A Survival Story with a Logical Survivor July 3, 2009

A Survival Story with a Logical Survivor

Reader Shawn sent me this article after he noticed a couple interesting lines.

The setup: Juliane Koepcke is getting aboard a flight with her mother on Christmas Eve in 1971:

The flight was supposed to last for less than an hour and for the first 25 minutes everything was fine, Koepcke recalled.

“Then we flew into heavy clouds and the plane started shaking. My mother was very nervous. Then to the right we saw a bright flash and the plane went into a nose dive. My mother said, ‘This is it!'”

An accident investigation later found that one of the fuel tanks of the Lockheed Electra had been hit by a bolt of lightning which had torn the right wing off.

“We were headed straight down. Christmas presents were flying around the cabin and I could hear people screaming.”

Koepcke fell two miles into the jungle and managed to survive.

In any other article, that’d be called a miracle and someone would be invoking the name of God…

What did Koepcke say?

Koepcke says she is not a spiritual person and has tried to find logical explanations for why she survived.

“Maybe it was the fact that I was still attached to a whole row of seats,” she says. “It was rotating much like the helicopter and that might have slowed the fall. Also, the place I landed had very thick foliage and that might have lessened the impact.”

Wow. Lucky and rational. I love it.

(Thanks to Shawn and Jeff for the link!)

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  • I remember watching a documentary with recreations of what she went through years ago and it’s always stuck with me. I believe that might have been the first time I was introduced to what bot flies are and why they make me never want to go to South America.

    It’s amazing that she survived not just the crash but several days in the jungle with infected, parasite infested wounds, the odds were definitely not in her favor. Most girls the age she was at the time wouldn’t have had either the skills or the presence of mind to be able to survive for those 10 days. That’s she’s also a rational thinker impresses me just that much more.

  • Miko

    The anthropic principle: she survived because otherwise she would have been unable to explain why she’d survived.

  • Alex

    Entirely non-miraculous but no less wonderful or lucky. That makes me smile.

  • “lightning which had torn the right wing off.”

    Right Wing….seems it was a “sign” to me…lol

  • JJ

    What an improbable incident.. a lightning drops an airplane, and someone who falls from it several miles, survives. I think both have happened only a few times during the whole aviation history. And here they happened together.

  • Great story, but unfortunately ‘miracle’ does come up in the text: “She fell more than three kilometers (two miles) into the jungle canopy but miraculously survived with only minor injuries” and also in the caption to the second photograph “Koepcke pictured before her miraculous survival. “ And later on we learn she was called the miracle girl” at the time. Those dumb journalists just can’t keep away from the word.

  • Erik

    Great story, but unfortunately ‘miracle’ does come up in the text

    True, but in context that seems used more as common English idiom as opposed to a weighted use intimating supernatural intervention. If I were on a plane crashing I’d probably scream out “Holy Shit!” and even though I’d probably shit my pants at the same time, there would be nothing holy about it.

  • J Myers

    A Survival Story with a Logical Survivor

    I think you mean rational survivor (as you correctly noted in the body of the post).

    The anthropic principle: she survived because otherwise she would have been unable to explain why she’d survived.

    This is a misrepresentation of the Anthropic Principle. In this context, the analogy would go:

    Theist: Do you know how unlikely it is for someone to survive such an incident? Her survival must have been orchestrated by a god!

    Rationalist: The a priori probability of an event is irrelevant when discussing an event that has already transpired; however small the odds that this event might occur, we see that it has occurred. This does not imply any sort of god.

    At least, this is the AP as Hawking described it in A Brief History of Time; the term seems to have been extended to all manner of ideas, including use an alternate name for the theist’s fine tuning argument. As I learned it, the AP countered the fine-tuning argument.

  • Bacopa

    As Spock said, “Random chance seems to have operated in our favor.” Some people just get lucky and live. Some people are lucky enough to have the skills that help them live once they meet misfortune. This woman had what it took.

    “Miracle” is often used to mean “something we’re glad happened” I remember when Oprah had those miners who survived that 2003 accident on her show. There was a short clip at the beginning that explained exactly how the miners were rescued. No mention of God interveinig in the clip, training and hard work saved the miners. Yet the word “miracle” was thrown about at least a hundred times later in the show.

    Weak Anthropic Principle arguments are total BS. They explain nothing.

  • J Myers

    Weak Anthropic Principle arguments are total BS. They explain nothing.

    The WAP is quite useful; it refutes the fine-tuning argument (and other claims of the involvement of some god in ostensibly low-probability events, as I explained above).

    I* certainly do not think that the WAP explains why Juliane survived, nor do I think that it explains why the universe has the particular properties we observe; it does, however, show why it is not reasonable to infer any god’s involvement in these matters (on the basis of probability alone, anyhow). If such a tool is of no use to you, by all means ignore it, but it is hardly BS.

    * I only addressed the AP at all to correct a misrepresentation in a previous comment.

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