How a Downed Pilot Survived in the Amazon for Over a Month

The plane crash was just the beginning

The Amazon rainforest as seen from the cloud line
This might not be the place where you'd want to be stranded for a month.
Neil Palmer/CIAT - Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

For Antônio Sena, surviving a plane crash was just the the beginning. A New York Times report by Manuela Andreoni recounts Sena’s harrowing, month-long ordeal in the Amazon rainforest — one which began when the plane Sena was piloting crashed while he was en route to a mine by the name of California. The aircraft, a Cessna 210L, was nearly 50 years old when he took it on the fateful trip. Shortly after the crash, it began to burn.

As Andreoni reports, Sena stayed close to the crash site for a few days, under the assumption that rescue efforts would be looking most closely there. He was correct, but the pilots sent out to investigate weren’t able to see him. And thus, he decided to attempt to escape the rainforest on foot, heading towards the Paru River — a 17-mile journey that took him several weeks.

Sena spent most days traveling only in the mornings, then setting up camp so as to avoid rainfall. He was besieged by spider monkeys, which caused him plenty of trouble. “I never want to cross their path again,” he told the Times. (The monkeys did help clue him in to what plants were edible, however.) Eventually, Sena encountered a group of people collecting nuts and was rescued — a hopeful ending to a harrowing journey.

The ordeal he experienced makes for a gripping read, and might remind some readers of the experience of Juliane Koepcke 50 years earlier. As with Sena, Koepcke also survived a plane crash in the rainforest and was left to fend for herself. And while their circumstances were very different, both survived by being observant and resourceful, and demonstrating a relentless desire to survive.

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