Although flying an airplane is usually safe when handled by professionals, plenty of people still harbor a serious phobia of taking to the blue skies. It’s an understandable fear, after all; human beings weren’t made to fly!

More often than not, commercial flights are uneventful—except for, perhaps, a little bit of turbulence. Sometimes, however, things can go horribly wrong and it’s those stories that tend to make the news.

When a teenager boarded a flight from Peru to Germany with her mother, she expected to be home in time for Christmas. She had no idea that she was putting her very life on the line…

Juliane Koepcke was never your average little girl. She was born to German parents while they were living and working in Peru. Her mother was an ornithologist and her father was a zoologist, so it was only natural that Juliane would spend a lot of time with them as they studied the Amazon.

Her parents had built a survival outpost in the middle of the jungle where the family spent most of their days and nights. Because they were so cut off from the world, Juliane had to learn how to survive on her own in the wilderness. Unbeknownst to her, these skills would be something that would pay off in a big way later in her life.

Juliane and her parents made many trips from Peru back home to Germany so that they could stay in touch with family and friends. On the night of her high school graduation—which happened to be Christmas Eve—Juliane and her mother boarded a flight bound for Germany. That’s when everything changed…

They weren’t in the air too long before they flew directly into a deadly storm. “After about 10 minutes, I saw a very bright light on the outer engine on the left. My mother said very calmly, ‘That is the end, it’s all over.’ Those were the last words I ever heard from her,” said Juliane.

Before she knew what was happening, Juliane felt her body plummeting from the sky. She said, “Suddenly the noise stopped and I was outside the plane. I was in free fall, strapped to my seat bench and hanging head over heels. The whispering of the wind was the only noise I could hear.”

Though she remembered feeling the canopy of the Amazon jungle, Juliane did not recall the crash itself. However, crash she did, and for 10 harrowing days she was just a teenager, totally cut off from the outside world, forced to survive alone in the jungle.

Without her glasses, which were lost during the crash, she was forced to use one of her shoes to test the ground ahead of her and she tried to find help. She managed to find one bag of candy from the plane. It was all the food she had for 10 days.

On her fourth day in the jungle, struggling with a broken collarbone, Juliane spotted carrion birds in the distance. She tracked them and discovered several victims from the plane crash. “I was paralyzed by panic. It was the first time I had seen a dead body,” she said.

Juliane was fading fast. She spent her days picking maggots from her wounds and praying for help. On the tenth day, a group of laborers coming to the jungle for lumber found her and were able to get her the help she needed.

Heartbreakingly, Juliane’s mother did not survive the plane crash. While no one knows how the young girl survived the 10,000-foot drop from the sky, Juliane is now living a happy life as a biologist, a career she chose to honor her parents.

What an amazing story of survival. There aren’t too many people who have what it takes to make it through a literal life-or-death situation. Juliane is an amazing inspiration, and her story won’t soon be forgotten.

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