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HALF an HOUR of TADEUSZ KOSCIUSZKO - tragedy of LOT Flight 5055



Aleksander Sowa


Copyright by Aleksander Sowa 2013

Original title: Do widzenia

Translation from Polish Sumeer Chakuu 2016

Copyright English Edition by Aleksander Sowa 2016

Cover photo: Aleksander Sowa

Cover: Aleksander Sowa

Shakespir Edition


Aleksander Sowa|Self-Publishing



All rights reserved.


Opole, May 2016.






9th of May, 1987, Time 10.07, Okecie. Weather is beautiful, and the preparations of Tadeusz Kosciuszko for take-off are taking place. Each flight of that plane is an event. The price of the ticket is so high, that the purchase is usually associated with decision of life: emigration. To USA, Canada somewhere beyond Atlantic. This or other way, behind the big puddle. Many passengers, who have flown with this plane never came back to Poland. Especially that morning Janina Szulc–Tomaszewska was furious.

– You’ll see; you’ll have trouble – mother told her prophetically in the morning.

The woman came late from Łomża, and she didn’t had time to decelerate fur. She stood in the queue for those who have nothing to declare. Meanwhile, custom officer has got problem. He would like to stop someone. He wants it very much. Friend wants to fly to the United States, but there is no free seat in the aircraft. He types the victim. The victim is Szulc–Tomaszewska. In bag, she has got fur from mink. Bingo!

– Mr. Captain – stewardess, who was hooked by Szulc–Tomaszewska, asks – can we wait for this passenger?

– We can wait for fifteen minutes – captain says, looking at Janina.

– You should fly; I have to stop this lady – customs officer says to the captain.

Zygmunt Pawlaczyk, aged 59, a former military pilot, working for 32 years in the Polish Airlines LOT. In a few months, he will retire. In total, he has flown almost 20 000 hours, including 5500 hours on the Il–62 aircraft during last 12 years. Around neck, he is always wearing gold chain with cross. He is not taking it on that flight.

– Okecie Ground – starts few minutes later. – Good morning, LOT 5055 at seventeen Hotel on the board, we request pushback and plunge of the engines.

– 5055, good morning, plunge – controller with dry voice reply – Zero–six–zero–seven, its time. Which direction for start, do you want?

– Three–three.

– Three–three. I Understand.

This is the longest runway at the Warsaw airport. Runway with length of more than three and a half kilometers with azimuth 015 ° on the north towards Warsaw and 330 ° in opposite side of the Kabacki Forest. Runways are numerated in accordance with the magnetic direction. Runway in the direction of 015 ° is called one–five, and runway on 330 ° – three–three. Each of them is allowing take-off and landing from one or other end of the line. Depending on the wind direction.

– Okecie Ground, LOT 5055. And taxiing please – after a try of engines, captain declares readiness for maneuvering in direction of the runway.

– 5055, start taxiing alpha three–three – the controller from the tower answers. – Before two–nine report yourself.

– OK, with alpha to three – three before two – nine we will report– crew commander confirms permission to taxi with the order to contact with tower before intersecting runway two–nine. – 55 – pilot ends, he reduces the marking of his flight by the first two digits.

The plane goes slowly over the asphalt concrete just like a giant dragonfly with half–folded wings, accompanied with the low murmur of four engines and flashes of red lights. It is beautiful. Slim and with modern silhouette. From the bow towards the direction of the machine tail, additional style is given by a narrow blue strip which is along the row of rounded windows on white background of fuselage and huge letters. LOT.

– 5055, can taxi two–nine – the tower answers.

– I understand – Captain confirmed. – We can cut two–nine. Thank you.

Just before the door portrait of uprising leader Tadeusz Kosciuszko is visible. Aircraft Il 62M, four–engine long–range jet was designed in the construction office of Ilyushin. It is the first aircraft of this type produce by the Soviet. Aircraft can fly with speed of over 820 km/h, 13 km above the ground. Together with the British Vickers VC–10, it is the only one machine of this size in the world, in the design of which engines are located at the tail part of the fuselage, two on the right side and two on the left side. Work over this plane lasted for more than 50 years. Taking into consideration different aspects of its breakthrough design. Low–wing, all–metal, with pressure, air–tight sealing and air conditioned cabin, it can fly very fast, very high and very far away. In the PRL, since the spring of 1972, when Polish Airlines bought these aircraft, each pilot dreamed to fly on sixty-two. For passengers quiet and comfortable, for pilots – stable in flight and with strong construction.

LOT 5055 – captain reports again. – We are before three–three.

– You can cut three–three and note down permission from Warsaw to New York with planned routes – controller gives permission. – Enter and hold on level of two–eight–zero for with the change on route. After take-off to the course Tango Mike November. Until TMN you have to cut the level one hundred and eighty or above, squawk seventeen–zero–three.

Feet is almost one–third part of meter. 280 is a level of flight in hundreds of feet. 280 times 30 meters means that flight should be on altitude 8400 meters.

LOT 5055, Ready to take the runway.

– 5055, you can take the position on the runway and take off – controller gives permission.

– I understood. We can be on the runway three–three and take off. Thank you.

