I saw the film “Miracles Still Happen,” of this woman’s experience when she was just 17 about 20 years ago. I will never forget it. It was more compelling than the film Tom Hanks was in where he talked to the volleyball. Hers really happened, and left her with permanent scars. His gave him about $20 million in change.
On December 24, 1971, flying with her mom from Lima, Peru to Pucallpa in the Amazon rainforest, on a Lockheed Electra flight that should have taken less than an hour, lightening struck one of the fuel tanks and the plane broke apart in midair.
Juliane was hurled from the plane and this is what probably saved her life. She fell two miles from the sky to the ground, still attached to her row of seats. She landed in thick foliage, which is probably the second thing that saved her life.
She is not a religious or spiritual person – even after this, and attributes being strapped to the row of seats that, perhaps, rotated like a helicopter that may have slowed her fall. That and landing in the thick pile of leaves.
She spent the next 10 days moving along a river, trying to find her way out of the jungle, with broken bones, a deep gash in her leg and a strange wound in her arm with maggots growing in it.
Her own telling of the story is the best way to get the details.
She highlights something that I wonder about sometimes with other people in similar situations back in the day. She had to process these events and her survival without the benefit of psychotherapy. She surely suffered PTSD and it’s attendant accessories. She mentions the nightmares. But she had to process all this on her own. Just as our WWI and WWII and VietNam veterans had to. Just as the survivors of the Titantic had to. And the survivors of the Crusades Etc. and so on. It gives me a bit more perspective when I wonder just how much Kim Kardashian might be crying on her therapist’s couch about her 72 day marriage, just before the possible trip to the pharmacy for the anti-depressents.
Even better, Werner Herzog filmed a documentary with Juliane herself describing the experience while revisiting the sites:
The bravest thing of all that she has done – the thing that makes her a shining hero in all of this – is that she kept on living her life. One day at a time. One foot in front of the other. After losing her mother and being the sole survivor of an airplane crash; after suffering shock and injury and having to face the Amazon jungle by herself; after all of that – she carried on. That is so huge. That is bigger than the fat lady who sings the final song’s butt.
And I will never look at maggots the same way again.