Too good to be true? Miracle woman who survived '33,000ft fall'

Forty years after a bomb on a Yugoslav jet, the official account is still being called into question

Belgrade

Her survival was hailed a miracle – the flight attendant who plunged 10,160m (33,300ft) without a parachute when an aircraft broke up above the clouds.

Click HERE to view graphic

But 40 years later, with doubt cast on the official version of the aeroplane's plunge to earth, Vesna Vulovic lives a secluded life, spending her days alone with only her cats for company. "Whenever I think of the accident, I have a prevailing, grave feeling of guilt for surviving it and I cry ... Then I think maybe I should not have survived at all," she tells The Independent from her dilapidated flat in Belgrade.

One of the problems for Ms Vulovic, 62, is that although she survived she did not exactly live to tell the tale: any memory of the crash has gone. "I do not remember the accident at all, just my waking up in the Czech hospital the next day and asking a doctor for a cigarette," she says.

According to the official version of events, exactly 40 years ago today the Yugoslav Airlines flight JU 367, travelling from Copenhagen to Zagreb, fell into woods near Srbská Kamenice in the former Czechoslovakia, killing 23 passengers and four crew. Ms Vulovic, then 22, was the only survivor, her broken body found among the wreckage.

After a brief investigation, Yugoslav officials said separatists from a Croatian fascist movement, the Ustashi, planted the bomb. The Guinness Book of World Records gave Ms Vulovic the record for the highest fall without a parachute – 10,160m, the height the jet was allegedly cruising at.

But questions remained, with none of the Croatian anti-Yugoslav organisations ever claiming responsibility. Then three years ago, two investigative journalists, Peter Hornung and Pavel Theiner, dug out newly obtained documents from the Czech Civil Aviation Authority. They said it was likely that the jet – a McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32 – was mistaken for an enemy aircraft as it attempted an emergency landing, and was shot down only 800 metres above the ground by a MiG fighter of the Czechoslovak air force. While the Czech Civilian Aviation Authority dismissed the 2009 claims, a spokesman for Guinness World Records said: "It seems that at the time Guinness was duped by this swindle, just like the rest of the media."

For Ms Vulovic, those allegations cast a shadow over her status as a national heroine, and because of her memory loss she can shed no further light on the events of 26 January 1972. "I know about that [the new report] ... I can not say 'yes' or 'no'," Ms Vulovic said. "The last thing I remember before the accident is passengers boarding the flight in Copenhagen and nothing else until my coming out from coma at the hospital."

Now, she shares the fate of many Serbs, as the country struggles under harsh economic conditions. The formerly glamorous flight attendant dyes and cuts her own hair, and uses "five- or six-year-old mascara when people want to take my photos". "I don't know what to say when people say I was lucky ... life is so hard today," Ms Vulovic says.

But whatever the true version of events, there is little doubt she is a survivor: the crash left her concussed and her legs, pelvis and three vertebrae were broken. She was paralysed from the waist down but, after two operations, she learned to walk again just a year after the accident. "I'm like a cat, I have many lives," she says.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Retail Supervisor

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fragrance store are lookin...

Langley James : Desktop Support Analyst; 1st Line; Moorgate up to £23k

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Langley James : Desktop Support Analyst; 1st Line; ...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Sales Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This fragrance store are looking for enthusias...

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting and rewarding role ...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible