Have you ever wondered what the world record is for the highest fall without a parachute and surviving? Well, I can tell you. The record is 33,330 feet. Yes that’s right, thirty three thousand feet. The holder of this record is none other than Vesna Vulović, a Serbian flight attendant who should never have been on the plane in the first place. It was JAT Flight number 367, a passenger plane from Stockholm to Belgrade, a flight with 28 people in total were on board including the crew. As it flew over East Germany on the 26th of January 1972, a bomb exploded on board causing the plane to split into 2, spiral out of control and crash in Srbská Kamenice, a village in then-Czechoslovakia. Out of the 28 people on board, all but one perished in the crash. Vesna Vulović was the only survivor.
The bomb was placed on board by émigré Croatian terrorist folk, a layover from the Ustaše of World War 2. How Vulović survived is known but still entirely a mystery. As the story goes, a food cart pinned her to the back of the plane, acting like some sort of unbelievably efficient seatbelt and preventing her getting sucked out of the plane. She also had particularly low blood pressure, which caused her to pas out quickly, making sure her heart didn’t explode. After the crash she was found by Bruno Henke, a dude who just happened to be a former German Army medic (WW2 era). She was half in the aircraft and half out, with the body of a colleague on top of her. She had fell 10,160metres, and somehow she survived.
Immediately following the accident Vesna fell into a coma. She had a fractured skull, 3 broken vertebrae (one of which was crushed completely), and both of her legs were broken. When you think of how far she fell, that doesn’t sound too bad really. Her parents were told that she was done for, but she awoke after almost a month, and immediately asked for a cigarette, because Slavs. She even went back to work, with a desk job at JAT Airways. She regained use of her legs, and even flew sporadically. She’s even a fan of movies that have plane crashes in them. Because SLAVS. Vesna continued to work for JAT until 1990, when she was fired for criticizing Slobodan Milošević. A political activist she remained however, and she participated in many more protests over the years, including those that led to Slobo’s downfall.
Vesna wasn’t supposed to be on the flight, she was only there because whoever was doing the rota got her confused with a different Vesna. It’s a fairly common name I guess, but Ms. Vulović didn’t mind; she’d always wanted to go to Scandinavia. She didn’t even have a permanent contract with JAT, and had only been flying for eight months. Then, to survive a crash of such proportions, well, of any proportions, is unbelievable. You’d think she was lucky. In her words however; ‘I’m not lucky. If I were lucky, I would have never had this accident and my mother and father would still be alive’.
There are cynics of course, and in 2009 a theory was published by German, Dutch and Czech journalists claiming that the plane had been shot down mistakenly by the Czechoslovak Air Force from a much lower height, just a few hundred metres above the ground. The journalists admitted that this theory was based mostly on circumstantial evidence as opposed to facts, and in truth it is easy to understand any and all cynicism. 33,330ft is a long way to fall after all. I’d like to believe its true though, and the black boxes from JAT flight 367 back that up. Heck, even Mythbusters backed it up.