– 5055. After the take-off, you should keep course from the runway, and speed up entry into level forty to cut off level forty.

Level 40. of 4,000 feet. 1200 meters. The air space above the country territory is divided into controlled and uncontrolled, depending on the altitude over the sea level. Aircraft in Poland, regardless from the place on the map over which it is currently located, above level 95 (2,850 m) enters to the controlled area. In this area, air traffic control service is ensured. Additionally, nearby the airports, military bases and air space area polygons that are below level of 95 is also controlled. Closer to the airport, then much lower levels are included in controlled area, until the ground. Thanks to this, it is possible to avoid collisions in the air and other dangerous situations, and control of approaching can precisely track the air traffic. Of course, service is supporting the crew while taking off and landing. After leaving the area of the airport, crew rise the altitude to a certain level of flight within the air corridor and continues to fly without fear that there will be collision with another aircraft. Even if something is flying nearby, airplanes will cross at different altitudes.

The movement of aircraft at the airport and in area of few kilometers away as well as one kilometer above is traced by the airport controller. Further, in the region of up to 100 kilometers from the airport – the traffic is traced by the approaching controller, and over the route – the area controller. Poland is divided into several areas according to the largest cities: Gdansk, Poznan, Olsztyn, Warsaw and Krakow.

LOT 5055, I understand.

– 50, we are taking off.

– Permission granted. – Pilot hears after a moment and Kosciuszko is taking off for a few hours’ flight over the Atlantic.

The sound of engine brings with it an expectation. After a moment it goes to the range of higher and higher frequencies. Aircraft moves. Rolls with flaps that are laterally in maximum position and slowly picks up speed. Runway is disappearing under its wheels, and the machine still slides on it, exceeding speed of two hundred kilometers per hour. When in the hearts of people, who are staring at airplane taking off on the observation deck begins to bear anxiety, the plane is still speeding up. When anxiety turns into a nervous fear, just before the end of the runway huge machine smoothly raises the front wheel chassis, immediately followed by the main wheels and by lifting its extended bulk upwards, start to ascend flat toward the cloudless sky. It is 10.18, 167 tons take–off mass just ascends into the air. The captain starts ascending in the direction of Grudziadz, in accordance with the instructions given by the air navigation control. Wheels fold in the direction of the hull and disappear somewhere under the wings. The silhouette of Kosciuszko decreases with each second in the accompaniment of thunder.

– Warsaw, approaching. Good morning – the pilot is calling the next controller. – LOT 5055, after the take-off from three–three.

– Cheerio, 5055! – Controller responds to Pawlaczyk. – I can see after take-off. Turn to the left, course two–nine–zero entering to the level of two–eight–zero, the TMA hundred and eighty or above – he said staring at the radar.

Machine is laboriously climbing to the top. Capitan should ascend his plane to the 28 000 feet in the direction of the radio beacon in Gora locality near the Płońsk. Radio beacon is a ground–based navigation device, useful in air traffic, especially when there is no visibility. It works similar to the lighthouse, except that instead of the light it is transmitting a radio signal which is received by the aircraft.

Being over it, Tadeusz Kosciuszko should fly 18 000 feet above the ground on threshold of 5400 meters. The drama will start 23 minutes later.

– 5055, to TMN you have ten kilometers left – eight minutes after take-off, captain hears in the headphones. – Gentlemen, can you within ten kilometers cross the level of hundred and eighty?

– No, exactly hundred and eighty will not be, but utmost something around one hundred seventy.

– Enter to the level of hundred and sixty –impersonal voice of controller gives the recommendation. – Keep this level until Grudziadz.

– Well, we’re going to New York – protests captain – maybe we will have enough time to cut these hundred and eighty?

– Gentlemen! You can’t make it because to the TMN only five kilometers is left – the controller says in the ether with shadow of reproach. –I already told at the very beginning that the clearance was in TMA hundred and eighty or above. Military aircraft are flying and unfortunately, I have no communication with them, so that I could separate you.

Clearance delivery is information for pilots given by the controller at the airport prior to the take-off, related to the procedure of take-off and leaving the nearby airport.

– I understand. I understand.

– Keep the level of hundred and sixty – controller recommends. – You are almost at TMN. Further entry will be from the area. Right now, at frequency of hundred thirty-four coma eighty-seven. Greetings. Hear you later.

– I Got it. See you later. Hear you later – Capitan responds. – LOT 5055 – he finishes correspondence with the controller.

With each second aircraft is gaining 16 meters, by flying with speed more than 800 kilometers per hour.

– 5055, you are entering on three hundred and ten – sometimes later area controller reports – and immediately hundred seventy cut.

– 5055, we will report – Capitan confirms. – We are entering to three hundred and ten.

– Instantly. It has to be in a flash.

Pilot nods his head in direction of his flight engineer. Man is sitting in the cabin between the captain and co–pilot. It is 23 minute of flight. Mechanic increases the engines RMP to the full starting power. 30 seconds later the death will look into their eyes. For next half hour will accompany them. Until end. Minute after minute they will be dying, until the last second.




