Has there ever been a plane crash with only one survivor? The answer may surprise you. 

Statistics tell us that flying is safer than traveling by most other forms of transport, such as by car or by boat. But when you read news reports about aircraft disasters, such as the recent plane crash in China and international tragedies such as MH17, second thoughts tend to haunt your mind.

Plane crashes do happen. But these tend to be few and far between, and – believe it or not – surviving one is possible.  The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board found, in their investigation of aircraft mishaps that took place from 1983 to 1999, that the survival rate was an impressive 95%.

This article will look at 5 tragic plane crashes, with the inspiring story of only one survivor.

Juliane Koepcke (LANSA Flight 508)

Date of crash: 24 December 1971

One of the most unbelievable plane crashes with one survivor involves the story of Juliane Koepcke. She was only 17 years old when LANSA Flight 508, a Lockheed L-188A Electra turboprop, crashed into the Amazon Rainforest.

The domestic flight was scheduled to travel from Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima to Coronel FAP Francisco Secada Vignetta International Airport in Iquitos.

However, on 24 December, and after 25 minutes after takeoff, the plane flew right into a thunderstorm and began to experience extreme turbulence. A bolt of lightning struck the right wing of the aircraft – and it nose-dived.

Juliane Koepcke (who is now Dr Juliane Koepcke) said, “The next thing I knew, I was no longer inside the cabin. I was outside, in the open air. I hadn’t left the plane. The plane had left me.” Koepcke fell approximately 10,000 feet, still in her seat belt connected to a bench of three seats.

She crashed into the Amazon, was knocked unconscious and woke up the next morning. She then trekked across the rainforest for 11 days before finding civilisation.

Cause: Investigators in Peru found that the aircraft intentionally flew into dangerous weather conditions, causing the crash.

Vesna Vulović (JAT Flight 367)

Date: 26 January 1972

JAT Yugoslav Airlines Flight 367 was a scheduled commercial flight en route from Stockholm, Sweden to Belgrade in Yugoslavia.

The aircraft exploded while in the air and crashed in Czechoslovakia, killing 27 people on board.

Vulović, a flight attendant, was the only survivor. She holds the Guiness world record for surviving the highest fall without a parachute (being 10,160 metres).

Vulović was in a coma, fractured her skull and pelvis, and also broke her vertebrae, legs and ribs. She suffered paralysis from the waist down, before eventually making a total recovery (although she walked with a limp after recovery).

Cause: Czechoslovak authorities concluded that explosives had been placed inside a briefcase, causing the explosion. They were possibly placed there by a Croatian nationalist. However, later investigations suggest that the aircraft was mistakenly shot down by the Czechoslovak Air Force.

Cecelia Cichan (Northwest Airlines Flight 255)

Date of crash: 16 August 1987

Cichan was only four years old when Northwest Airlines flight 255, en route from Romulus, Michigan to Phoenix, Arizona, crashed shortly after taking off.

Around 156 people died, including two people on the ground. Cichan’s parents and brother (aged 6) were among the fatalities.

Out of the deadly plane crashes with one survivor, this crash ranks number one. It is also the second deadliest plane crash in U.S. history.

Cichan was buried within the wreckage after the crash. Her skull was fractured, her leg and collarbone were broken and she suffered severe burns (requiring four skin grafts).

A firefighter located her after hearing a faint cry, and pulled her out of the wreck.

Cause: The U.S. National Transport Safety Bureau (NTSB) concluded pilot error: a “failure to use the taxi checklist to ensure that the flaps and slats were extended for takeoff”. There was also no electrical power to the aircraft takeoff warning system, so the crew were not warned that the plane was not configured appropriately.

Bahia Bakari (Yemenia Flight 626)

Date of crash: 30 June 2009

Yemenia Flight 626 was one the more recent plane crashes with one survivor. The flight was scheduled to fly from Yemen to Comoros (a small country in southern Africa), before crashing into the Indian Ocean, approximately 15 kilometres off the coast of Grand Comore. 152 people onboard the plane died.

Bakar, a 12-year-old girl from France, survived. She had little swimming ability, had no life vest and could only cling to debris from the crashed aircraft. She floated in the middle of the ocean for nine hours – mostly in complete darkness – before finally being rescued by a privately owned vessel.

She had a fractured pelvis and collarbone, some injuries to her face and burns on her knees.

Upon being rescued, she was reunited with her father. Her mother had died in the crash.

She became known as “miracle girl”.

Cause: A final investigative report called it “inappropriate action” by the crew on flight controls, causing the aircraft to enter an unrecoverable stall. Different alarms were ringing across the aircraft, but the crew’s attention was on the path of the aircraft and the location of the runway. The report found that the crew “probably did not have enough mental resources available in this stressful situation, to respond adequately to different alarms.”

At the time of writing, the airline is undergoing a trial in France.

Ruben van Assouw (Afriqiyah Airways Flight 771)

Date of crash: 12 May 2010

Nine-year-old Ruben van Assow from the Netherlands survived a horrifying plane crash in Tripoli, Libya. The aircraft exploded and completely disintegrated after arriving from Johannseburg, South Africa into Tripoli. 103 people onboard the aircraft day.

The young boy – being the only survivor – was found in the aircraft wreckage. His legs were broken and he experienced the inability to move certain parts of his body. Fears emerged that his brain was bruised. Both of his parents were killed in the crash.

Cause: Pilot error. The Libyan Civil Aviation Authority concluded that the pilots lacked a uniform action plan during the approach into Tripoli, with insufficient crew resource management, a lack of monitoring the flight path and other factors contributing to the crash.