In 1971, a plane with 92 passengers aboard crashed in the rainforest. After a ten-day search, rescuers abandoned their search, thinking no one survived. On the 12th day, a 17-year-old girl was found. Juliane Koepcke was the sole survivor of the crash.

We're taking a look at Ben Thompson's book "Badass" and finding some of our favorite badasses in history. A few months ago, we discovered an amazing website Badass of the Week. The creator, Ben Thompson, founded the site so others could learn about various badass men and women in history. The site has been around since 2004 and Thompson has written several books on the subject of Badasses through history, as well as the Guts and Glory series of books. Both series look at various types of heroes and villains throughout history. While reading these books, we've found interesting facts, stories and people that we believe should be highlighted so you know more about them.

In 1971, a plane with 92 passengers aboard disappeared without a trace. After an exhaustive ten-days, rescuers abandoned their search, thinking no one must have survived the crash. On the 12th day, a seventeen-year-old girl emerged from the jungle. Juliane Koepcke was the sole survivor of the crash. And this is her story.

On Christmas Eve of 1971,  German Peruvian high school senior Juliane Koepcke was studying in Lima and wanted to become a zoologist just like her parents. She was in Lima, Peru with her mother and the pair were flying on Flight 508 to visit her father at his research station in the Amazon rainforest. The plane was in the air and after crossing the Andes at about 21,000 feet the plane was encircled by ominous thunderclouds and lightning. Passengers were terrified as the plane suffered from severe turbulence. The next thing the horrified passengers knew, a bolt of lightning struck the plane’s engine and the plane’s wing was ripped off. The ill-fated airliner began plummeting towards the earth when the cabin began tearing apart into pieces. Juliane then found herself still strapped to her seat and alone in her row, freefalling about 10,000 feet from the sky. The other passengers in her row, including her mother, were sucked out of the plane and into the sky.

Juliane was spiraling down, alone down into the Amazon rainforest. One could hope that she would have broken her fall on the forest's canopy but instead, she slammed onto the floor. For about 24 hours she came in and out of consciousness but was miraculously alive. Juliane had a broken collarbone, cuts and bruises and a severe gash on her arm but was still alive. She looked for survivors, including her mother and saw off into the distance the shapes of some people. After making her way through the rainforest to the people, she sadly realized that they were dead, stuck in the jungle canopy. Juliane then used her shoe to swat the ground in front of her for any poisonous animals or snakes and found a bag of candy to use as a food ration. Her father had taught her that in the rainforest if she found a river and followed it downstream, she would eventually find civilization. So this became her mission. 

She spent her nights being tormented by the various jungle bugs, and during the day could hear the rescue helicopters looking for survivors. But with the thick, dense rainforest canopy, they couldn't see the teenager injured on the ground. She made her way down floating down the river, fending off crocodiles and piranhas in the water, until she saw a boat tied to the shore. She followed a path until she reached a small hut and laid inside the shelter. It was then that she realized there were maggots moving inside of her wounds. She remembered a time that her father had cleaned an animals wound with kerosene, so she used a small can of gasoline to pour gas into her arm and kill the maggots. Some died, while others dug further into her flesh. She sat there and pulled 30 maggots out of her limb. With her injuries, semi-cleaned Julianne fell asleep.

Julianne woke up the next day to the owners of the shed discovering her inside, with her various wounds but alive. The family then took her home, fed her and cleaned her up as much as they could and took her to the hospital the next day. She was able to be airlifted to different hospital where her anxious father was waiting for her. Doctors told Julianne she had a torn ACL, partially fractured shin, strained vertebrae and a swollen eye from the popped capillaries from the freefall. But Julianne was alive, the only survivor of the crash. During those next few days in the hospital, Julianne found out that 14 other people survived the initial crash but sadly died in the forest waiting to be rescued. One of those 14 people was her mother, who died several days later in the forest.

After her harrowing ordeal, Julianne finished school and became a mammologist, following in her parents' science-loving footsteps. She returned to Peru where she researched bats and now lives in Germany working at a university.


More From KLAQ El Paso