It is 28 seconds after 10.41. They heard an explosion. It is heard by all the crew, cabin crew and 170 passengers. In the cabin the discontinue siren is responding. The autopilot is turned off. Pilots are feeling pain in their ears. The cabin is depressurized. Air pressure outside the aircraft is so low and it contains so little amount of oxygen, that staying at this height will result in death within the next two minutes.

– Hey, air–tight sealing! – Pawlaczyk shouts.

Two seconds later, continuous signal turns on. Ring.

– Is it fire? – Captain is asking, while looking at the cockpit. – What is it?

– Probably it is fire –Leopold Karcher is answering. 54 years old, he works at LOT for exactly 20 years. Former military pilot, as co–pilot on the Il–62 flown nearly 2,400 hours, in total his flying hours are over 10, 000.

They are in the area of Warlubie locality, at altitude of 8200 meters. The temperature outside is almost 50° Celsius below zero. To the home airport they are having 250 kilometers.

– Engine? Turn off! – Pawlaczyk gives an order.

– Turn off! – Mechanic is shouting. – This first one is burning! Fire!

– Warsaw?

The silence is answering to Pawlaczyk. That day was his day off, but he agreed to fly on request of LOT. As the second pilot Marian Nowotnik was supposed to fly, but his son went to first communion and he shifted schedule of flights with his colleague from work.

– Depressurization. Two engines are gone! – Mechanic reports.

Next acoustic signal turns on; this time it is continuous. It means fire in the engine.

– Two engines are gone!

– Turn it off! We are turning back! Fire!

– Two engines are gone! – Man sees the twin engine number 1 also indicating failure.

– Danger! Warsaw radar LOT! Warsaw radar! – Capitan reports. – What is it? Hey! – He adds after a moment, because he doesn’t know what is happening with his machine.

– Two engines are gone!

– We are lowering in danger – Pawlaczyk gives additional information through the radio, trying to give the flying controls.

– We do not have rudders!

– Give yours – finally they hear the voice from Warsaw – call sign.

This flight identification used by the carriers. For example, aircraft flying for Lufthansa with number 3171 will be marked with call sign LH 3171. That day cruise of Tadeusz Kosciuszko was LOT 5055.

– Two engines are tear off! – Capitan reports. – Two engines are cut off!

– Is this clash? – controller is asking.

– We don’t know, what happened! Two engines are cut off – Pawlaczyk voice is objective, almost calm. – We are lowering.

LOT 5055, I understand.

They don’t know what happened with the aircraft. But there is no doubt. It is heavily damaged. Since the explosion, 52 seconds have elapsed.

– But we can’t!

– Right now we have to take…

– But we need…

Feverish meeting is taking place in the cabin. They have quickly come down on the threshold of 4000 meters, otherwise passengers will die without oxygen. However, crew realizes, that controller mentioned about flights of military machines under the route of their flight, at the level 180 that means 5.4 kilometers. One minute elapsed from the explosion in the rear of the aircraft.

– Something needs to be done!

– You said that we turning back?

– What?

They don’t know what has happened. They don’t have an idea, what caused the explosion. For a moment they supposed, that by mistake they were hit on the rudders by a missile that was accidentally fired by a military plane or that they had collision with something.

– Yes. Failure. Landing gear down! – The captain says to the mechanic.

– You have to turn it off! – Mechanic shouts. – You have to turn it off!

Indicator of oil pressure and fuel pressure as well as tachometers indicates that engine one and two are damaged. Warning signs “ engine fire “ is flashing. Mechanic can see that the situation with the engine number 1 is bad.

– Okay. Turn it off and that’s it! – Second on gives the instructions to the mechanics. And he immediately changes metal switch of the outer engine on the left side of the fuselage. He moves also a lever of throttle, taking of flow.

Meanwhile, captain is quickly analyzing the situation of aircraft, which he is in command of.

– Next on! Next one has got failure!

– …yes, it is.

One and a half minutes.

– Failure … – Pawlaczyk mutters.

– Well, I said, because, you know …

– Good this!

– Stop! Stop!

– I know it is good, that there is…

– Warsaw radar! – Captain calls the area controller. – Once again, 5055.

His voice is calm; last digit captain accentuates with the pilots’ manner. Almost like while a routine correspondence. It can be seen that he is trying to control the situation.

– First and second engine is off, we have got failure and we are lowering – he is adding. – We are turning right.

Meanwhile, the passengers, who are sitting in the rear of the cab can see sparks on the left side. Crew realizes that in the engine nacelles automatic fire fighting installation is placed. After exceeding a certain temperature thermocouple causes working of fire extinguishers. If the fire will be extinguished, inside cockpit the siren will stop to howl and warning plate will stop flashing.

– I understand. I’m tracing turn. What are you going to do next?

In the background of the cabin, the voice of mechanic is answering to the Capitan:

– In a moment, we will go into the emergency track.

– And, we are turning back to Warsaw – Capitan said.

– We are turning back – a moment later, he is transferring his final decision to the controller

OKAY. Are you planning to come back to Warsaw? What altitude?

In the tighten face of the controller the purple glow of the monitor is reflected.

– We are decanting fuel.

– …emergency says.

In the cabin frantic voices of a few members of the crew are still imposing. Despite of this, they are keeping calm.

– We have a problem.

