Christmas Eve 1971 – LANSA Flight 508m en route from Lima to Pucallpa, Peru
Forty minutes into the flight, 17-year-old Juliane Köpcke was staring out into the impossible darkness over the Peruvian rainforest when the plane, suddenly buffeted by high winds, began to shake violently. The seatbelt sign blinked on and the flight attendants suspended their tour down the aisle with the drinks trolley. Lightning flashed erratically through the windows and, as the plane began to lurch more wildly, she noticed that although the crew was attempting to remain stoically impassive, with pursed lips, the 93 passengers were beginning to exchange nervous glances. Her mother gripped her hand tightly.
She gasped in horror as a bolt of lightning struck the right wing and a fire ball erupted from its fuel tank. The shock wave jolted the entire length of the fuselage and, as the wing separated from the body of the plane and the nose went into a dive, the cabin was filled with terrified screaming. The skin of the plane peeled off above her head and a tornado-strength wind sucked passengers and baggage out into the raging night. She felt her seat being ripped from the floor and she cried out in anguish as her hand was yanked from her mother’s and she began to fall, the hull of the plane disintegrating in an inferno of flames below her.
She fell for almost 2 minutes, bodies and debris tumbling around with her. Careening through the winds and the rain and the madness of the lightning, she saw the dark canopy of the forest rushing up to meet her.
10 days later at a hospital in Pucallpa
She sat up in bed and, attempting to open her eyes, discovered that the left one was swollen shut. Her entire body ached from head to toe. As her vision came into focus through her right eye, she saw her father’s haggard face gazing down at her intently.
“I’m here”, he said softly, gently squeezing her arm.
“Mama”? she asked and a dark shadow passed across her father’s face.
“You… you’re the only one… you fell 21,000 feet… It’s… It’s simply a miracle”.
Her heart suddenly felt like it would explode and tears welled up in her eyes. Burying her head in her father’s chest, she sobbed like she had not done since she was a child.
20 years later, staring at a photograph of her mother taken the day before the crash
I can’t take this any more. Nightmares every night. Falling. Jungle is so dark. Why me? Why was I the only one? I am a librarian. I am totally unremarkable. I have failed everybody who died. I have failed them and my father and my family.
She looked up into a mirror and, as a single tear fell down her cheek, she realized that the only thing in her life that she was looking forward to was dying. To be in the place she had meant to have been in for the past 20 years.
Then I finally won’t be cheating any more…