BELGRADE, Serbia -- Vesna Vulovic, a Serbian stewardess who miraculously survived a plunge from 33,000 feet after her plane exploded in mid-air in 1972, has died. She was 66.
Serbia’s state TV said Saturday Vulovic was found dead by her friends in her apartment in Belgrade. The cause of death was not immediately known.
Vulovic was working as a Yugoslav Airlines flight attendant on Jan. 26, 1972, when the Douglas DC-9 airliner she was aboard blew up high above the snowy mountain ranges of Czechoslovakia. All 27 other passengers and crew aboard perished.
Vulovic entered the Guinness Book of Records in 1985 for “the highest fall survived without a parachute.”
It was suspected that a bomb was planted inside the jet during a scheduled stopover in Copenhagen, Denmark, but no arrests were ever made.
Trapped in the plane’s tail cone, she plummeted to earth in sub-freezing temperatures and landed on a steep, heavily wooded slope near a village. The fuselage tumbled through pine branches and into a thick coating of snow, softening the impact and cushioning its descent down the hill, crash investigators said at the time.
Vulovic was rescued by a woodsman who followed her screams in the dark forest. She was rushed to a hospital, where she fell into a coma for 10 days. She had a fractured skull, two crushed vertebrae and a broken pelvis, ribs and legs.
Initially paralyzed from the waist down, Vulovic eventually made a near-full recovery and even returned to work for the airline in a desk job.
She never regained memory of the accident or her rescue. She told the AP in an interview in 2008 that she could only recall greeting passengers before takeoff from the airport in Denmark - and then waking up in the hospital with her mother at her side.
An instant national heroine, she went on to put her celebrity at the service of political causes, protesting against Slobodan Milosevic’s rule in the 1990s and later campaigning for liberal forces in elections.
According to Guinness World Records, 30 years after the crash, Vulovic said: “I’m not lucky. Everybody thinks I am lucky, but they are mistaken. If I were lucky I would never have had this accident and my mother and father would be alive. The accident ruined their lives too.”
Vesna Vulovic, stewardess who survived 33,000ft fall, dies
Vesna Vulovic, an air stewardess who survived the highest ever fall by a human being after her plane broke up at 33,000ft (10,000m), has died aged 66.
State TV in Vulovic's home country of Serbia said she was found dead in her apartment in Belgrade. The cause of death was not immediately known.
Vulovic was working on a Yugoslav Airlines Douglas DC-9 on 26 Jan 1972 when a suspected bomb brought the plane down among mountains in Czechoslovakia.
All 27 other passengers and crew died.
According to investigators, Vulovic was trapped by a food cart in the plane's tail section as it plummeted to earth in freezing temperatures.
The tail landed in a heavily wooded and snow-blanketed part of a mountainside, which was thought to have cushioned the impact.
Vulovic was rescued by Bruno Honke, a woodsman who heard her screaming in the dark while the debris came down around them.
It was suspected that a bomb was planted inside the jet during a stopover in Copenhagen, Denmark, but nothing was ever proven and no arrests were made.
After arriving in hospital, Vulovic fell into a coma for 10 days. She had a fractured skull, two crushed vertebrae and she had broken her pelvis, several ribs and both legs.
"I was broken, and the doctors put me back together again," she told the New York Times in 2008. "Nobody ever expected me to live this long."
The fall gained Vulovic a place in the Guinness Book of Records of 1985 for the highest fall survived without a parachute.
The stewardess was temporarily paralysed from the waist down by the fall but in time she made a near-full recovery and returned to work for the airline in a desk job.
She never regained any memory of the accident or of her rescue, she said, and she continued to fly as a passenger. "People always want to sit next to me on the plane," she said.
The spectacular survival story won Vulovic celebrity status in Serbia, where she channelled her fame into campaigning for political causes.
She was fired from her job at the airline in 1990 after taking part in protests against President Slobodan Milosevic but avoided arrest. She continued for two more decades to fight against nationalism.
"I am like a cat, I have had nine lives," she told the New York Times. "But if nationalist forces in this country prevail, my heart will burst."