On Christmas Eve 1971, a Peruvian airliner was struck by lightning in an area of heavy turbulence at 21,000 feet and crashed into a the Amazon. Miraculously, a German teenager survived the crashed and walked out of the jungle nine days later.
The LANSA (Lineas Aereas Nacionales Airlines) Lockheed Electra L-188 had taken off from the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima a little after 11:00 p.m. on a flight to Pucallpa, Peru. About a half hour after takeoff and at about 21,000 feet, the aircraft entered a thunderstorm and heavy turbulence.
It was Christmas Eve, 1971, when Koepcke, then aged 17, and her mother boarded a Lockheed Electra turboprop for a flight from Lima, Peru, to Pucallpa in the Amazonian rainforest. Her parents, both famous zoologists, ran a research station in the jungle studying wildlife.
The airline, LANSA, had already lost two aircraft in previous crashes. "We knew the airline had a bad reputation," Koepcke told CNN, "but we desperately wanted to be with my father for Christmas, so we figured it would be alright."
LANSA Flight 508 was a Lockheed L-188A Electra turboprop, registered OB-R-941, operated as a scheduled domestic passenger flight by Lineas Aéreas Nacionales Sociedad Anonima (LANSA), that crashed in a thunderstorm en route from Lima, Peru to Pucallpa, Peru, on December 24, 1971, killing 91 people – all of its 6 crew and 85 of its 86 passengers. The sole survivor was a 17 year old girl, who fell 2 miles (3 km) down into the Amazon rainforest strapped to her seat and remarkably survived the fall, and was then able to walk through the jungle for 10 days until she was rescued by local lumbermen.
LANSA Flight 508 departed Lima's Jorge Chávez International Airport just before noon on Christmas Eve on its way to Iquitos, Peru, with a scheduled stop at Pucallpa, Peru. The aircraft was flying at Flight Level 210 (about 21,000 ft / 6,400 m above Mean Sea Level) when it encountered an area of thunderstorms and severe turbulence. There was evidence the crew decided to continue the flight despite the hazardous weather ahead, apparently due to pressures related to meeting the holiday schedule.
At about 12:36 p.m. local time, a lightning strike ignited the fuel tank in the right wing, which quickly led to structural failure of the aircraft. As the plane disintegrated, a 17-year-old German teenager, Juliane Köpcke, fell down into the Amazon rainforest 2 miles (3 km) below, strapped to her seat. Despite sustaining a broken collar bone, a deep gash to her calf, a concussion and an eye injury in the fall, she was able to trek through the dense Amazon jungle for 10 days, until she was rescued by local lumbermen, who subsequently took her by canoe back to civilization. It was later discovered that as many as 14 other passengers also survived the initial fall from the disintegrated plane but were unable to seek help and died while awaiting rescue.