Pine Nuts: She fell two miles and lived

On Christmas Eve of fifty years ago, 17-year-old Juliane Diller was seated comfortably next to her mother aboard an 86-passenger turboprop bound for Pucallpa, Peru, when they flew into a thunderstorm. Storage bins started flying open, spilling their Christmas contents across isles into laps. A bolt of lightening struck a wing and the plane started to break apart. They were going to crash and everybody knew it. Flight 508 did in fact crash, and sadly, everybody onboard perished upon impact. But Juliane was not onboard Flight 508 when it crashed. Juliane was jettisoned from Flight 508 while still two miles up in the air. Strapped firmly into her seat, Juliane tumbled 10,000 feet into the thick foliage of a Peruvian triple canopy rainforest that mercifully caught her, breaking her fall, and saving her young life.

Juliane released her safety belt, stood up, and missing one shoe, walked and waded for eleven days before encountering another human being. During those long eleven days and nights Juliane had time alone in which to reflect. “I vowed that if I stayed alive, I would devote my life to a meaningful cause that served nature and humanity.”

Well, she did. Juliane settled in Germany where she acquired a Ph.D. in biology and went on to become a highly respected zoologist. “The jungle caught me and saved me,” she would reflect in deep appreciation and gratitude.

While reading about Juliane’s sensational solo plunge through the atmosphere, I couldn’t help but wonder what thoughts might have flown through my head had it been me strapped into that seat, plummeting Earthward at 120 miles an hour. They say there are no atheists in foxholes, so I suspect there might not be any atheists catapulting through space while strapped to what was at one time their airline seat…

“Dear God Above, in spite of recent lapses in my belief and behavior, I do have some redeeming features that I would like to work on if you would do me a small kindness and allow me a soft landing, though not in water, please, as being loaded with sin, well, I might go to the bottom like an anvil, or maybe be eaten by a crocodile. Actually, a big, soft, triple canopy rainforest might do the trick, and I promise I will then spend the rest of my days providing succor and solace to those in need…Oh, WOW! Thank you, Lord! Now…where the heck am I, and where the heck is my other shoe?!”

So what is Dr. Diller devoting her life to today? Dr. Diller is championing the biodiversity of the rainforest while leading the good fight to diminish the ravages of a changing climate. “The key is getting the surrounding population to commit to preserving and protecting the environment.”

Most likely I will never get to meet Dr. Diller, but I sure would like to someday have the honor of shaking her hand, and giving her a hug if she’ll let me…

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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