Wednesday December 28, 2016

Remembering Vesna Vulović, flight attendant who survived 10,000-metre fall from plane

Vesna Vulović in 1972.

Vesna Vulović in 1972. (The Associated Press)

She beat the odds by surviving a 10,000-metre (33,000 feet) fall from a plane, and became a national hero in Serbia because of it. 

Vesna Vulović, who holds the the Guinness world record for surviving the highest fall without a parachute, died last Friday. She was 66. 

On January 26, 1972, Vulović was working as a flight attendant on a Yugoslav Airlines Douglas DC-9 when the plane exploded midair over Czechoslovakia. Despite falling approximately 10,160 metres, Vulovic was the sole survivor of the accident. All 27 other passengers and crew in the plane died. 

According to Guinness, Vulović crashed to earth inside a tail unit section of the plane. She was hospitalized for close to a year-and-a-half, after emerging from a four week coma. Many of her bones were broken.

Years later, her incredible fall was called into question. Journalist Peter Hornung-Andersen admitted his theory was based on "circumstantial evidence, not proof". 

Later in her life, Vulović used her fame to speak about political issues. She campaigned for liberal forces during the elections and protested against nationalists in Serbia. 

Vulović spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off in May 2008. During their conversation, Vulović spoke about surviving that famous fall: 

Serbia Vulovic Obit

Vesna Vulovic, an ex-air stewardess, and survivor of a fall from 10,000 meters when in 1972 her plane was blown up in mid-fight by a bomb. aged 66. (The Associated Press)

Carol Off: People say you were a fighter, somebody who survived. And, they still see you as a fighter. 

Vesna Vulović: Yes. Doctors, after the operation of my backbone, they told my mother and father, "What a fighter your daughter is. During the operation, she woke up." They said, "She is a big fighter. She will be completely recovered."

CO: Do you remember anything about that fall? 

VV: No, nothing. I'm telling only what I've heard from my parents and the witnesses. I can only tell that. 

CO: And what did they tell you happened? 

VV: They told me that my plane exploded on the flight at 10,000 metres (above the ground). They said it was a bomb which was put there by the Croatian terroristic group, Ustaše. 

Yugoslav Airliner

A Yugoslav Airlines DC-9 identical to the one blown up in 1972. (CC Clipperarctic)

CO: Do you have any idea how you survived that crash? 

VV: I really don't know how I survived. 

CO: It's believed that it's Croatian nationalists who bombed that plane. The fact that you were a victim from a nationalist attack like that, does that affect the way you look at nationalism? 

VV: Maybe, maybe. I don't like neither Croatian, neither Serbian or any other nationalism. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. As It Happens spoke with Vesna Vulović on May 1, 2008.