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 distinction of being the world record holder, 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 and Czech journalists published a theory that the plane had been shot down by mistake by the Czechoslovak Air Force only a few hundred metres above the ground, not the 10,000 metres claimed by the official investigation. All the evidences suggesting the explosion in high altitude should be therefore forged by Czechoslovak secret police. 
Vesna Vulović referred to the claims that the plane attempted a forced landing or descended to such low altitude as a "nebulous nonsense". 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."
The Czech Civilian Aviation Authority dismissed the conspiracy theory stated, that findings of the official investigation are being questioned mostly because of the media attractiveness of the story. Peter Hornung himself stated that for his theory "there are only indications, no evidences".
In popular culture
In 1972, a Serbian folk singer Miroslav Ilić released a song called Vesna stjuardesa. In 2015, a Finnish garage rock band Van Dammes released a tribute song called Vesna (Flash in the Night) on their Better Than Sex EP.
- 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)
- 'Nismo letjeli na stotinjak metara'
- Downing of a Yugoslav aircraft by Czechs could not be hushed up, witness from the radar says
- BIENE, JANUSZ (9 January 2009). "Geheimdienst erfand Bombenattentat". die Tageszeitung. Retrieved 11 March 2013.