Vesna Vulovic holds an incredible record. Here's how the story goes: after the Serbain Stewardess' plane was bombed and broke apart in midair, she fell 10,160 metres (or 33,333 feet)...and lived. After falling 10 kilometres straight down, Vulovic suffered only a fractured skull, two broken legs and three broken vertebrae. She made a full recovery and continued to work as a flight attendant. Vulovic holds the Guiness World's Record for longest fall without a parachute, and is a sort of national heroine in the former Yugoslavia. But new evidence is casting doubt on the story, and the whole thing is beginning to smell like a cover-up by communist officials.
The official account holds that Yugoslav Airlines Flight 367 was brought down by a bomb planted by Croatian nationalists. The only evidence for this theory was a mysterious call to a Swedish newspaper by an individual who claimed he planted the explosives, and fragments of an alarm clock thought to be part of the detonator mechanism. Despite this paucity of proof, the bomb story was never really questioned.
Enter Czech journalists Peter Hornung and Pavel Theiner. Using classified documents, they have constructed a very different account of Flight 367's final minutes. They believe the airliner strayed into restricted Czechoslovakian airspace - just minutes from a nuclear missile facility and threateningly close to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's personal plane, coincidentally in the air at the same time. Hornung and Theiner believe the airline was mistaken for an enemy aircraft, and shot down by the Czechoslovakian air force. Said Hornung:
"It is extremely probable that the aircraft was shot down by mistake by the Czechoslovak air force, and in order to cover it up the secret police conceived the record plunge. The Czechoslovak secret police managed to spread this wild tale throughout the world. No doubts have ever been expressed regarding the fall. The story was so good and so beautiful that no one thought to ask any questions."
Based on this information, and the testimony of eyewitnesses, Hornung and Theiner believe Flight 367 actually broke up much closer to the ground. This is also supported by the relatively small crash zone, as a higher disintegration would have scattered debris over a much wider area.
It now appears Vulovic fell only 800 metres , not 10,000. Still an incredible feat of survival, but perhaps more in the realm of the possible than the "official" story. For her part, Vulovic - who bravely protested against Slobodan Milosevic in the early '90s - has claimed in recent interviews that she "would not be disappointed" if the world-record fall proved to be false. She has no memory of the incident, and can't verify it one way or the other.
So there you go. Another reminder that if something seems to good to be true, it probably is. Funny how often we all forget this basic little truth.