Just right now the 160 second of flight with damage aircraft passed away. There is no doubt. Pilots know perfectly that the emergency landing is unavoidable.

– We will decant fuel. We are turning back to Warsaw. We are lowering. We have five thousand four meters. We are lowering to four thousand.

– I understand it. Is this the place where you are dropping?

– After taking off from the turn, we will descent the fuel!

– I understand.

Aircraft is prepared for many hours of flight across the Atlantic. In the wings and vertical stabilizer, it still has collected 70 tons of fuel, because they are in air for only 27 minutes. Fuel is almost a half of the weight of the entire aircraft. Landing in this situation would threaten at best scenario, with breaking the chassis and wings. Friction with the apron could lead to self–ignition or explosion that is why fuel has to be dropped down before landing through the electrically controlled valves at the end of wings and vertical stabilizer. The operation is safe only during the flight in a straight line; otherwise the fog from fuel can be ignited by the exhaust gases.

– We had a fire. Fire is extinguished and we’re turning right.

But this is not true.

– Please?

Silence. Crashes noise and squeaks. Howl.

– And, please give area for decanting of fuel.

– Roger, 5055.

After the exit from turn by 180° they are flying towards Warsaw in a straight line. This will give them time to safely get rid of excess fuel. Fortunately, aircraft is controllable to the sides, ailerons and direction rudder are also working. But still altitude rudder is not working. Pawlaczyk lowers the airplane in turn, using the trimmer. It is much less effective than the altitude rudder, but it allows controlling the flight. In a normal situation, it is used to balance the airplane in agreed flight.

– We are starting to drop – Capitan says.

– I understand.

It is 10 seconds after 10.45 – 222 seconds from the explosion. Less than four minutes. Mechanic moves metal switches on the ceiling between the seats of the pilot and captain.

– What’s our altitude?

– (…) to (…) meters. – shakes of airframe disrupt the performance of Mars recorder.

– What is it? There was fire? Yes? – Pawlaczyk asks the second one.

– …Fire.

LOT 5055, Warsaw. – They are hearing again, the voice of the area controller.

– We are listening.

Silence is again answering to Pawlaczyk. For one terrible moment, in the cabin which till now was full of voices, the silence which is freezing blood in veins is appearing. They know perfectly that this is the way of dying.

– 5055 – the captain breaks the silence, resuming correspondence – we are listening.

– 5055, you are keeping altitude, right? – controller is asking.

– We have four thousand – second murmurs.

– Yes, four thousand – Pawlaczyk confirms.

– Three eight hundred – correct second one.


– Ask girls.

– Where was the fire? – Asks the second one.

– Not in the fuselage and in cabin, we are going to see – mechanic answers.

– We will not make it till Warsaw – captain is loudly worried.

They are lowering. There is no possibility to describe it in words – inside them was only impotent despair. In their tragedy, there is only one thing that seems to be silent solace: they will believe until end that they can make it. They will be fighting until almost last second; unaware that they will die because technical reasons are only recognizable signs of this what already happened. Sign of that the destiny of airman, the destiny of a man in air, has already been sealed. And this will always stay beyond the human mind. And none of the on–board device can calculate this.

– But they’re not there!

Keeping a horizontal flight of machine that is loaded so much is impossible. Captain knows this. They are looking for another way out.

– Le it be, but we agree to Warsaw – it can be heard in the cabin.

– We are landing in Rębiechów.

– Hm … Yes! Let him notify Okecie.

But until Gdansk they will not manage to drop the fuel. They can’t. Rębiechowo is eliminated. There is no time, decision has to be made.

– We are flying to Warsaw – Pawlaczyk reports to controller. – 5055.

– 5055, I accepted – controller confirms. – Thank you.

– Turn off the ring – says the second one.

– Can you be so kind and give the state of coordinate and VER’s – radio reports.

After a moment, a warning sound goes silent.

– All is given.

– Thank you very much.

– This is on the maximum – behind the back the mechanic is heard again. He talks about the flow of other two engines.

– Give nominal.

– Up to one thousand five hundred meters…

– One thousand five hundred! – It is reflected as an echo.

– So you can keep one hundred and forty – second one talks about the direction of flight – he will direct us.

– But there’s something wrong with the rudders! – First is worried. – You know?

– Yes, we had a collision with something! – Second confirms.

– Because the rudder is not working. Trimmer works.

– With the rudders.

– Third one is also off – mechanic says.

– Off.

– Fourth is not having load – mechanic adds from the back. – It is not showing up. One, shows up only one.

– Because rudders, you know – captain continues, just like he is not hearing mechanic – I took on myself, and I didn’t react – he says to second pilot – took shuttlecock, you understand me, and he didn’t react.

– Gentlemen! We are flying with one generator – mechanic said louder.

He notices that only one out of four generators is working. Lack of other three means huge problems with the most of installation which are powered with electricity in the aircraft.

– What are you saying?

– We are on one generator! – he repeats. – We must now throw unnecessary guts.

– So, I’m already turning it off.

– Do not turn off the radio compass – Pawlaczyk warns.

The seventh minute of flight is passing since the damage. Half an hour after take-off. In everyone’s life, time comes when we are not demanding anything. Warmth, love, money or time doesn’t matter. It is enough that the game for life is going on.

