A Modern Day Miracle?

Charlton Rhinehart

If ever there was a case for a modern day miracle, it would have to be the events that happened on December 23, 1971 to Juliane Koepcke. You will not find a more amazing story of deliverance from certain death than the story of Juliane, she lives to tell the story herself to this day, the evidence of the event is undeniable, and no one hears the story and walks away not wondering how she survived. But if we compare this story to the miracles of scripture, will it hold up to match what we find there?

Juliane Diller, the present day married name of Juliane Koepcke, boarded LANSA flight 508 on December 23, 1971. The 17 year old girl had just attended her graduation ceremony and she was flying with her mother from Lima, Peru to Panguana, Peru. During the flight at nearly two miles high in the air, the plane was struck by lightning and began to tear apart. To anyone’s terror, Juliane was sucked out of the plane with nothing except the seat that she was strapped into. Juliane fell from 10,000 feet outside of the plane with no parachute and nothing but the seat she was in – landing in the Peruvian rainforest. Against all odds, most would say miraculously, she survived the fall!  But the story doesn’t end there; she was now deep in the rainforest with no one to help her survive and no rescue team aware of where she was. Juliane was lost in the rainforest for 11 days. She had many cuts, an injured arm, and despite her fall from the sky, her only broken bone was a collar bone. But now insects were feasting on her and maggots had began infesting her injured arm endangering her life though infection.

Juliane’s survival story continues as she pressed on and was able to search until she found an empty encampment with an old boat motor with some old gasoline. Using her wisdom of the threat to her health with her pending infections, she soaked her arm in the gas to kill the maggots, an action which experts have credited as part of her survival. Latter, loggers returning to the camp discovered her and got her the help that she needed. Once she was treated initially at a hospital she assisted search parties to find the crash site recovering the many killed in the crash, including her mother’s body. She continued to make full recovery and has written about and told her story many times on many programs.

When I first heard the story I did not believe it could be true. Part of my disbelief was my studied position that miracles have ceased, yet this story obviously had to be a miracle to have really happened.  Knowing however the trustworthiness of the individual sharing it, I searched for the story myself. Once I saw how many major news stations had interviewed her, how many articles were written on her and how many books told the story including her own, I had to believe it – but how could this be? People fall from small ladders everyday across our country and die, a fall from a tall ladder is almost certain death, yet here is a woman who fell from 10,000 feet, just shy of two miles high with nothing unusual to land on or not even a tangled parachute but here she is telling the story with no visible handicap.

A story like this is very difficult to fathom, a conclusion of a miraculous explanation seems inevitable, but taking a step back and reevaluating the story brings out some other factors. No, there is not reason to doubt the truth of the account, but there are some factors that don’t match the miracles of scripture. One of the first things you might learn as you look at the story in more detail is that Juliane had spent much time with her father in the rainforest. Though she was only 17 at the time of the crash, this was an important factor in her survival once the crash was over. Likewise her family’s ties to science perhaps played a part in her wise choices for treating her wounds. But this leads us to a very important factor in comparing Bible miracles to Juliane’s  story, and that is, why were there any injuries at all? Granted, the injuries are quite minor considering the event she survived, but does this compare to the miracles of the Bible?

The miracles we find in scripture are not left lacking in any way. For example the many lame men who were healed by Jesus did not walk away with a limp. Naaman’s skin was restored from leprosy, it was not with scars and imperfections, but it “…was restored like flesh of a little child…” (2 Kings 5:14). And even the blind man who Jesus healed at Bethsaida, who saw men looking like trees at first, the miracle wasn’t completed until he was seeing clearly (Mark 8:25). These miracles are not ever left incomplete, these miracles are not left short for natural healing to finish the job, rather the miracles of scripture are unlike any claims we see today. And Juliane’s miracle is lacking in this comparison though still staggering as the story is.

There is yet another similar factor to this story that separates it from a miracle, and that is the other lives that survived but were ultimately lost. Remember her mother’s body and the many others from the wreck that Juliane helped them find? All of those individuals were deceased when rescuers found the wreckage, it was apparent that many of them had also survived the fall from the sky, but sadly they failed to survive the conditions of the jungle.  It is the survival of the fall from 10,000 feet that is the factor making many of us convinced this is a miracle, but the fact that God would have miraculously delivered several individuals just for them to die a short time afterwards does not match the deliverance that we see God gives through Bible miracles. To call Juliane’s survival a miracle would cause us to also have to call the other initial survivor’s deliverance a miracle too; yet their injuries cost them their lives soon after. It’s a factor that we just cannot ignore and one that doesn’t match what God would miraculously do.

This story will always stick with me as an astounding story. The scientific reasons how she survived such a fall will baffle us and even the non-believing scientist, though the explanation of the factors are extremely difficult to comprehend or imagine they are somehow there. Perhaps it was the winds involved in the storm that helped slow her fall, perhaps the foliage of the jungle played a factor, or perhaps the speed of the plane helped create a different force like a parkour athlete jumping from a building with speed and rolling as he lands to break the fall. I do not dare to try to explain exactly how she survived such an event, but I know it was not a true miracle and that the laws of nature somehow had to work in her and the other passenger’s favor in this fall. This story doesn’t match the supernatural and perfect miracles of scripture.

…to claim that a modern day event is a miracle robs the magnificence of the true miracles recorded for us in scripture.

As much as we want to call the events in our lives a miracle and give God the glory for it, to claim that a modern day event is a miracle robs the magnificence of the true miracles recorded for us in scripture. The miracles that we find in the Bible are on a whole other level from even the most amazing stories we have. To discredit God’s hand in helping Juliane survive is not my intention, the providential works of God have always been in effect, but the miraculous have not. Even in miraculous times God also worked providentially, and in non-miraculous times such as today or the 400 years of silence between the testaments. I am glad I got to hear about this story, to challenge my own view in my own mind as I thought it through. It provided me an opportunity to test and strengthen my faith and uphold the view of the church knowing that the miraculous was for confirming the word of God in Bible times. Miracles provided signs and evidence that the prophets, the Messiah, and the apostles were inspired by God and that their message is from Him – proven by flawless miracles. Let us look to His completed word for our guide, and not within ourselves, and may we reserve the term “miracle” for the acts of God in the scriptures.

“For My Thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. Isaiah 55:8 NASB.