3 January 1950 |
|Occupation||Political campaigner, former flight attendant|
Vesna Vulović (Serbian: Весна Вуловић; born 3 January 1950) is a Serbian former flight attendant. She holds the world record, according to the Guinness Book of Records, for surviving the highest fall without a parachute: 10,160 metres (33,333 ft).
On 26 January 1972, an explosion on JAT Flight 367, while over Srbská Kamenice in Czechoslovakia (now in the Czech Republic) caused the plane to break apart. Vulović, 22 years old at the time, was a flight attendant on board. She was not scheduled to be on that flight; she had been mixed up with another flight attendant who was also named Vesna.
The official report of the Czechoslovak investigation commission that was handed over to the ICAO on 7 May 1974, stated that there had been an explosion in the front baggage compartment of the plane. The Czechoslovak secret service (Státní bezpečnost), which was leading the investigation, presented parts of an alarm clock ten days after the crash which they claimed came from a bomb. The report concluded that the explosion was the result of a bomb.
On the morning of 27 January 1972, an anonymous man called the newspaper Kvällsposten published in Malmö, Sweden, claiming, in broken Swedish, that he was a Croat and member of a nationalist group that placed the bomb on the plane. Apart from this, no further evidence was ever found that established that the bombing was a terrorist attack. Nevertheless, shortly after the phone call, the Yugoslav government blamed the Ustaše. According to the official report the explosion tore the McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32 to pieces in mid-air, and Vulović was the only survivor. It has since been stated that she survived because she had been in the rear part of the plane. However, both Vulović and Bruno Henke, the man who rescued her from the wrecked fuselage on the ground, state that she was found in the middle section right above the wings.
Vulović fell approximately 10,160 meters (33,333 ft). She suffered a fractured skull, three broken vertebrae (one crushed completely) that left her temporarily paralyzed from the waist down, and two broken legs. She was in a coma for 27 days. In an interview, she commented that according to the man who found her, "...I was in the middle part of the plane. I was found with my head down and my colleague on top of me. One part of my body with my leg was in the plane and my head was out of the plane. A catering trolley was pinned against my spine and kept me in the plane. The man who found me says I was very lucky. He was in the German Army as a medic during World War II. He knew how to treat me at the site of the accident."
Vulović continued working for JAT at a desk job following a full recovery from her injuries. She regained the use of her legs after surgery and continued to fly sporadically. She claims she has no fear of flying, which she attributes to the loss of memory of the crash, and she even enjoys watching movies with plane crashes. She is considered a national heroine throughout the former Yugoslavia.
Vulović was eventually dismissed in 1990 for expressing views critical of Yugoslav ruler Slobodan Milošević. She participated in protests against his rule afterwards, up to and including the Bulldozer Revolution that led to his ouster. Many believe that her status as a national heroine prevented the authorities from arresting her despite her open defiance of the Milošević government. She continues to be vocal in politics in Serbia.
In January 2009 German ARD radio correspondent Peter Hornung-Andersen together with Dutch journalist Tim van Beveren and Czech journalist Pavel Theiner published a report based on newly found documents, mainly from the Czech Civil Aviation Authority and the Czech Republic's National Archive, concluding that it was "extremely probable" that the plane had been shot down by mistake by the Czechoslovak Air Force. They claim that the plane broke up only a few hundred metres above the ground, not the 10,000 metres claimed by the official investigation. This claim is allegedly backed by secret reports in which several eyewitnesses said that they saw Vulović's plane flying below the clouds before it crashed and maps drawn by Czechoslovak investigators showing that the largest parts of the plane were found in an area that is rather smaller than would have been expected if the plane broke apart at the claimed altitude. The Czech Civil Aviation Authority nevertheless issued a statement denying the claim without addressing the evidence. The original statement has given rise to more recent reports. Vulović, despite having no memory of the crash or the flight after boarding, has challenged these new theories, denying the claim that the plane descended to a much lower altitude while attempting a forced landing. A representative of Guinness World Records stated that "it seems that at the time Guinness was duped by this swindle just like the rest of the media."
One source does not support such conspiracy theories and quotes a Czech army expert:
In case of violation of the air space, the incident would not be solved by anti-air missiles, but by fighter planes. Also it would not be possible to conceal such incident, as there would approximately 150–200 people knowing about the incident. They would not have any reason to not tell about incident today.
Additionally, the Czechoslovak Air Defense soldier who operated the radar the same day stated in a 2009 interview that any Czechoslovak jet fighters would have been noticed by the West German Air Defense:
Even if the Czechoslovak authorities would conceal it, the West would not remain silent.
The official from the Czech Civil Aviation Authority claims that findings of the official investigation are being questioned mostly because of the media attractiveness of the story.
Investigative report shows that the explosion on board was 'from the inside out'.
- Fall survivors
- Ivan Chisov, Soviet Air Force Lieutenant who fell from his Ilyushin Il-4 bomber in 1942
- Alan Magee, American, World War II airman who survived a 22,000-foot (6,700 m) fall from his damaged B-17F Flying Fortress in 1943
- Nicholas Alkemade, British Avro Lancaster gunner who fell from his burning aircraft in 1944
- Juliane Koepcke, sole survivor of LANSA Flight 508 Lockheed Electra break up who fell for about 3 km (1.9 mi) into the Amazon rainforest in 1971
- Guinness World Records
- lovic.htm Interview with Vesna Vulović
- Interviewed by Philip Baum, Green Light Aviation Security Training & Consultancy, in Belgrade, December 2001. "Vesna Vulovic: how to survive a bombing at 33,000 feet".
- The New York Times - Serbia’s Most Famous Survivor Fears That Recent History Will Repeat Itself
- Connelly, Kate (13 January 2009). "Woman who fell to earth: was air crash survivor's record just propaganda?". www.guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
- Kate Connolly: Woman who fell to earth: was air crash survivor's record just propaganda? The Guardian, 13 January 2009
- Yugoslav plane was probably shot down in 1972 by Czechs - ARD at the Wayback Machine (archived January 29, 2009) 29 January 2009 (Czech)
- This is shown on a disaster area map which was published by Czech Republic's National Archive: No. 1 and 2 show the fuselage and cabin ending up less than one kilometre apart.
- Only air hostess survived terrorist attack above CSSR, she felt from 10 kilometers