At four o’clock in the afternoon, JAT Flight 367 was flying at 10,149m over the Czech Republic on its way to Zagreb. A minute later, a bomb tore through the front baggage compartment of the DC-9, blowing the nose of the plane clean off. 28 people were on board. One of those people survived the fall.
Vesna Vulović joined JAT Airways as a flight attendant in 1971. The following year, she boarded JAT Flight 367 from Copenhagen, Denmark on January 26, along with 27 other people making the onward journey to Yugoslavia. As the plane flew over what is now the Czech Republic, a bomb – planted by a Croatian terrorist organisation – tore through the front of the craft, sending it into free fall.
Vesna Vulović does not remember any of this.
Though there have been many articles written about her, Vesna’s memory of the incident is gone. She knows she boarded a plane that day, but her next memory is of waking up in a hospital bed. Two weeks went by before she was told she had survived such a fall – another memory she cannot recall.
Once the bomb exploded, the plane separated into two major parts – a small section of the front of the plane, including the cockpit and a larger section of the tail of the plane and the wings. Vesna was situated at the back of the plane and, according to some reports, was pinned by a food cart to a wall. This may have acted like a seatbelt which prevented her from being sucked out of the plane during the decompression and fall.
Though she doesn’t remember any of this, she was found in a field by a farmer. When she awoke from a coma 27 days later, she was informed her skull was broken and had haemorrhaged and three vertebrae were crushed, preventing movement in her legs. After operations and a month of rehab, she was able to walk again.
Vesna survived a fall from 10,149m without a parachute. That is a World Record unlikely to be broken for some time.
When Vesna had been nursed back to health, she wanted to fly again, returning to work for the airline. However, they didn’t allow her to return to flight and instead gave her a desk job. She wanted to fly again.
Until her death in 2016, she held no fear for flying, stating in an interview:
Her amnesia prevents her from remembering how she could have survived the fall, so we may never know just how lucky she was (even though she doesn’t consider that to be true), and though theories abound that she may never have been on the flight at all and was simply planted as some sort of conspiracy, surviving a fall from that height is theoretically possible according to Mythbusters.
If you were a Mythbusters fan, you may have seen Vesna’s story retold on the episode ‘Escape Slide Parachute’, which did result in this ‘myth’ being deemed Plausible but the entire universe itself would have to conspire to keep you alive.