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Reading Passage 1

You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 1-14 which are based on this passage.

Survivor from the sky

In a remarkable documentary, Wings of Hope, German director Werner Herzog re-counts the true story of an eighteen-year-old girl, the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Amazon jungle in 1971. Twenty-nine years later, Herzog returns to the jungle with Juliane Koepke, now a 46-year-old biologist, and she tells her amazing story on film.

Juliane had just graduated from high school in Lima, Peru and, with her mother, was flying out to spend Christmas at her father’s research station in the jungle. A half hour into the flight they encountered a horrific storm. In the midst of wild turbulence, the plane was struck by lightning and fell into a nosedive. Passengers screamed as baggage flew around the compartment. Then the plane broke into pieces and suddenly Juliane found herself outside free-falling 30,000 feet. ‘I was suspended in mid-air, still in my scat. It wasn’t so much that I had left the plane but that the plane had left me. It simply wasn’t there any more. I was all alone with my row of seats,’ says Juliane. ‘I sailed on through the air, then I tumbled into a fall. The seatbelt squeezed my stomach and I couldn’t breathe any more.’ Before she lost consciousness, Juliane saw the dense jungle below, ‘a deep green, like broccoli’, with no clearings for hundreds of miles.

Somehow, miraculously, Juliane survived that fall from the sky. In the film, she speculates on a number of factors which may have combined to save her. First, the storm had produced a strong updraft from the thunder clouds. Secondly, being strapped into a row of seats, she was aware of falling in a spiralling movement, like a maple seed pod. Then, hitting the canopy of trees, she tumbled through a maze of vines which slowed her landing in deep mud.

But surviving the fall, though miraculous in itself, was just the beginning. When Juliane awoke hours later, wet and covered with mud, she was still strapped to her seat. Staggering to her feet, she assessed her injuries: a fractured bone in the neck, concussion and deep cuts in her leg and back. She was also in shock, lost and totally alone in the Amazon jungle.

No doubt it was her familiarity with the wilderness that enabled her to cope. Her parents were biologists and Juliane had grown up in the jungle. She realised her only hope was to follow a little stream of water nearby, trusting that it would eventually lead to a larger river and rescue. With no provisions, dressed in the miniskirt she had worn on the plane and wearing just one shoe, she set off through the jungle. She passed broken fragments from the plane - a wheel, an engine. ‘Initially, I saw planes circling above me, but after a few days I realised the search had been called off,’ she said.

Surprisingly she felt no hunger but as the days passed her health was deteriorating rapidly. The gash in her shoulder, where flies had laid their eggs was now crawling with maggots. ‘I knew I’d perish in the jungle so I stayed in the water.’ Walking in the stream, however, presented one risk more serious than any others. Before each step she had to poke ahead in the sand with a stick, to avoid treading on poisonous sting rays, lying hidden on the bottom.

As the stream grew into a river, swimming was the only option. However, here in deeper water, there were new threats. Crocodiles basking on the shores slipped silently into the water as she passed. Juliane trusted that they feared humans and were entering the water to hide. She swam on. On the tenth day, starving and barely conscious, she spotted a hut and a canoe. They belonged to three woodcutters working nearby. Rescue was at hand.

For this 46-year-old woman, re-living such a traumatic experience on film must have been a great challenge. But she shows little emotion. Flying back into the jungle, she sits in the same seat (19F) as on that fateful day. She is dispassionate, unemotional in describing the flight. On the ground, when they finally locate the crash site, in dense jungle, Juliane is scientific in her detachment, looking through the debris, now buried under dense vegetation. She examines a girl’s purse, the skeleton of a suitcase. Walking along the stream, she spots the engine which she remembers passing on the third day. Her arms and legs are covered with mosquitoes, but she seems to ignore all discomfort. Then, back in the town, standing in front of a monument erected in memory of the victims of the crash, entitled Alas de Esperanza (Wings of Hope), Juliane comments simply, T emerged, as the sole embodiment of hope from this disaster.

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