The Sunday Read: ‘She Fell Nearly 2 Miles, and Walked Away’

On Christmas Eve in 1971, Juliane Diller, then 17, and her mother boarded a flight in Lima, Peru. She was headed for Panguana, a biological research station in the belly of the Amazon, where for three years she had lived, on and off, with her mother, Maria, and her father, Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke, both zoologists.

About 25 minutes after takeoff, the plane flew into a thunderstorm, was struck by lightning and broke apart. Strapped to her seat, Juliane fell some 10,000 feet, nearly two miles. Her row of seats is thought to have landed in dense foliage, cushioning the impact. Juliane was the sole survivor of the crash.

LANSA Flight 508 was the deadliest lightning-strike disaster in aviation history.

In the 50 years since the crash, Juliane moved to Germany, earned a Ph.D. in biology, became an eminent zoologist, got married — and, after her father’s death, took over as director of Panguana and the primary organizer of expeditions to the refuge.

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Additional production for The Sunday Read was contributed by Emma Kehlbeck, Parin Behrooz, Anna Diamond, Sarah Diamond, Jack D’Isidoro, Elena Hecht, Desiree Ibekwe, Tanya Pérez, Marion Lozano, Naomi Noury, Krish Seenivasan, Corey Schreppel, Margaret Willison, Kate Winslett and Tiana Young. Special thanks to Mike Benoist, Sam Dolnick, Laura Kim, Julia Simon, Lisa Tobin, Blake Wilson and Ryan Wegner.

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