Juliane Margaret Beate Koepcke was born in Lima, Peru on 10 October 1954, the daughter of Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke (1914-2000) and Maria Koepcke (née Maria von Mikulicz-Radecki, 1924-1971). Both her parents were Zoologists from Germany, having moved to Peru after completing their graduate work in order to study Neotropical wildlife. As a child, Koepcke lived in Miraflores, an affluent area of Lima.
Koepcke was a German Peruvian high school senior student studying in Lima, intending to become a Zoologist, like her parents. On December 24, 1971 she and her mother, ornithologist Maria Koepcke, were traveling to meet with her Father, Biologist Hans-Wilhelm Koepcke, who was working in the city of Pucallpa.
Her experience was widely reported and is the subject of one feature length fictional film and one documentary. The first was the low-budget, heavily fictionalized I miracoli accadono ancora (1974) by Italian filmmaker Giuseppe Maria Scotese; it was released in English as Miracles Still Happen (1975) and is sometimes called The Story of Juliane Koepcke. Twenty-five years later, Director Werner Herzog revisited the story in his film Wings of Hope (1998). Herzog was inspired to make the film as he narrowly avoided taking the same FLIGHT while he was location scouting for Aguirre, Wrath of God. His reservation was canceled for a last minute change in itinerary.
Koepcke moved to Germany, where she fully recovered from her injuries. Like her parents, she studied biology at the University of Kiel, graduating in 1980. She received a doctorate from Ludwig-Maximilian University and returned to Peru to conduct research in mammalogy, specializing in bats. Koepcke published her thesis, Ecological study of a bat colony in the tropical rain forest of Peru, in 1987. Now known as Juliane Diller, she serves as librarian at the Bavarian State Zoological Collection in Munich. Her autobiography, Als ich vom Himmel fiel (When I Fell From the Sky), was released on 10 March 2011 by Piper Verlag, for which she received the Corine Literature Prize in 2011.
Koepcke's unlikely survival has been the subject of much speculation. It is known that she was seatbelted into her seat and thus somewhat shielded and cushioned, but it has also been theorized that the outer pair of seats – those on each side of Koepcke, which came attached to hers as part of a row of three – functioned like a parachute and slowed her fall. The impact may also have been lessened by thunderstorm updraft and the landing site's thick foliage.