10 People Who Survived the Impossible

Fell Out of an Exploding Airplane
Rescue workers pulled eight survivors from the wreckage of a French airliner in 1972. That same year, Vesna Vulovic fell out of an exploding plane and somehow survived. STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

A 22-year-old flight attendant went down in history for surviving the longest fall from a plane. On Jan. 26, 1972, Vesna Vulović took off from Copenhagen on a Yugoslav Airlines flight to Belgrade, on a work assignment caused by a scheduling mix-up. As the aircraft flew over what is now the Czech Republic, it suddenly exploded. Rescuers eventually found Vulović in the still-smoking fuselage, her legs poking out of the wreckage with the 3-inch (nearly 8-centimeter) stiletto heels torn off her shoes by the impact. She lost a massive amount of blood and spent the next three days in a coma with a fractured skull, three broken vertebrae and assorted other injuries, but somehow she managed to hang on. Vulović was the only one of the 28 people on board to survive [sources: Bilefsky, Connolly].

Officially, Vulović had fallen more than 33,000 feet (10 kilometers), and Guinness World Records eventually recognized her as the person who survived the longest fall without a parachute. In the late 2000s, two Czech investigative journalists claimed that, based on previously secret records from the Czech Civil Aviation Authority, the official story that Croatian nationalists had blown up the plane was false. In reality, the airliner had been shot down by a Czechoslovakian fighter pilot mistaking it for enemy aircraft. They said Vulović only fell about 2,500 feet (800 meters) [source: Connolly]. Even if that is so, she still survived a fall about 27 times the average height that kills victims of falling accidents [source: Lau et al.].