– Rudders are not working – confirms the second.

– Well, I know that – upset Capitan is answering – decant? – he asks mechanic about fuel.

– Not yet.

– So, decant it all. Decant it.

– Lights up, but it doesn’t decant – Chmielewski is nervous.

He sees signal that indicates operation of solenoid valves for decanting fuel. Clock shows the correct action, but at the same time mechanic is not noticing loss of oil. He knows, that this means failure.

– Fuel decants?

– No no no no! – Mechanic is getting nervous.

– Not yet?

In what condition the machine is, pilots are feeling. They are joined with plane, with their hands on the rudders and their feet on rudder bar. They feel the vibration of steering surfaces, controlling its flight, and they almost feel like machine is slipping in the air, still obeying to their will, even though now heavily damaged just like a fatally wounded animal. But not mechanic. He sees the flight of aircraft, its condition and wounds on the clocks just like a doctor staring at a dash of electrocardiogram, or listening to a stethoscope. He is in much worse situation, because he is not controlling this what is happening to the huge Ilyushin. Almost powerless, he can only watch his own agony.

– I don’t know why it’s not decanting.

– We are lowering – second informs. – Tell that we lowering, because we can’t keep altitude. We can’t keep the speed and we are lowering! – he says to the captain.

His voice is metallic. Without fear, but ruthless, without a shadow of promises, regret or hesitation. Their situation is getting more dangerous with each moment. Aircraft can’t be kept in the air. It is falling with each second. They need to land immediately. More than 50–meter–long colossus, empty and without fuel weighs 67 tons. This is not a glider – can’t land in corn or meadow. It needs a large airport with a long and paved runway.

– Tell them, to direct us to Modlin. And quickly! – Suddenly, second fired up.

– Hey! You! – Captain calms second one. – Slowly, slowly, don’t get nervous.

Captain is fighting. He tries to maintain the speed of the machine only with a trimmer. Trimmer, other name of balancing flap, is a small device on the height tiller, normally reducing the force required by pilot to control the plane. It works in opposite to the rudder and is much less effective.

– Altitude rudder is not working? – second one confirms. – Report?!

– Tell!

– Rudder is not working for you or…

– No…

– Something had to hit into the altitude rudder – Capitan says. – This was hit just like…

– Yes! – relive him mechanic. – Hit like damn.

– 5055, Warsaw – says the area controller.

– We are listening.

– Which engines it was? First and second?

– First and second, but we have trouble with steering without altitude rudder.

– I understand. For now, you are keeping the altitude?

– No! We are lowering; because we are keeping altitude only with trimmer.

– I understand, how many passengers on board?

–Hundred and seventy–one plus infant – the second pilot says about one and a half years old Yvette Victoria Trubisz.

Infant is a child under the age of two years without the right to carry luggage and space on–board. They travel on their parents’ lap. Girl will die.

– I understand.

– …To Warsaw… – Fuselage is again torn by shock. – …you need to look…

– To Warsaw is hundred and eight? – they are analyzing the situation. – To Warsaw is hundred and eight?

– Yes. To the nearest…

– Maybe Modlin is on the way? – Captain inclines to the idea of his replacement.

– Well, there is no other, there is no –Karcher answers.

– There is no other – mechanic nods his head staring at the clock.

– And Modlin is on the way – Captain is wondering loudly. – Is it decanting?

Silence. They are facing a serious choice.

– Modlin maybe on the way, no? – Pawlaczyk looks at the co–pilot.

– Well, it is…

– I think… – mechanic answers.

– Are we ordering Modlin? – Capitan is asking.

– Yes. Yes. – Karcher, nodding his head, sees a chance.

– What are you saying?

The captain seems to be not convinced. He has got doubts. He wants to get to know opinion of second pilot before he will take a final decision.

– Is there data for Modlin? – Asks second pilot.

– And what runway is there?

– Long! Perfectly flat! – second pilot answer to the captain encouragingly.

– Short! – mechanic is protesting. – How long!

– We could – Pawlaczyk is considering with the hope that the second pilot will help him to make the decision – could be on Modlin.

From this decision may depend their lives and lives of 172 passengers. In fact, the airport in Modlin is located on flat ground, with no major obstacles in the neighborhood and it is much closer than Okecie. But it is not a civil airport, but a military airport. It is not under the control of civil air traffic and is not prepared for a possible rescue action for such a big civilian machine.

– It would be better if it will be possible on long one – mechanic adds.

– But we can’t keep the altitude – argues Karcher.

– In such case even more for Modlin – Pawlaczyk seems to agree to such solution. – Wait, maybe, maybe…

– Currently the level is hundred and ten – a moment later Capitan gives height.

– I understand, a hundred and ten. And can you keep the altitude?

– Well not really, not really.

They are still falling down. They have already lowered to four kilometers, so that there is possibility to breathe, but they are not keeping horizontal level of flight. There are around 3200 meters above the ground.

– I understand.

– We can’t dump the fuel, something got stuck! – Chmielewski said terrifyingly, staring fearfully at the ceiling. He already knows, he doesn’t have doubts.

– It is rather difficult…

– We can’t dump the fuel – Captain says. – Sink got stuck. Fuel is also not dumping.

