On November 14, 1992 Vietnam Airlines flight 474 crashed during a tropical cyclone as it approached Nha Trang. The Yakovlev Yak-40 aircraft was carrying 25 passengers and six crew. Only one person, a passenger, survived.
The sixteen year old Soviet-built aircraft had departed Ho Chi Minh City. As it neared Nha Trang Airport, it descended below its expected altitude. It hit trees and crashed. The aircraft was destroyed.
There was a search and rescue effort, but it was harrowing. Eight days after the crash a Vietnamese military helicopter flew out of Hanoi with rescue workers, but it too crashed killing all seven people on board.
Ho Chi Minh City Airport
That same day though the wreckage of the aircraft was discovered – along with the sole survivor of the crash, Annette Herfkens. Several passengers survived the initial impact of the plane, but died before they could be rescued. Her fiance’, though, died immediately in the crash. She lived for 8 days prior to the rescue with nothing but rainwater she collected using bowls “from insulation padding in the plane’s wings.”
She says she grabbed her fiance’s hand as the plane went down. He had only booked the flight for them the day before on a whim.
After 50 minutes, as the plane cruised over the mountainous Vietnamese jungle, it dropped. This time it was a confident Willem who was nervous.
“There was the sound of accelerating motors,” Annette told Vice.
“Then there was a gigantic drop and everyone started screaming. We looked at each other, he stretched out and grabbed for my hand, I grabbed his, and then everything went black.”
The plane hit some trees on a ridge during the descent close to Nha Trang. It lost one of its wings and struck another mountain, flipping upside-down.
Vietnam Airlines in Ho Chi Minh City
She wasn’t wearing her seat belt. The seat belts, she says, are what injured other passengers making “their ribs go into lungs.” When she woke up after the crash one of the plane’s seats was on top of her, holding the body of another passenger.
There were moans from other Vietnam Airlines flight 474 passengers, but most didn’t last long. A Vietnamese businessman is the only one she found alive, but he too died. She had “12 fractures in her hip and two in her leg, a broken jaw — she could see bone through the wound in her chin — and a collapsed lung” which she used yoga breathing techniques to deal with.
She thought she was dying six days in. She says she had “this beautiful near-death experience and I was really happy to go.” Her kidneys were failing. She tried not to cry, knowing it would make her weak. She had stayed in the same spot, hoping that would be her best chance of rescue in the jungle, but was nearing the point she told herself she’d need to look for food.
Discovered by a local police officer on the eighth day, he thought she was a ghost. She was the first white woman he’d ever encountered.
After recuperating in Singapore the Banco Santander employee returned to work months after the crash and became a Managing Director in the bank’s New York office. The sole survivor of the 2010 Afriqiyah Airways Flight 771 crash on approach to Tripoli convinced her to tell her story, and she published a memoir called Turbulence: A True Story of Survival in 2014.