An Illustrated History of Slavic Misery: Vesna Vulovic

Posted on July 17, 2013


I’m a cynic at heart. I’m not proud of it, and I’m not even sure if the ‘at heart’ part of that sentence is really warranted, but there we go. When I hear outlandish stories, I tend to internally dismiss them regardless of how excited and interested my reaction. For once in my life though, I’m going to disregard that. I’m going to let my inner sceptic have the day off, and just embrace the story.

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 Vulovic, 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. 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 Srbska Kamenice, a village in then Czechoslovakia. Out of the 28 people on board, all but one perished in the crash. Vesna Vulovic was the only survivor.

The bomb was placed on board by émigré Croatian terrorist folk, a layover from the Ustase of World War 2. How Vulovic 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 unbelievable super seatbelt. It prevented her getting sucked out of the plane. She also had particularly low blood pressure, which caused her to pas out quickly. This made sure her heart didn’t explode. After the crash, she was found by Bruno Henke, who just happened to be a former German Army medic. 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, she fell into a coma for 27 days. She had a fractured skull, 3 broken vertebrae (one of which was crushed completely), and both of her legs were broken. To be honest, after such a fall I’m surprised that was the only damage. 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.

She continued to work for JAT until 1990, when she was fired for criticizing Slobodan Milosevic. A political activist she remained however, and she participated in many more protests over the years, including the protest that led to Slobo’s downfall.

This really is a remarkable tale in every way. 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. She didn’t mind though, she’d always wanted to go to Scandinavia. 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’. Honest words.