– I understand.

– And that one not?

– All!

They are flying in damaged machine for 10 minutes.

– Don’t turn this off, nothing! – Captain prohibits.

– Wait, maybe I’ll do something – mechanic is looking for a way out from the oppression.

– Wait, wait, wait. Slowly, come on! Just do not pull! – second puts attention. – Preparations for Modlin and hi! No? – Capitan says.

– Well, we could, we could be sitting down in Modlin, yes.

However, Pawlaczyk, is not entirely convinced to the rightness of the decision of choosing Modlin Airport. He has got his arguments. Mechanic is totally against to this choice, the co–pilot seems to favor, in such a way out from the oppression. After all the Capitan is the commander.

– Ask – he give instructions to the second – to Modlin how far it is and whether he can direct us.

– What?

– Ask if he can direct us to Modlin – he repeats.

– Here you can see the Vistula River… – mechanic notes, as by the view on the river he would like to force coming back to the airport from where they took off for this faulty flight.

– And what this will give me?

– 50. Warsaw. Radar – second one finally calls the control area. – Can you direct us to Modlin? Because our altitude is still falling down, it is getting much lower.

– Moments! I will take care. Moment.

– Thank you.

– There is something with electricity – mechanic mutters. – But the trimmer is working, right?

The plane is like a moose severely torn by a brace of wolves. Runs away wounded, leaving blood stains on the snow.

– Rails! Rails are not working! No, rail is not working!

– You will not dump! There is no way. One rail doesn’t work! Fuses unloaded! – Capitan is looking for the cause.

For him, the case is the most obvious.

Ryszard Chmielewski, 54 years old, is an instructor, on–board mechanic. In the air on the aircraft Il 62, he has spent nearly 7,000 hours out of 10 500 flown hours in total. In LOT, he is working since 1965. He is still not able to get rid of unnecessary fuel from the aircraft. Now, he discovers the reason.

– Take it easy, gentlemen – second one is calming them. –It’s useless…

– Rysiu! You can’t dump any fuel?

– I don’t know.

– But something is dumping or not? – He asked.

– Nothing is dumping – Chmielewski answers after being upset. – Nothing is dumping; it doesn’t work …

– So, then there will not be also flaps? – second one is wondering.

– …the flaps are…

– All needs to be switch off – second one said – everything what is unnecessary.

– Wait, so I will also turn that off. That’s all?

– Yes! Switch it off! – Capitan confirms.

– Are they directed us to Modlin? Still valid?

The only source of electricity in the aircraft is one out of four generators. Aside of this, electrical installation in most aircraft is mostly damaged. They are assuming that the fuel is not being dumped as electro valves are probably not powered. In this case, pilots are turning off necessary equipment i.e. electro valve to save energy that is more important in this situation.

– Turn off radar – the captain says to Chmielewski. – It is useless!

– I know, I know, I see.

– Can you direct us to Modlin? – Captain connects with the controller.

– We are waiting for the decision of the army! A sec!

– Keep your altitude – second one points it to the captain. – Three thousand.

– What if there is no possibility! –Pawlaczyk gets nervous. – After all the speed falls, what do you want?

Captain is still fighting with the falling aircraft. For disposition, he has only the trim wheel, he is trying to keep the speed with the highest perfection, but despite of two working right engines aircraft still falls just like a glider.

– But stabilizer, moorhen is?

Near the flying control, there is button that is changing angle of the entire horizontal stabilizer of machine. If the direction rudder is not working, then by deflecting the stabilizer just by a few degrees, it would allow for more efficient fall control. On the desktop, there is one more button protected with thin wire. It is emergency shift of stabilizer. Captain already tried it.

He knows that it doesn’t work. They are falling down, because they are flying at half flow overloaded. The laws of physics are inexorable.

– There is no point to move stabilizer – responds thoughtfully.

After all they still have a chance. If they could only make it to the airport… It’s their only chance.

– Hello, Warsaw?!

Again silence. In the moments, when death is close, so close that you can almost feel its presence, silence is more frightening than the worst sound.

– Come on, do something, because we are in a really forced situation, come on! – Captain reports to the direction of control. – We have to sit maximum fast – there is something final in his voice.

– 5055, everything will be done, and already at this moment – area controller immediately answers– they are still dealing with the military.

– Fast! Let them direct us to Modlin! – second one unnecessarily urges captain.

A second later, pilots felt a strong tug on rudders. A huge force throws the aircraft. In the cabin, same warning sound speaks again.

– An explosion in the engine! – Chmielewski immediately gives probable cause.

– 5055 – controller answers again – you will land at Modlin. As soon as you will be seen by approach, he will guide you – he says.

– Emergency landing and pullet!

Meanwhile, they are trying to control unexpectedly worsening situation.

– What?


– The explosion was in the engine! – Mechanic shouts.

– Most likely there is a hole in the fuselage – Karcher said.

But the shock doesn’t mean the explosion of the engine, as its suspected. They don’t know it yet, but the fuel pipe which is connecting the wing tanks with a tank in the fin is already depressurized and now the vapors of flushed petroleum exploded in the tail. Since this moment, plane pulls the braid of black smoke and fire. They are burning. Braid of black smoke is like a trail of blood on the snow. Flight attendants notice this.

