battled through infection and disease, foraged for whatever scraps of food she could get her hands on, and did whatever it took to stay alive long enough to find help.
Finally, after a week and a half of this hellish, 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; sounds like 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 horrific situation Mother Nature could throw at her and wouldn't even slow down. Her survival story remains one of the most incredible demonstrations of human endurance that I've ever come across.
In 2000 Koepcke returned to the debris-riddled crash site to film a documentary.
She's just hard like that.