3 January 1950|
Belgrade, PR Serbia, FPR Yugoslavia)
|Died||23 December 2016
Vesna Vulović (Serbian Cyrillic: Весна Вуловић; [ˈʋeːsna ˈʋuːlɔvit͡ɕ]; 3 January 1950 – 23 December 2016) was a Serbian flight attendant. She holds the Guinness world record for surviving the highest fall without a parachute: 10,160 metres (33,333 ft), after the explosion of JAT Flight 367 near Srbská Kamenice, Czechoslovakia, on 26 January 1972. She was the sole survivor of the accident.
Plane explosion and fall
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, which 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. 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.
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." The medic is identified as Bruno Henke.
Physicists and aviation experts have theorized that she survived because she had been pinned to the rear part of the plane.
Vulović continued working for Jat Airways at a desk job following a full recovery from her injuries. She regained the use of her legs and continued to fly sporadically. She claimed she had no fear of flying, which she attributed to her loss of memory of the crash, and she even enjoyed watching movies with plane crashes. She was considered a national heroine throughout the former Yugoslavia and was awarded the Guinness Record title by Paul McCartney at a ceremony in 1985.
Vulović used her celebrity to publicly protest against the Milošević regime. This cost her her job, as she was fired in 1990 for expressing views critical of Yugoslav ruler Slobodan Milošević. She publicly participated in protests against his rule up to and including the Bulldozer Revolution that led to his ousting. Many believe that her status as a national heroine prevented the authorities from arresting her despite her open defiance of the Milošević government. She joined the opposition Democratic Party and stood up to repeated attacks by riot police. She received many death threats, but told the New York Times "I am like a cat, I have had nine lives...But if nationalist forces in this country prevail, my heart will burst."  When the Milosovic regime finally ended, she was one of the celebrities making victory address on the balcony at Belgrade city hall. After the fall of Milošević, she continued to have an active role in protesting against Serb nationalism.
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 evidence suggesting the explosion at high altitude would have been 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, stating that the findings of the official investigation are being questioned mostly because of media interest in the theory. Hornung-Andersen himself stated that his theory is based on "circumstantial evidence, not proof".
- 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
- "Десять тысяч метров без парашюта". Retrieved 2014-01-15.
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- Serbia’s Most Famous Survivor Fears That Recent History Will Repeat Itself The New York Times 26 April 2008
- "Vesna Vulovic: how to survive a bombing at 33000 feet".
- "Air stewardess who miraculously survived record-breaking 33,000ft plunge". Mirror, UK.
- Leach, Ben (14 January 2009). "Serbian flight attendant's fall from 10,000 metres was 'hoax'". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 25 December 2016.
- Connolly, Kate (13 January 2009). "Woman who fell to earth: was air crash survivor's record just propaganda?". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
- "Serbia's most famous survivor still fighting". Taipei Times. 22/03/2018. Retrieved 05/04/2017. Check date values in:
- "Vesna Vulovic, stewardess who survived 33,000ft fall, dies". BBC. BBC. 24 December 2016. Retrieved 05/04/2017. Check date values in:
- "Vesna Vulovic: how to survive a bombing at 33000 feet". Retrieved 05/04/2017. Check date values in:
- "Yugoslav plane was probably shot down in 1972 by Czechs - ARD". Archived from the original on 29 January 2009. Retrieved 22 February 2015. 29 January 2009 (Czech)
- "'Nismo letjeli na stotinjak metara'".
- "Sestřelení jugoslávského letadla Čechy by se neutajilo, míní pamětník od radaru". 15 January 2009.
- BIENE, JANUSZ (9 January 2009). "Geheimdienst erfand Bombenattentat". die Tageszeitung. Archived from the original on 21 June 2014. Retrieved 11 March 2013.
- "Preminula bivša stjuardesa Vesna Vulović" [Former flight attendant Vesna Vulovic dies] (in Serbian). N1. 24 December 2016. Retrieved 24 December 2016.
- "Serbia Stewardess Who Survived 1972 Plane Crash, Record Fall Dies at 66". Voice of America. Associated Press. 24 December 2016. Retrieved 24 December 2016.