Vesna Vulović 

Vesna Vulovic.jpgVesna Vulović (1950–2016) was a Serbian flight attendant who holds the Guinness world record for surviving the highest fall without a parachute: 10,160 metres (33,330 ft).

She was the sole survivor after a briefcase bomb tore through the baggage compartment of JAT Flight 367 on 26 January 1972, causing it to crash over Czechoslovakia. She spent days in a coma with a fractured skull and many broken bones, and was temporarily paralyzed from the waist down.

Vulović eventually relearned how to walk, but continued to limp for the rest of her life.

She was widely regarded as a national hero in Yugoslavia. Guinness recognized her world record in 1985. She was fired from JAT in the early 1990s for taking part in anti-government protests, but continued her work as a pro-democracy activist for decades. The final years of her life were spent in seclusion and poverty, and she struggled with survivor’s guilt until her death.

The secondary crew of JAT Flight 367, flying from Stockholm to Belgrade with stopovers in Copenhagen and Zagreb, arrived in Denmark on the morning of 25 January 1972. According to Vulović, she was not scheduled to be on Flight 367 and JAT had confused her for another flight attendant also named Vesna.  Nevertheless, Vulović said that she was excited to travel to Denmark because it was her first time visiting the country. The crew had the entire afternoon and the following morning to themselves. Vulović wished to go sightseeing but her colleagues insisted that they go shopping. “Everybody wanted to buy something for his or her family,” she recalled. “So I had to go shopping with them. They seemed to know that they would die. They didn’t talk about it, but I saw … I felt for them. And the captain was locked in his room for 24 hours. He didn’t want to go out at all. In the morning, during breakfast, the co-pilot was talking about his son and daughter as if nobody else had a son or daughter.”

Flight 367 departed from Stockholm Arlanda Airport at 1:30 p.m. on 26 January. The aircraft, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9, landed at Copenhagen Airport at 2:30 p.m., where it was taken over by Vulović and her colleagues. “As it was late, we were in the terminal and saw it park,” Vulović said. “I saw all the passengers and crew deplane. One man seemed terribly annoyed. It was not only me that noticed him either. Other crew members saw him, as did the station manager in Copenhagen. I think it was the man who put the bomb in the baggage. I think he had checked in a bag in Stockholm, got off in Copenhagen and never re-boarded the flight.”

Flight 367 departed from Copenhagen Airport at 3:15 p.m. At 4:01 p.m., an explosion tore through the DC-9’s baggage compartment. The explosion caused the aircraft to break apart over the Czechoslovak village of Srbská Kamenice. Vulović was the only survivor of the 28 passengers and crew. She was discovered by villager Bruno Honke, who heard her screaming amid the wreckage. Her turquoise uniform was covered in blood and her 3-inch (76 mm) stiletto heels had been torn off by the force of the impact. Honke had been a medic during World War II and was able to keep her alive until rescuers arrived.

 

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