The Sole Survivor Of A Plane Crash Was Stranded In The Vietnam Jungle

It’s a Saturday in November 1992 and a small passenger jet — a Russian Yakovlev Yak-40 — is flying over the mountains of southern Vietnam when it hits severe turbulence. The pilots struggle to keep control of the plane as it’s buffeted by a storm. The aircraft descends below a safe altitude and smashes into a ridge, the impact tearing off one wing. The plane careers on for another 1,000 feet until it crashes catastrophically into a jungle mountainside.

A Dutch couple

There had been 31 people aboard Vietnam Airlines Flight 474: six crew and 25 passengers. It was a domestic flight from Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City to the coastal city of Nha Trang, a popular holiday destination overlooking the South China Sea.

On board were a Dutch couple, Willem van der Pas and Annette Herfkens. Because of their jobs in different countries the two had been apart for some time before reuniting. They’d been together for 13 years and now they were engaged to be married.

Five days in Nha Trang

Because of their jobs’ respective locations, Van der Pas and Herfkens had been apart for eight weeks before they’d seen each other again in Ho Chi Minh City. Herfkens was working as a bond trader for Santander Bank in Madrid, Spain. Van der Pas was setting up new bank branches for ING Bank in Vietnam.

Thirty-six-year-old Van der Pas, whom Herfkens called “Pasje,” had booked seats on the domestic flight as a surprise for his fiancée, 31 at the time. They were to spend five days in Nha Trang.

Claustrophobia

When Herfkens had seen the size of the passenger jet at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City, she’d been reluctant to board such a small aircraft. Speaking to the New York Post in December 2023 she recalled her reaction.

“I was excited for the surprise getaway. But I felt so claustrophobic, I shuddered as we boarded the cramped Vietnam Airlines plane. “Can’t we take a car instead?” I asked Pasje.” He’d told her, “The jungle is very dense, and the road is horrible. It would take days. By the time we get there, we would have to leave again.”

“Just an air pocket”

Van der Pas had resorted to a white lie to reassure Herfkens. He’d told her that the flight to Nha Trang would take only 20 minutes. Actually, it was in truth a 75-minute journey, but Van der Pas’ tactic had been enough to calm his fiancée’s nerves.

Even so, the flight was far from a pleasure for her. “Fifty excruciating minutes later,” she recalled, “we experienced a tremendous drop, and Pasje looked at me with fear. “Of course, a… little toy plane drops like this!” I said, reaching for his hand. “It’s just an air pocket — don’t worry.”