Although we know a lot about every part of our planet, there are always more mysteries to be discovered. One scientist discovered this during an ambitious expedition into the Mozambique jungles. The journey would be unlike any other, and the strange discoveries he made there would change him forever.
Julian Bayliss, a renowned explorer, had always fantasized about grand adventures that would allow him to travel the world and see sights never before seen by humans. He would frequently browse Google Maps, daydreaming about the possibilities. And one afternoon, he noticed something that took his breath away.
The Secret Forest
Looking out from the top of Mount Lico in Mozambique, he noticed something truly strange and remarkable: an entire rain forest. Furthermore, he was fairly certain that no one had ever been there before!
Even more intriguing, the cliff’s sides were steep and appeared impenetrable. If Bayliss was correct, this was his opportunity to go where no one had gone before. What he didn’t realize at the time was that there was a very good reason for this.
Organizing the Troops
Bayliss immediately set about assembling a team of superstars. Scientists, doctors, rock climbers, and even a chef were among the 28-person expedition. What did they have in common? They were the best at what they did in the world.
Getting Around on Foot
The researchers first traveled through villages, negotiating with locals and navigating rough terrain to reach the mountain’s base. They abandoned their vehicles and continued, completely unaware of the horrors that awaited them in the darkness ahead.
Sheer and sloping.
When they finally arrived at the bottom, they discovered that the mountain was so tall that they couldn’t even see the top. At over 400 feet, Mount Lico is taller than the combined height of the two Leaning Towers of Pisa. One erroneous step could be fatal.
Professionals vs. Amateurs
The journey to the summit took only eleven minutes for Jules Lines, the world’s most accomplished free solo rock climber. For the less experienced, the journey takes two hours. The climb put them to the test, but the psychological terrors remained dormant.
When the team reached the top, they were amazed to see thousands of colorful butterflies flying around them and beating their wings at the same time.
Collin Congdon, an 84-year-old butterfly expert, was overjoyed. On the surface, Lico appeared to be a lovely place teeming with life.
The crew’s discoveries quickly shifted from amazing to disturbing. Poisonous caterpillars made their way into tents and shoes. There were cat-sized rats with long tails and sharp teeth. Then there were the spiders to contend with. There were thousands of spiders everywhere they looked.
Johnathan Timberlake, a botanist, felt a sharp sting one day and looked down to see his leg covered in pooling blood. He’d been grazed by a blade of grass. Timberlake tried to calm his growing concerns in the absence of advanced medical care and hours away from any hospital.
His leg and his entire body burned the next day. He was tired and feverish, but he needed medical attention at the base camp. The team strapped him into the harness and began the difficult task of lowering him, not knowing if they would ever see their friend again.
Treatment that saves lives
Timberlake had a fever and was hallucinating by the time he made it down the 400-foot cliff and through the jungle. Fearing the worst, the doctor cleaned his wound and prescribed antibiotics. All that remained was to wait.
Timberlake miraculously recovered, though he chose to spend the rest of the expedition at the base camp. What he didn’t realize was that he might have been one of the fortunate ones. The trouble was just getting started on top of the mountain…
Creatures from Another World
They hadn’t expected to come across strange and horrifying creatures on the mountain, and the lack of birds made the forest eerily silent. The only sound they could hear was their own footsteps trudging through the dense jungle.
Then they made a discovery that changed everything they thought they knew about Mount Lico. One of the team members exclaimed as they walked along a stream beneath the thick brush of trees overhead. He’d discovered something truly inexplicable.
Is there handmade pottery here?
On this ostensibly unexplored mountaintop, three handmade pots were nestled along the water’s edge. Bayliss felt a shiver run down his spine. As a scientist, he was used to being surprised, but he could tell that something bad was going on beneath the surface.
Consultation with locals
The team immediately got to work on solving the mystery. Some of them suspected the pots had been used for religious ceremonies to entice rain during a dry year. The explorers asked people in the area if they knew of anyone who had tried to climb Lico.
Are they rumors or facts?
Surprisingly, the elderly natives did have some hints. They warned of a murderous tribe of little people who used to live on Lico. Tribe members would throw snakes at the villagers as they approached the mountain’s base.
They also recalled an incident in which Portuguese soldiers attempted to climb up but were violently killed when tribe members cut their ropes. However, some locals had even more macabre theories about what happened all those years ago on that mysterious mountain.
Wrong time, wrong place.
According to the elders, German colonizers forced a group of locals to flee to the mountaintop. The Germans did something that amounted to a death sentence once they were up there.
Stranded on the top
The colonizers severed the villagers’ climbing rope. They were stranded with little food and no way to return home. They were cursed to spend the rest of their lives starving and huddled in a dark, cold forest.
The Surprising Journey
Bayliss and his colleagues shuddered. They had gone to the mountain to enjoy the beauty and wonder that nature had to offer. They had no idea that this ostensibly untouched oasis had been tainted by a tale of horror and human aggression. But this isn’t the first time humans have put their survival skills to the test in the wild. A tragic accident in the Amazon left one young girl stranded alone in a vicious jungle halfway around the world, proving nature is as savage as it is beautiful.