– …but sparks from the back of the plane … – The voice of one of them can be heard.

– An explosion in the engine! – mechanic says

– Oh Jesus!

– Let him give us direction! – Captain keeps a cold blood. – Fast!

– What is it? – suddenly mechanic is surprised.

Aircraft is still flying on two engines that are working. Clocks are not showing decline in oil flow or rotation, which should take place after any engine failure. He knows that in this case, it was not an explosion in engine.

– You have permission for Modlin – unexpectedly controller informs.

OKAY. To Modlin. – Captain confirms.

– Where is Modlin? – second ask.

– I don’t know – mechanic is nervous. – Will our chassis come out?

He is the only one who is aware of the hopelessness of their position, although for sure not completely. However, his fears are justified.

– They are already waiting for you in Modlin – controller reports.

OKAY. Thank you.

– You see? –second one says, indicating the speed.

– What are you saying? – Captain adds after a moment. – I know, I know.

– Four hundred. There will be something from it?

He sees their chance. If they could only safely put down damaged aircraft on the ground, even if it is a military airport, most probably the could save more people.

– You are with radar, so you direct us there toward Modlin – captain asks area control.

– Right now keep course TMN.

– On what? – second pilot wonders.

They don’t understand. But something is happening aside of them. And this is the case. They don’t know about the real damage to the aircraft, but also about the fact that the controllers are trying to force on military landing of civilian machine.

– OK – Pawlaczyk confirms. – TMN.

They are silent. Each one of them is wandering with their thoughts somewhere outside the cabin. About wives, mothers, children. About life.

– Except that all the time – Capitan is saying – we are lowering from altitude. Because, we are not able to sustain the machine weight on two engines.

That’s true; aircraft is flying only on engine number 3 and 4 on the right side of the fuselage. Their power is insufficient to continue horizontal level of flight especially that the plane is filled with passengers, luggage and in the fuel tanks there is still around 35 tons of fuel. However, the crew doesn’t know, that the other two left engines are shut down and tail of the aircraft is on fire.

– I understand.

TMN is on the first radio compass. It will be on first radio compass.

It is 10.55. From almost fifteen minutes they are fighting for life inside a machine that is wounded by an unseen enemy. They are fighting, although their life ends with each other, terrifying in its horror and ending inevitability each minute.

– Captain – stewardess asks – will you give information to passengers?

– What? – Capitan is not hearing, being busy with maintaining the altitude – Wait.

He has got much more important things on his head. At this moment, he is working in the state of emergency.

– Girls are asking – second is suggesting.

– … What we will do, if the radio will be down – mechanic is worried – radio will be down.

– Everything, everything will be depending from the situation – Pawlaczyk supports the crew’s spirit.

– Of course.

– Well, but we will not sit down with the wind – captain is analyzing the conditions at the airport in Modlin. – How strong is wind…

– What is it? Back? – Says second on. – Back?

– We have to tilt; it will be to the left.

– 5055 – the voice of controller can be heard – in the direction of TMN and are you keeping your course?

– Now, we have to keep it, because …

– We are keeping; we are keeping – Capitan answers calmly.

– I understand that the speed will fall down…

– Because it is from TMN from the left side, lightly east – controller adds.

OKAY. Thank you.

– Not more than five hundred – second one warns.

– You would need to turn it off – mechanic is putting attention – because you have to release landing gear.

He knows that to release the landing gear electricity will be needed, which they don’t have. They have to disable another device so that they will not land on belly.

– Something must be turned off – Kłosek repeats louder.

– This generator has to work?

– And from what it is showing right now?

For mechanical indication, it means that the device is alive.

– This is what generator is showing!

– Load – he says.

– This generator, what … it is not showing anything! – Second one shows other device.

– Yes! Later it will be good, but …

– Later it will be good.

– What the fuck! There is no load – second one is nervous. – There is no load!

– Here there is no speed, it is the same …

– Too low speed! – Shouts second one.

LOT 5055, I lost radio contact with you – meanwhile the controller is informing.

– So, we have it – Capitan answers – two thousand six hundred meters.

– I understand, at this moment, I lost contact with you.

– We have from here seventy–two miles to Piaseczno– Capitan gives the distance from the airport.

– Fifty–two miles. Roger that.

– Seventy–one –Pawlaczyk corrects. – Seventy–one! Seventy–one, seventy–one miles to Piaseczno!

– I understand.

– Direction three hundred and twenty.

– 5055?

– Yeah, we listen, 5055 – captain answers

– Further frequency – controller gives the frequency to military airports – three hundred and ten Alpha Tango. Alpha Tango three hundred and ten.

– Thank you very much.

– Direction of the runway two–six–two – he repeats – two six–two, the direction of the runway.

They can’t know it, but they have only about 1,000 seconds. 1000 times one. 1000 movement of clock hands, just by one millimeter, just by one second.

– E, wait. Leszek you heard three hundred…

Lesław Łykowski, navigator, age 57, flight hours 9,500, including 3,100 hours on the Il–62. He is sitting in the second part of the cockpit, behind pilots and a mechanic. Until now, he was mostly silent.

