Vesna Vulović

Although perhaps not a pioneer, as is per the theme of this series, Vesna Vulović is certainly a name worth remembering. She was born on 3 January 1950 in Belgrade, Serbia, then part of Yugoslavia. At the age of 23, in 1972, she was working for JAT Jugoslovenski Aerotransport as an airhostess. JAT was the flag carrier and largest airline of Yugoslavia. On 26 January that year, she was a member of the cabin crew on Flight 367 from Stockholm in Sweden to Belgrade. Whilst flying at an altitude of 33 000 ft over Srbská Kamenice, Czechoslovakia, there was an explosion which broke the aircraft, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9, into pieces. The explosion was caused by a bomb, possibly planted by Croatian separatists. As pieces of the aircraft hurtled toward the ground, Vulović was trapped by a food cart in the DC-9’s tail section. That particular part of the aircraft fell onto a wooded mountainside, which was covered in thick snow. Vulović was later found alive. She was the only survivor of the air disaster, in which 23 passengers and five crew members died.

Vulović had many broken bones and was in a coma that lasted almost one month. She was discharged from hospital 16 months after the crash and continued to work for the airline, albeit with a desk job. Meanwhile, she became a political activist against Serb President Slobodan Milošević. In 1990, Vulović’s activism resulted in her being fired, so she entered politics. Vulović died last year on 23 December at the age of 66. To this day, the Flight 367 crash remains shrouded in mystery. Years after the incident, investigative journalists claimed that the DC-9 was actually mistakenly shot down by the Czech Air Force whilst it was attempting a forced landing, implying that the exploding bomb was just a coverup. This theory could not be proven and Vesna Vulović’s name remains in the ‘Guinness World Records’ book, credited with the highest fall survived without a parachute.