A German citizen and well-known South American bird researcher, Koepcke planned a vacation with her 17-year-old daughter Juliane in 1971. Their route from Peru was straightforward, but it quickly turned deadly.
Spending Time With Family
Maria (left) wanted to spend Christmas with her husband (right), so she booked tickets on the Peruvian airline Lineas Aéreas Nacionales S.A., or LANSA. Before Yelp and Google reviews, the ornithologist had no idea about the airline’s reputation.
During the 1960s and 1970s, LANSA was the quickest way to travel from one Peruvian city to another. However, despite frequent flights, the airline was plagued by fatal mishaps.
For example, in 1966, LANSA Flight 501 crashed into a mountain, killing all on board. LANSA Flight 502 went down a few years later. Only one of the 100 passengers survived, and the crash killed two more people on the ground.
Flight in the Winter
Despite its history, LANSA remained the go-to airline. Flight 508 took off from Lima, Peru’s capital city, in December 1971. The takeoff went off without a hitch, thanks to a small crew and fewer than 100 passengers, including Maria and Juliane.
Strikes of lightning
However, the small plane’s chances of a safe flight were dashed just 40 minutes into the flight when it flew into a thunderstorm. A bright light suddenly illuminated the aircraft — lightning had struck the fuel tank!
As passengers screamed, the plane’s right wing separated. As the pilot lost control, Christmas gifts and luggage were launched into the storm. The plane took a dive. Juliane and Maria hugged tightly.
Her Final Hours
Juliane recalled the crash vividly in an interview with the BBC’s Outlook. “That is the end. It’s all over,” her mother said. Her daughter was tragically ripped from her side as Juliane’s seat was pulled from the carriage. She flew into the storm before crashing to the ground. Everything went pitch black.
An Unusual Fortune
Juliane awoke to discover that she was still strapped to her seat — and completely alone. She was alive…in some way. The dense jungle appeared to have broken her fall, allowing her to survive. She assessed her injuries.
A Search and Rescue Team
Her collarbone had been broken, and she had deep wounds on her legs and arms. Worse, because her glasses were lost in the crash, Juliane had to navigate with blurry vision. Her first thought was to find her mother.
Juliane yelled, but all she could hear were the sounds of the jungle. She needed to devise a new strategy. If she could find help, they might be able to find her mother and any other survivors.
Juliane tried to shake off her fears by wearing only a short, sleeveless dress and sandals. After all, she had spent over a year with her family at an Amazon research center. She was no stranger to the Peruvian jungles, so she drew on her experience.
Juliane used her sandal to strike the ground in front of her in an attempt to scare away any dangerous creatures because her vision was limited. She stumbled into the crash site, half-blind, looking for food or water. Candies were the only thing she could find.
As a result, she kept moving. Juliane stayed in the creek and followed it downstream after discovering it, which was a safer option than staying on land. The sun burned her during the day. She froze at night. But she was determined to live.
Juliane recognized the sounds of a king vulture on the fourth day. She knew from her parents’ research that a large mass of dead flesh was nearby from the predator bird. Juliane was shocked to learn what the birds had noticed.
The location of the crash Passengers were still strapped into their seats, but unlike Juliane, the fall had thrown them headfirst into the ground. Juliane got close enough to see that her mother was missing. She continued on, her injuries worsening.
Risks and Expectations
Juliane questioned her sanity on the 10th day, as she wandered into a river, because maggots were all over her wounds, causing infection. She noticed something up ahead that didn’t make sense.
A motor boat was docked along the riverbank in the distance. She thought it was a mirage. Who would survive in the Peruvian jungle? As she got closer to the boat, she realized it was real. Her stomach clenched. Did she wish to meet the proprietor?
A Request for Assistance
Juliane investigated, desperate and on the verge of death. She discovered a hut with a gas can nearby after following a small path. She remembered her father once using gasoline on a family pet’s wound, which gave her an idea.
The pain was excruciating as Juliane sucked gasoline from the can and attempted to clean her wounds as best she could. She passed out in the hut, exhausted, unaware she was crashing an occupied home.
Local boatmen discovered her in the hut the next morning, bloodied, covered in maggots, and smelling like gasoline. They were terrified, thinking she was a water spirit from their folklore.
Juliane, who was frail, spoke to the boatmen in the little Spanish she knew. Thankfully, they got it. The men did their best to treat Juliane’s injuries and transported her to a hospital after a seven-hour boat ride. They hugged in silence when she finally saw her father.
Juliane learned her mother had survived the plane crash, but only for a few days, after a rescue party discovered Maria Koepcke’s body. Juliane is still haunted by the thought of her mother’s final days. Nobody did well in the Amazon.
Juliane replayed her own experience in her mind. Was there anything she could have done differently in order to save her mother? The adolescent escaped with her life, proving she had the guts to survive the impossible. Even more impressive is the fact that she returned to the site of her near-death experience years later.
Epic Survival Story
Juliane found it strange to see the same Peruvian jungle through adult eyes. In the documentary Wings of Hope, Werner Herzog documented her harrowing story. Fans couldn’t believe Juliane survived the jungle, let alone the 10,000-foot drop. However, another girl survived a plane crash the same year — but she fell 33,000 feet.