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IconNovember 24th, 2022
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The Incredible Survival Story of Juliane Koepcke and Lansa Flight 508

Línea Aéreas Nationales Sociedad Anonima, otherwise known as LANSA, was a national carrier from Peru with a checkered history. Its reputation suffered in later years after ending up with no aircraft left, by December of 1971. Dinosaurs were nothing compared to the sleek and powerful Lockheed L-188A ‘Electra’ turboprop. On December 24th, 1971, LANSA flight 508 was scheduled to fly between Lima Airport and Iquitos Airport. It had 86 passengers and six crew on board when it departed in Lima. The Aviation Safety Network has noted that the aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff from Pucallpa Airport’s Capitan Rolden International Airport.

“Disaster in the Jungle”

When the first plane was in danger of encountering dangerous and unexpected thunderstorms, it was flying at an airport altitude of 6,400 meters above sea level. Believing passengers would not want to hold out on their Christmas plans because of this, the crew elected to continue despite the rough weather. Unfortunately, this decision proved fatal as lightning struck the airplane midair. A bolt of lightning caused the plane’s right wing to catch fire, eventually causing it to separate from the rest of the aircraft. The plane plummeted to the amazon rainforest below, but structural failure caused further breakage of the ship. The plane’s violent impact tragically killed everyone aboard, with only one survivor. Surprisingly, it later emerged that 14 people actually survived the crash, but of them all died before they could be rescued. 17-year-old Juliane Koepcke was the lone survivor, but her ordeal wasn’t over yet.

Alone in the woods

A complex series of events that happened on the flight with National Geographic filmmaker Hans Vonk led to the sole survivor of a fall from over 100 feet onto a tree. Contributed factors include: she was strapped in, and the adjacent seats slowed her fall. The dense foliage of the rainforest is also thought to have increased her chance of survival, which she said is “because I am so small”. Before she disappeared, Koepcke had already sustained a number of serious injuries in the jungle. Despite this, she made her way to a nearby local camp where they were able to help administer first aid before allowing her to return home. Her story later became the subject of books and films. Paula eventually became a mammalogist, and is also known by her married name, Juliane Diller. Meanwhile, Guinness World Records now lists LANSA flight 508 as the deadliest plane crash caused by an inflight lightning strike.

LANSA will now cease to exist

It appears that the final straw for LANSA was the Christmas Eve crash in 1971. As a result, its operating certificate was revoked shortly afterward due to safety concerns. This brought an end to the company’s short but checkered history.

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