Written in collaboration with Beate Rygiert, and translated by Ross Benjamin, Doctor Juliane Koepecke-Diller recalls her incredible tale of becoming the only survivor of a plane crash in the Peruvian forest at age 16.
One moment she was sitting next to her mother, both being frightened by a storm, and the next she and her seat were plummeting downward at such speed that the only that saved her from death was a thick canopy of lush vegetation. Juliane then actually swims and floats down a river in spite of serious injuries, no good, and caimans for company for 11 days before spying a motorboat tied to a “tambo,” or native shelter. She uses the motorboat’s gasoline from a barrel beside the hut to drip on her wounded arm, drawing out over 30 maggots, with more to come later. Eventually woodcutters return for their boat and in Spanish she tells them her versions of the LANSA airlines disaster.
When in later years, Juliane wonders, as anyone would, why she was the only passenger saved, one answer seems to relate to carrying on her parents work, the study of the preservation of the Amazon Rain Forest.
She says, “The rain forest is not only full of wonders, most of which we don’t even know yet-its preservation as the green lung of the earth is also crucial for the continued existence of an extremely young species on this planet earth: human beings.”
Thus her goal becomes making Panguana, the area in which she grew up, a nature preserve and biological research station, where scientists from all over the world can come to study.
As a reader, this seems so appropriate since it appears that it was her familiarity with the rain forest Spanish language, which did saver her life. Can you imagine knowing neither and then being plunked down in their midst as a teenager?
The book is more than a survival story as it encompasses her family background and the after effects of her adventure. She could not bring herself to relive the experience on paper until years later after completing her studies in Germany and helping the famed producer and director, Werner Herzog, to film a made for television documentary on the harrowing episode entitled, “Wings of Hope” (2001).
Rather than forsake the forest and plane travel she has divided her time between Europe and South America.
She goes from her position as a biologist at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich to being an activist in Peru each year with her husband, Erich Diller. In her retelling of the events, she draws on letters written by her parents and uses black and white photos to illustrate her development from child of the forest to adult scientist.
And if your interest is sparked in survival stories I can the television shows, “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” and “Coast Guard Alaska,” in addition to the following books about both females and males, “who found their way:” “Alone Across the Arctic”—Flowers (2001), “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon”—King (1999), “Lost in Shangri-La—Zuckoff” (2011), “Star River-London” (1915), “The Terror”—Simmon (2007), “The Untold Stories of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese”—Norman (1999).
Michaeline Chance-Reay is a local historian who teaches in both the departments of Curriculum & Instruction and Women’s Studies at Kansas State.