JAT Yugoslav Airlines Flight 367 departed Stockholm, Sweden, bound for Belgrade on January 26, 1972.
The aircraft, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9, carried 23 passengers and 5 crew. Among these crew members was 22-year-old Serbian stewardess Vesna Vulovic.
The long-haul flight was scheduled to make two stopovers: First one in Copenhagen, the second one in Zagreb.
The aircraft made it to its first stopover, but it would never make the second. At 16.01, while flying over the Hersmdorf suburb of Berlin -an area which back then was part of the GDR-, Flight 367 blew apart.
Its fuselage broke up in two while flying at cruising altitude, and both pieces plunged to Earth, crashing down on a snowy slope in what’s today the Czech Republic.
All on board lose their lives, bar one. Young Vesna Vulovic.
The stewardess miraculously survives the 33,000 plunge, and is found by a woodsman, who heard her screams.
She was rushed to hospital, where she was found to have a broken skull, and fractured vertebrae. She fell into a coma for 10 days. Upon waking up, she had no recollection of either the flight or the terrifying fall. All she could remember was greeting the passengers in as they boarded the plane in Stockholm.
Due to her spinal injuries, Vesna became paralyzed from the waist down, but in time, and as a testament of human resilience, she made a near-full recovery. She even went back to work for the airline, albeit in a desk job. She would never take to the skies again.
Vesna became a celebrity around the Balkans and further afield, and many expectant mothers even began naming their babies after her, as they associated the name with good luck.
But today, Vesna was found dead inside her apartment. The cause of death is not immediately clear.
Theories as to how a human being would survive a free fall to the ground from 33,000ft have been put forward throughout the years.
As luck would have it, Vesna was located aft of the fuselage when the aircraft exploded. A drinks cart pinned her against the wall and acted as a restraint, preventing her from being sucked out in the sudden decompression, and keeping her firmly in place all the way down.
Furthermore, the tail section where Vesna was trapped in retained its structural integrity as it plunged downwards, somewhat sheltering her and greatly reducing terminal velocity. And to compound the miracle, the broken fuselage hit a tree canopy first and then slid down a snowy slope, which reduced the impact force considerably.
Conspiracy theories emerged soon after as to how the aircraft came down. The official explanation is that a bomb was planted during the flight’s first stopover in Copenhangen, though nobody has ever been brought to justice.
Nevertheless, Vesna Vulovic’s miraculuous survival stands as a testament to human will and endurance.
Vesna received the Guinness prize for ‘Highest fall survived without a parachute’ in 1985, a record that she still held to the day of her passing.