“Follow your heart boldly and know you are more capable of succeeding and in more ways than you think.”
Juli-Anne Warll is soft-spoken, warm, and exudes a sense of calm. She is a ripping skier and a supermom. She's also a badass pilot who successfully navigated a harrowing backcountry crash landing after her plane caught fire. The courage and grace she showed in the immediate aftermath made her an icon to her colleagues.
Facing Down Fears.
When we spoke, I asked Juli-Anne what it is that fuels adventure for her. She told of how she sees adventure as the act of stepping out into something with an element of the unknown and a sense of challenge. She revels in the feelings of excitement, fear, and wonder it brings.
Being a female pilot—at a time when only about 2.5 percent of commercial pilots in the U.S are women—has certainly been an adventure. Not only has Juli-Anne held a full career as a commercial pilot—flying jets and small planes and everything in between—but she also successfully navigated a harrowing backcountry piloting experience with a grace that made her an icon among her colleagues. In 1998, while Juli-Anne was piloting a small Cessna 206—with fixed (i.e. unretractable) tricycle gear and passengers—along the remote islands of Southeast Alaska, her plane caught fire. At the first sign of smoke, Juli-Anne turned the plane around and got cleared to return to the airport. Within minutes, visible flames were shooting through the floor vents and the cabin was filling with thick black smoke; she was piloting a flying fuel tank.
In retelling the chilling tale, Juli-Anne recalls being overtaken by a stoic commitment to ensuring the safety of her passengers. Her flight was now just two miles away from the originating airport, and her cabin was filling with black smoke. She and her passengers opened the windows and cleared the smoke several times, but the cabin continued to refill with smoke. Juli-Anne sensed that her plane wouldn’t make it back, and instead, she did the unexpected. Rather than return to the airport, she leaned on her training and began searching for places to ditch the plane. She settled on shallow waters adjacent to an island—a high-risk intentional water landing that might flip the plane. Yet, she hoped a water landing would put out the flames and the close proximity to the island would keep her passengers from certain death in cold Alaskan waters.
After two aborted landing attempts, Juli-Anne went in for a third, resolving that “this has to be it.” She maintained her slowest landing speed, approached, and dragged the tail through the water, sticking the landing; the impact immediately sheared off the nose gear. The plane raced forward, and Juli-Anne pulled the nose up onto the beach; the propeller curlcued into the sand. The plane came to rest. Juli-Anne blacked out momentarily.
The passengers evacuated the plane. Juli-Anne came to, secured the plane, and exited. She confirmed there were no injuries other than smoke inhalation and then walked away to process some adrenaline while awaiting help. Ten minutes later, a rescue helicopter arrived. Juli-Anne was nowhere to be seen. The pilot got out and queried the male passengers, one at a time, “Are you the pilot?”…”Are you the pilot?”. Each shook his head. Momentarily, a more composed Juli-Anne emerged from the bushes, “I’m the pilot”, and readied to face the inevitable ensuing FAA gauntlet.
By stuffing her own fear, Juli-Anne was able to maintain focus on her mission, understand that her decisions mattered greatly, and think outside the box to do the unexpected. The experience has left her with a deep knowing that our actions do matter and that we are often more capable than we understand.
And, for her bravery and capabilities, the FAA commended Juli-Anne with the Pilots Professionalism Award. The survivors of the crash—and their families, friends, and communities—too, were awed by her grit. She tells of numerous long-time, primarily male, Alaskan pilots making pilgrimages to meet her and of one particular incident that touched her deeply. She recalls piloting another flight—a small plane filled with tough, stoic locals, many of whom smelled of fish. As she began taxiing, she heard growing whispers filling the cabin; the passengers then asked if she could stop the plane. She immediately assumed they were going to heckle her for being a woman. Instead, from the back came a “You are “fire girl”, aren’t you?” “Yes,” she replied. The floodgates opened: “My cousin”, “My neighbor”, “My friend””…was on your flight.” The small cabin erupted in applause. Juli-Anne sat, quietly allowing the weight of her accomplishment sink in. Interactions like this one—in which these very local, rugged and raw guys—acknowledged her bravery and gave her thanks—meant the world to her. To this day, the incident carries deep meaning and has shaped her life in profound ways.
Juli-Anne took on solo parenthood after meeting her daughter in a baby house in Central Asia years ago. This confluence has been a life-changing adventure of a different kind for both of them. Her 9-year old daughter remains a huge motivator for her. Juli-Anne wants her daughter to witness her and many of her friends doing things that are often out of the norm for many moms, parents, and women, as a way of helping her build confidence and a wide view of what she can do as she grows in this world.
“Aim high and don’t listen to others who try to hold you down. It’s okay to be confident, stay kind, remain true to yourself without fail, and be watchful of giving your power away. Listen to your instincts and don’t be afraid of love.”
Juli-Anne is a creator, an explorer at heart, a connector of people, and possesses a deep inner strength. She strives to own these qualities in herself more fully so she may share them with the world in a greater capacity.
Juli-Anne mentioned that prior to becoming a parent, keeping herself healthy, happy and strong was really easy for her, as she always had a knack for playing and finding fun! Since then, however, it’s been an evolving challenge to carve out time just for her. Being in motion has always kept her happiest, and spending time in nature brings contentment and strength of mind. She cites “flying airplanes when I’m challenged, fast down hill skiing, and great connecting moments with people” as some of the things that make her feel most alive. When she has the time, immersing herself in taking photos becomes almost meditative, as it allows her to slow down, create, and notice details and beauty she might otherwise miss.
Words of Wisdom.
To her younger self, Juli-Anne would advise:
“Travel the world as much as you can while you are young. It’s so eye opening and educational. See what’s out there, really experience it, and figure out where you belong. Turn your passions into something to share with the world.”
Something Juli-Anne Won't Tell You About Herself.
Juli-Anne is a talented photographer and published a beloved portrait collection of dogs in her hometown—Park City: Dog Town USA.