Christmas Eve. 1971. 17 year old Juliane Koepcke was on a plane to visit her father while over the jungles of Peru. After a bright flash, Koepcke fell two miles out of the sky, still strapped to her seat, as the lightning bolt had blown the fuselage of the plane all to holy hell. As if this wasn’t crazy enough, then things got even more interesting (and difficult).
After smashing into the Earth’s surface at a high rate of speed, Koepcke awoke still strapped to her seat. She had a broken collarbone, a severe concussion, deep cuts in her arms and legs, and an epic black eye ala Stallone in Rocky II.
She unstrapped from her seat (which must have been the most badass seat in HISTORY) and tried to get her bearings. As the only survivor, she pretty much just saw wreckage and dead bodies. Isolated in the Amazon jungle, with a tree canopy that would keep her from signaling for help, she was forced to recognize that help would probably not come quickly. With no food, no tools, no gear, no maps or compass, and a banged up body, Koepcke quickly understand that it was just her vs. the Amazon – a battle I wouldn’t want to wage.
We should stop here and set the stage for exactly what kind of situation our badass has found herself. The Amazon is a devil’s cauldron of nightmares. Ranked right up there with the Congo, back-woods Siberia, and the Saraha desert, the Congo is not a place you’d want to find yourself stranded. Much less plane-wrecked. There are literally countless creatures that can kill you by touching them, animals that would literally tear you apart for a light mid-morning lunch, and all sorts of giant evil gorillas in certain parts. This forest is not the Enchanted Forest from storybooks – it’s a nightmare place that 99.9% of people would never survive being stranded.
Ah, but our friend Koepcke was also studying for a degree in zoology, so it wasn’t like she was all girly-girly and was going to squeal when she was ankle deep in mud with a snake slithering by. Moreso, her dad was a famous biologist, and she had actually lived with him in several of his research stations throughout this very jungle. Ready to kick some jungle-ass, our heroine grabbed a few nibbles of food and drink from the wreckage all around her and began walking off into the jungle. On her one foot that still had a shoe.
Despite most of our instincts to simply freak-the-hell-out and begin running around like fools, Koepcke knew that finding humans would probably be what would save her. So she calmly came upon a small river, and knowing that humans tend to stick near to water sources, she calmly began wandering down the river in the hopes of finding civilization.
When the small river hit a larger one, she followed the larger one. When the brush got too thick, she shrugged her shoulders and waded chest deep through crocodile and piranha infested waters – barefoot. She pulled the leeches off her legs, she threw sticks at the anacondas that were eyeing her for lunch, and did a whole bunch of other badass shit to survive.
After 11 days of foraging for whatever food she could find, and completely exhausted, she stumbled into some old logging camp and fell face-first into the mud to wait for help. Which didn’t come for another day or so just to make sure things continued to suck.
The loggers literally poured gasoline on her wounds to “help” her (which sounds like a TON of fun), then hauled her bones into some old broke-down canoe for a SEVEN HOUR canoe ride to the next town. From there, she was tossed onto a plan and flown to the local hospital for help. Of the 92 people on board Flight 508, she was the only one that walked out of the Amazon Jungle alive…like a true badass.
To complete her studies in Badass-ery, she went on to get that PhD in Zoology, and now studies bats in Germany, which alone is pretty cool. One of the most harrowing survival stories in human history, Koepcke proved once and for all that she deserves a seat at the table of True Badasses.