Survival Stories: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

When she was 17, Juliane Koepcke dropped 10,000 feet into the Amazon rain forest. She describes how she survived—alone.

from the book "When I Fell from the Sky"

MapWe’re falling fast. People’s shouts and the roar of the turbines suddenly go silent. My mother is no longer at my side, and I’m no longer in the plane. I’m still strapped into my seat on the bench, at an altitude of about 10,000 feet. I’m alone. And I’m falling.

My free fall is quiet. I see nothing around me. The seat belt squeezes my belly so tight that I can’t breathe. Before I feel fear, I lose consciousness.

When I come to, I’m upside down, still falling, the Peruvian rain forest spinning slowly toward me. The densely packed treetops remind me of broccoli. I see everything as if through a fog before I pass out again.

When I regain consciousness, I’ve landed in the middle of the jungle. My seat belt is unfastened, so I must have woken up at some point. I’ve crawled deeper into the sheltering back of the three-seat bench that was fastened to me when I fell from the sky. Wet and muddy, I lie there for the rest of the day and night.

I will never forget the image I see when I open my eyes the next morning: The crowns of the giant trees above me are suffused with golden light, bathing everything in a green glow. I feel abandoned, helpless, and utterly alone. My mother’s seat beside me is empty.

I can’t stand up. I hear the soft ticking of my watch but can’t read the time. I can’t see straight. I realize that my left eye is swollen shut; I can see only through a narrow slit in my right eye. My glasses have disappeared, but I finally manage to read the time.

It’s 9 a.m. I feel dizzy again and lie exhausted on the rain forest floor. After a while, I manage to rise to my knees, but I feel so dizzy that I immediately lie back down. I try again, and eventually I’m able to hold myself in that position. I touch my right collarbone; it’s clearly broken. I find a deep gash on my left calf, which looks as if it has been cut by a rough metal edge. Strangely, it’s not bleeding.

I get down on all fours and crawl around, searching for my mother. I call her name, but only the voices of the jungle answer me.

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