'Now It's All Over,' Said Her Mom. But the Teen Survived

Juliane Diller, nee Koepke, talks to the 'New York Times' about the 1971 plane crash
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 27, 2021 3:45 PM CDT
The Plane Fell Apart, Killing Everyone but Her
She walked through the jungle for 11 days.   (Getty Images)

Juliane Diller, nee Koepke, hasn't made public comments about the accident in many years, writes Franz Lidz for the New York Times. She does with Lidz, recounting the Christmas Eve 1971 plane crash that killed 91 people; there were 92 aboard. The then-17-year-old and her mother had left Lima, Peru, eventually bound for Panguana, the biological research station her parents had founded within the Amazon. First came the shaking as the plane entered the storm, then she saw lightning strike the right wing. "Now it's all over," she recalls her mother saying. And then the plane splintered, and "I was outside, in the open air. I hadn’t left the plane; the plane had left me." She remained strapped to a three-seat bench and fell about 10,000 feet, losing consciousness along the way. Dense foliage is thought to have provided a life-saving cushion. She woke the next day and began an 11-day trek to civilization.

As Lidz writes, she kept returning to Panguana, despite the fact it meant flying there from her new home in Germany, where she became a renowned zoologist. It's the fulfillment of what she says was a promise made during those 11 days: that if she survived, she would devote her life to something that benefitted nature and humanity. "That cause would become Panguana," which thanks to her efforts has grown from 445 acres to 4,000, writes Lidz. He goes on to outline the staggering biodiversity found there, as well as how it came to be, starting with her father Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke's improbable journey to Peru. He was offered a job with the natural history museum in Lima in 1948, but getting out of Germany in the aftermath of WWII was no easy feat. His own trek involved crossing mountain ranges, being imprisoned in Italy, and stowing away on a cargo ship headed to Uruguay. When he got there two years later, the job had been given to someone else. (Read the full story here.)

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