By Brad Dison
Vesna Vulović loved to travel and longed to see the world. In 1971, 21-year-old Vesna had a chance encounter with a friend who was an air hostess, often referred to as a stewardess. Vesna was excited to learn that she could travel to London and many other worldwide destinations at the expense of the airline. The time between flights was hers for sightseeing or shopping. Vesna recognized this as a wonderful opportunity and applied to JAT Airways, Yugoslavia’s largest airline. JAT agreed to hire her if she could pass a medical examination. Vesna had a history of low blood pressure, which she knew would make her fail her medical examination. On the day of her examination, Vesna intentionally drank an excessive amount of coffee. The trick worked. Vesna passed her examination and was cleared for flight.
Flight 367 departed on the morning of January 25, 1972 from Stockholm, Sweden and had a stopover in Copenhagen, Denmark. Vesna and the rest of her flight crew had spent the previous day shopping in Denmark, waiting to relieve the incoming crew that afternoon. Vesna and her flight crew arrived at the airport in Denmark to relieve the flight crew which had flown from Stockholm to Copenhagen. Vesna and her crew arrived at the airport and watched as the passengers deplane. Although some of the passengers were continuing their journey on the same jet, the passengers were required to deplane as a safety measure. One man caught the attention of everyone in the vicinity. He seemed terribly annoyed by something, but Vesna never learned the cause of his irritation.
Vesna, her flight crew, and the passengers, a total of 28 people, boarded the jet for the next leg of the flight to Zagreb, Croatia. The irritable man failed to reboard the jet. At 3:15 p.m., flight 367 departed from Copenhagen. Vesna served drinks and snacks to the passengers and crew. 46 minutes after takeoff, at 4:01 p.m., as the jet flew at an altitude of 33,333 feet, an explosion ripped through the jet’s baggage compartment. The cabin instantly depressurized and, due to her low blood pressure, Vesna passed out. The jet broke apart over the mountainside village of Srbská Kamenice in Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic). Vesna, unconscious, was trapped in the jet’s fuselage by a food cart. The other 27 people on the flight were blown out of the jet when it depressurized and they fell to their deaths. The jet’s fuselage plummeted from a height of 33,333 feet (6.3 miles) toward the ground until it struck the snow-covered mountainside at an angle. The deep snow and the angle in which the fuselage hit softened the impact.
Bruno Honke, a local villager who had been a medic during World War II, was the first to reach the impact sight. He assumed there were no survivors but, to his surprise, he heard someone screaming from the wreckage. He rushed to the pile of debris and found Vesna. Vesna had a fractured skull, three broken vertebrae, several broken ribs, a fractured pelvis, and both legs were broken. Bruno stayed with her until rescuers arrived and transported Vesna to a hospital.
Vesna was in a coma for 27 days. When she regained consciousness, she was temporarily paralyzed below the waist and suffered from amnesia. The last thing she remembered was greeting the passengers as they boarded flight 367. Her family learned of the crash about two weeks after it occurred and rushed to her bedside. Ten months after the crash, after several operations and months of therapy, Vesna finally regained the ability to walk though she limped for the rest of her life.
To everyone’s amazement, Vesna did not fear flying following the crash. She simply said that she had no memory of the crash. In September of 1972, Vesna told the airline that she was anxious to return to work. Rather than return her to her previous job as a flight attendant, JAT Airways provided Vesna with a desk job. For the rest of her life, Vesna suspected that the irritable man was somehow responsible for the explosion which caused the crash.
The mere fact that Vesna survived earned her a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for the “highest fall survived without parachute.” But Vesna Vulović should not hold that record. You see, a JAT Airways employee confused Vesna for another flight attendant with the same first name and assigned her to that fateful flight. It was supposed to be Vesna Vulović’s day off.
- The Fresno Bee (Fresno, California), February 2, 1972, p.15.
- Guinness World Records. “Highest Fall Survived Without Parachute.” Accessed January 29, 2022. guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/highest-fall-survived-without-parachute.
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