Down-to-earth survivor still going 40 years on

 

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The Independent Online

Her survival was hailed as a miracle – the flight attendant who fell more than 10,000 metres without a parachute when a Yugoslav Airlines flight from Zagreb to Copenhagen broke up. But 40 years on, with the official version of the disaster in doubt, Vesna Vulovic, pictured, lives a secluded life in a dilapidated Belgrade flat.

"Whenever I think of the accident, I have a prevailing, grave feeling of guilt for surviving it and I cry..." she told i.

One of the problems for the 62-year-old is that while she survived, her memories of the event were wiped out.

According to the official tale, 40 years ago today the aircraft fell into woods in the former Czechoslovakia, killing 23 passengers and four crew members. Ms Vulovic was the only survivor.

The authorities said Croatian Ustashi separatists had planted a bomb, and The Guinness Book of Records gave Ms Vulovic the record for the highest fall without a parachute – 10,160 metres, the height at which the aircraft was allegedly cruising.

But three years ago, journalists dug out documents from the Czech Civil Aviation Authority. They concluded it was likely that the aircraft was mistaken for an enemy craft and shot down a few hundred metres above the ground.

Whatever the true version of events, there is little doubt that Ms Vulovic is a survivor: the crash left her with concussion and broken bones. She was paralysed from the waist down, but learnt to walk just a year after the accident. "I'm like a cat, I have many lives," she said.

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