50 years ago, on January 26, 1972, a DC-9 exploded at 33,000 feet over East Germany with 28 people on board. A bomb in the cargo hold placed by Croatian terrorists caused the explosion. Shockingly, one person, flight attendant Vesna Vulović, survived.
When the bomb exploded, the plane broke into three sections which came down near a village at the East German border. Vulovic was found alive in the tail section trapped by a food cart. She was seriously injured but conscious and rescue workers heard her cries for help. She suffered a fractured skull, two broken legs, fractured vertebrae, and several broken ribs. After months in the hospital, she ended up making a near-full recovery and went back to work for the airline in an administrative capacity.
The section of the plane Vulović was in — the tail — came down in a densely forested area covered with snow. Her survival is attributed to her location in the plane, the food cart that kept her from being sucked out of the plane, the cushioning of the trees and the snow, and her life-long low blood pressure condition which helped prevent her heart from bursting on impact.
Falling 33,000 feet and surviving is the record for surviving a fall without a parachute. Vulović had no recollection of the explosion or her rescue. The last thing she remembered was “boarding the plane by the rear door and seeing a few women cleaning the plane.”
She became a minor celebrity after her miraculous survival and was the subject of a fold song. Vesna Vulović died in 2016 at the age of 66.