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Vesna Vulovic: The Woman who Plummeted from 33,000 Feet and Survived

BY Tanveer Khan July 5, 2018
Vesna Vulovic, when she as a stewardess.

Vesna Vulovic, when she worked as a stewardess. (File Photo)

Verna Vulovic cheated death one fine day and lived to tell her horrific tale. She was a Serbian flight attendant, who came hurtling down towards the earth from 33,000 feet above and still survived the deadly fall. Vesna Vulovic was travelling in a plane, which crashed mid-air, killing all people on board, except her. In the year 1985, she was inducted into the Guinness Book Of World Records for uniquely holding the record for the highest fall survived without a parachute.

Born in Belgrade in 1950, the 22-year-old Vesna Vulovic, who was mistaken for another stewardess with the same name, was asked to report on duty on January 26, 1972. The Yugoslav Airlines Douglas DC-9 was flying from Stockholm to Belgrade, with stopovers at Copenhagen in Denmark and Zagreb in Croatia. Vesna, who was in Denmark at that time, got on the scheduled flight from Copenhagen and was the main stewardess onboard. The plane exploded mid-air while flying over Czechoslovakian airspace and came down like a ball of fire. All the people on board lost their lives on impact, except Vesna, who was later found alive in a snow-clad mountain screaming out for help.

The flight attendant was rushed to a hospital, where due to haemorrhage, she slipped into coma and later in a vegetative state. Apart from a broken skull, Vesna had also severely fractured several bones of her vertebral column, her ribs, both her legs and her pelvis. Her injuries were so grave that she was paralyzed below her waist and couldn’t move. She also suffered from memory loss. As months passed, she was flown down to a hospital in Prague, where she began responding to treatment and showed slow signs of recovery.

Cause of aircraft explosion

When investigations of the plane crash began, astounding evidence came to light. Safety investigators believed that a home-made briefcase bomb was the cause of the explosion, which had brought down the plane. It was believed to have been planted by extremists from Croatia, who had gone unnoticed when they carried out the procedure at Copenhagen. They also believed that Vesna was trapped between the catering cart towards the rear end of the fuselage, preventing her from being sucked out of the aircraft. Although the crash was suspected to be a bomb blast mid-air, there were no traces of suspects neither were any arrests made post the investigation.

Vesna Vulovic’s recovery and survivor syndrome 

Vesna made a surprising full-recovery during her retreat in Montenegro, where she was constantly under medical care and her sixteen-month-long period of revival was not easy to come by. The flight attendant later took up a desk job with the same airline company and was never scared to board a plane despite the mishap.

When news agencies contacted her after she was back on her feet, albeit with a limp, which stuck with her till the end of her life; she only recalled waking up in a hospital bed. She admitted that she was struggling with survivor’s guilt and said in an interview that rather than turning to therapy, her interest in religion became more profound, which helped her come out of her shell. Despite having survived miraculously, while her fellow passengers died, she alienated herself from the rest of the world.

During her later years, Vesna actively campaigned for the Democrats and played a major part in getting her country entry into the European Union. She lived the last few years of her life alone after her marriage did not work. She was found dead in her apartment in December 2016, with no official report of the cause.

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Fact Analysis:
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