a German biologist studies the Amazon, where her plane crashed – Corriere.it

by time news

Catapulted out of the plane that lightning had torn apart, Gillian Koepke ordered by Tremila meter; to cushion the fall were the thick foliage of the centuries-old trees of the Amazon, which still today remembers having seen from above and found resembling broccoli. The forest took me, remember today 50 years after the plane crash of which the only survivor and in which he saw his mother die, and in this sentence he seems to sum up his destiny.

On that Christmas Eve 1971 Juliane Koepke was 17 years old and flew with her mother to Panguana, in the heart of the Amazon: her parents, German zoologists who arrived in Peru hiding in a ship carrying salt, had founded a research station and from three years they lived there with their daughter. The station is still there, has produced 315 publications on the flora and fauna of the area, and the director herself.


Its story returned to current events as the fiftieth anniversary of the plane crash approached: the one that destroyed the Lockheed L-188A Electra flying between Lima and Pucallpa, a port town on the Ucayali River, the most serious caused by lightning so far, and Juliane Koepke, who now bears the surname of her entomologist husband Erich Diller, the only survivor.

In 1998 the German director Werner Herzog made a film about Juliane Diller, Wings of Hope, Wings of hope. You participated after years of media silence caused by another film, the Italian Miracles still happen (1974) where I was portrayed as crazy. Herzog says he escaped the same incident: he should have taken off for a site visit for the film Aguirre, fury of God, but something unexpected stopped him.

It was Christmas Eve. The flight was supposed to last an hour: after twenty-five minutes the biologist remembers seeing the lightning strike the plane and her mother turn pale and say over. Then the three-thousand-meter flight, which Juliane made strapped to the seat of the plane that functioned like a parachute. A night and a day of semi-unconsciousness, minimal injuries – an eye half closed from swelling, a cracked collarbone – and, more than fear, an inescapable sense of abandonment. The way out of the forest, says Juliane Koepke in her memoir When I fell from the sky (2011), lasted 11 days: only food, a package of sweets found at the scene of the disaster; constant rain; one eye open and very short-sighted; around her the frightening Amazonian fauna made up of crocodiles, manta rays, snakes.

Juliane Koepke then dedicated her entire life to the study of the Amazonian fauna, and in spite of the tragedy. Despite the understandable terror of flying, always returned to Panguana, where in 2000, dying, her father left her the role of director. In 2011 it managed to have Panguana declared a nature reserve, and thanks mainly to donations from a Munich bakery, the station now owns 16.8 square km of forest. I had sworn, in those 11 days in the forest, she now tells New York Times, that if I stayed alive I would serve a cause; and chose the forest that spared it fifty years ago.

June 19, 2021 (change June 19, 2021 | 21:52)

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