On the 26th of January 1972, Vesna Vulović was a flight attendant onboard JAT Yugoslav Airlines Flight 367.Advertisements
The flight path, between Stockholm in Sweden and Belgrade in Serbia, took the aircraft over Czechoslovakia – now the Czech Republic – and that is where the plane exploded into three pieces.
The explosion and crash killed everyone on board. Everyone except Vesna, who survived a fall of 33,333 feet (10,160 metres; 6.31 miles).
50 years on, this remains the highest fall survived without a parachute ever.
Vesna Vulović (1972)
JAT Flight 367 had two scheduled stopovers in between Stockholm and Belgrade. First was Copenhagen in Denmark, which is where the secondary cabin crew – including Vesna – boarded the plane. They never reached the second stopover in Zagreb, Croatia.
As fate would have it, Vesna was not actually scheduled to be working on Flight 367, as she revealed in a 2002 interview with Green Light. However, the airline had confused her for another stewardess with the same first name, thus the plane departed Denmark with 23-year-old Vesna Vulović on board.
At 4:01 p.m., 46 minutes after take off, an explosion in the luggage compartment tore the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 aircraft into three pieces.
As the cabin depressurized, the passengers and other flight crew were believed to have been sucked out of the plane into freezing temperatures, falling to their deaths.
Vesna’s miraculous survival was attributed to her being pinned down by a food cart in the tail end of the fuselage (the aircraft’s main body).
A JAT McDonnell Douglas DC-9 similar to the one involved.
The fuselage separated from the rest of the plane and hurtled towards the ground in a heavily wooded area near the Czechoslovak village of Srbská Kamenice. It crash landed in the thick snow at a favourable angle, which is most likely what saved Vesna’s life.
Additionally, Vesna’s physicians determined that her low blood pressure caused her to quickly pass out when the cabin depressurized, which prevented her heart from bursting upon impact.
Vesna was found screaming inside the wreckage by Bruno Honke, a local villager and former World War 2 medic who was able to administer vital first aid before rescuers arrived.
Although Vesna survived, she sustained extremely serious injuries and spent the following days in a coma. She suffered a fractured skull, two broken legs, three broken vertebrae, a fractured pelvis, several broken ribs and temporary paralysis below the waist.
Amazingly, Vesna was able to walk again after ten months, albeit with a permanent limp due to the twisting of her spine.
She had no memory of the crash or of anything from the following month.