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"

Juliane with wreckageFor someone who has never been in the rain forest, it can seem threatening. Huge trees cast mysterious shadows. Water drips constantly. The rain forest often has a musty smell from the plants that intertwine and ramble, grow and decay.

Insects rule the jungle, and I encounter them all: ants, beetles, butterflies, grasshoppers, mosquitoes. A certain type of fly will lay eggs under the skin or in wounds. Stingless wild bees like to cling to hair.

Luckily, I’d lived in the jungle long enough as a child to be acquainted with the bugs and other creatures that scurry, rustle, whistle, and snarl. There was almost nothing my parents hadn’t taught me about the jungle. I only had to find this knowledge in my concussion-fogged head.

Suddenly I’m seized by an intense thirst. Thick drops of water sparkle on the leaves around me, and I lick them up. I walk in small circles around my seat, aware of how quickly you can lose your orientation in the jungle. I memorize the location and markings of one tree to keep my bearings.

I find no trace of the crash. No wreckage, no people. But I do discover a bag of candy and eat a piece.

I hear the hum of airplane engines overhead. I look up, but the trees are too dense: There’s no way I can make myself noticeable here. A feeling of powerlessness overcomes me. I have to get out of the thick of the forest so that rescuers can see me. Soon the engines’ hum fades away.

I hear the dripping, tinkling, gurgle of water that I hadn’t noticed before. Nearby I find a spring, feeding a tiny rivulet. This fills me with hope. Not only have I found water to drink, but I’m convinced that this little stream will lead the way to my rescue.

I try to follow the rivulet closely, but there are often tree trunks lying across it, or dense undergrowth blocks my way. Little by little, the rivulet grows wider and turns into a stream, which is partly dry, so that I can easily walk beside the water. Around six o’clock it gets dark, and I look in the streambed for a protected spot where I can spend the night. I eat another candy.

Courtesy Erich Diller

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