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Share this article Share I see a blinding white light over the right wing. I lose all sense of time. The airplane begins to nosedive. From my seat in the back, I can see down the aisle into the cockpit. My ears, my head, my whole body are filled with the deep roar of the plane.
Dr Diller was 17 when lightning struck the plane she was in, causing it to crash into jungle Forunate one: Dr Diller points out where her extraordinary tale of survival took place My free fall is quiet. I see nothing around me. Before I feel fear, I lose consciousness. The densely packed treetops remind me of broccoli. I see everything as if through a fog before I pass out again. My seat belt is unfastened, so I must have woken up at some point. Wet and muddy, I lie there for the rest of th day and night.
I will never forget the image I see when I open my eyes the next morning. The crowns of the giant trees above me are suffused with golden light, bathing everything in a green glow. I feel abandoned, helpless and utterly alone. I realise that my left eye is swollen shut; I can see only through a narrow slit in my right eye.
My glasses have disappeared, but I finally manage to read the time. I feel dizzy again and lie exhausted on the rainforest floor. After a while, I manage to rise to my knees, but I feel so dizzy that I immediately lie back down.
I find a deep gash on my left calf, which looks as if it has been cut by a rough metal edge. I get down on all fours and crawl around, searching for my mother. I call her name, but only the voices of the jungle answer me.
For someone who has never been in the rainforest, it can seem a threatening place. Huge trees cast mysterious shadows. The rainforest can be a dangerous place. Insects rule the jungle, and I encounter them all: A certain type of fly will lay eggs under the skin or in wounds.
Stingless wild bees like to cling to hair. I only had to find this knowledge in my concussion-fogged head. Thick drops of water sparkle on the leaves around me, and I lick them up.
I walk in small circles around my seat, aware of how quickly you can lose your orientation in the jungle.
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I memorise the location and markings of one tree to keep my bearings. I find no trace of the crash. No wreckage, no people. But I do discover a bag of sweets and eat one.
I hear the hum of plane engines overhead. I look up, but the trees are too dense: A feeling of powerlessness overcomes me. I have to get out of the thick of the forest so that rescuers can see me. Nearby I find a spring, feeding a tiny rivulet. This fills me with hope. I try to follow the rivulet, but there are often tree trunks lying across it, or dense undergrowth blocks my way.
Little by little, the rivulet grows wider and turns into a stream, which is partly dry, so that I can easily walk beside the water. I eat another sweet. On December 28, my watch, a gift from my grandmother, stops for good, so I try to count the days as I go. The stream turns into a larger stream, then finally into a small river.
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Nor can I catch fish or cook roots. But I do drink a great deal of water from the stream. Despite counting, I mix up the days. On December 29 or 30, the fifth or sixth day of my trek, I hear a buzzing, groaning sound that immediately turns my apathetic mood into euphoria. Dr Diller faced stingrays, piranhas , caimans alligator-like reptiles on her odyssey At home in Panguana, I heard this call often.
With new impetus, I walk faster, following the sound. I hear planes in the distance, but as time passes, the noise fades. I believe that they have given up, having rescued all of the passengers except me. Intense anger overcomes me.
Soon, my anger gives way to a terrible despair. Where there is a river, people cannot be far away. The riverbank is much too densely overgrown for me to carry on hiking along it. I know stingrays rest in the riverbanks, so I walk carefully. Each night when the sun sets, I search for a reasonably safe spot on the bank where I can try to sleep. Mosquitoes and midges buzz around my head and try to crawl into my ears and nose. Even worse are the nights when it rains.
Ice-cold drops pelt me, soaking my thin summer dress. The wind makes me shiver to the core. On those bleak nights, as I cower under a tree or in a bush, I feel utterly abandoned. I drink a lot of river water, which fills my stomach, but I know I should eat something.
Her vast knowledge of biology and survival passed on by her parents probably saved her life One morning, I feel a sharp pain in my upper back. When I touch it, my hand comes away bloody.
The sun has burned my skin as I swim. I will learn later that I have second-degree burns. As the days wear on, my eyes and ears fool me. I am so horribly tired. I fantasise about food, from elaborate feasts to simple meals.
Is there any sense in going on? Yes, I tell myself. I have to keep going.
I spend the tenth day drifting in the water. In the evening, I find a gravel bank that looks like a good place to sleep. I doze off for a few minutes. I swim over and touch it. Only then can I really believe it.
I notice a beaten trail leading up the bank from the river. When I get to the top, I see a small shelter, but no people. A path leads from the shack into the forest. It gets dark, and I spend the night there. The next morning, I wake and still no one has shown up. It begins to rain, and I crawl into the shelter and wrap a tarpaulin sheet around my shoulders. The rain stops in the afternoon. I no longer have the strength to struggle to my feet. At twilight I hear voices. But the voices get closer.
When three men come out of the forest and see me, they stop in shock. Juliane was the sole survivor. Now a biologist and librarian at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology, Juliane returns to Panguana often, where the research station she inherited continues to welcome scientists.