– Forty Alfa – Łykowski navigates in the direction of the radio beacon – closer Alfa, closer to six hundred and forty Alfa.

– Four hundred forty, six hundred and forty by three hundred and ten further – repeats a voice from the airport at Modlin – and six hundred and forty closer.

– Yes.

– How much? – Navigator wants to be sure.

– Six hundred and forty be there … he said – repeating the second one.

– Thank you, thank you – confirms the Capitan who was leading the correspondence– six hundred and forty Alfa.

– Three hundred ten and six hundred.

– Direction of the runway two–six–two. Two–six– two runway direction – just like a mantra that controller is repeating.

– Two–six–two. Thank you – Capitan answers. – On the second radio compass you have Modlin! – He adds in the direction of navigator.

– I don’t have radar contact with you – controller says. – Enter right now for the approaching one hundred twenty-eight point eight.

– On the second radio compass you have Modlin!

– Thank you. We are entering on hundred twenty-eight point eight. Thank you. Approaching. Good day. One more time 5055.

– 5055, hello – other voice answers. – I see you gentlemen twenty–four kilometers before TMN. I’m listening.

– Currently altitude eighty–five, we are continuously falling down – Capitan says. – We can’t keep altitude and we are directing to Modlin.

– I understand. Please continue on this course – controller gives the instruction to land at Modlin – lowering to six hundred and fifty meters. Pressure at Okecie is so far seven–four–nine. Runway at Modlin has three thousand and fifty meters. You will be landing at direction of two–six–two. For now, please go down to six hundred and fifty meters.

Right now they are flying at the altitude of only 2,550 meters; they are not much more than a few kilometers from Modlin. Okecie is four times further. Landing on the runway 262 means that they will be approaching the airport from the east, making turn over Narwią.

– We will try.

They decide. Colored fields under the wings of the aircraft groove shorter furrows of shades of approaching somewhere from the east, beyond the horizon.

– OK, for six hundred and fifty meters – Pawlaczyk repeats– direction towards Modlin two–six–two. So please direct us there.

Silence is answering them. Again, this terrifying silence, in which among ticking chronometer their own death is bristling.

– And he can’t, because it is out of service? – Second pilot tries to explain it

– I’ll try to make you gentlemen land – controller answers after a moment – Until now I don’t know yet where is the threshold of the runway. We have to simply set it up, according to the wind direction and pressure there. Until now, I don’t have any data. I only know that the length of the runway there is three thousand and fifty meters.

– What?

Situation becomes even much more complicated. So, given conditions are relating to Okęcie airport, and what if the wind is different? The decision has to be made, what else.

– Okay. Thank you very much, even for this.

Modlin? It is no longer so obvious. They are at the starting point. Inside cabin, quarrel explodes. Everyone has his/her own arguments.

– But with the wind, we cannot sit down! Man, come on?! – Captain argues.

– …don’t damage!

– …fuel – mechanic shouts.

– …in the opposite direction…

– Come on, after all I’m thinking, come on.

– Fuel!

– Leszek! Six hundred and ten further?

– Yes!

– Four hundred four, six hundred and forty by three hundred and ten further and six hundred and forty closer.

– Yes.

– Emergency landing gear …

– Listen up…

– … You listen up, just stand here like this, because I’m here, I’ll have to see, so that …

– It was not better to fly to Warsaw? – Suddenly mechanic says calmly and objectively.

Silence. Other engines are working steadily, with buzzing causing peace. Further, behind the forest which is darkening ominously under them, far away and sleepily city is drawing. From this perspective it is harmless, but for them, it means death.

– Are we sitting down here? – second one is confirming.

– We’re flying for second radio compass!

– It is not better in Warsaw? – mechanic says again.

– It would be better in Warsaw, because there is … – Capitan says. – Because there, I think you already know support is better.

– I know, but…

– Probably, that it is better in Warsaw – Karcher adds.

11.00 passed. 750 seconds to Kabaty Forest. 12 minutes.

– One hundred and twenty degrees…

– I would fly to Warsaw – mechanic is pushing.

– I would also fly to Warsaw –second one finally takes his position. – Lower slowly. I’ll tell him that we’re flying to Warsaw.

– Yes, we will try – Capitan makes the final decision. – Yes, because this will not give us anything special – he is talking about landing in Modlin.

– Approaching 5055. We made decision, we’re going to Warsaw – said the co–pilot through the radio. – There will be better support for us in Warsaw.

– I understand – answers the approach controller. – Direction to Piaseczno please.

– Direction to Piaseczno.

– Thank you. Unless you want straight from the route for one–one?

– From straight? – second one is surprised.

– No – Captain firmly answers to controller. – There will be to strong wind. Hundred thirty–five we are continuing.

– I understand. Then I can guide you on one–five, and three–three.

– What is wind strength and direction? – Capitan asks

– Three hundred twenty degrees, twenty–two kilometers per hour.

– I prefer on three–three – decided.

– Three–three, yes?

– Yes. That’s right.

– It will be three–three, continue to six hundred and fifty meters.

Aircraft is flying from the northwest. The simplest solution would be to land on the runway 11, from so–called straight or 15, but then the landing would take place with the side wind, or the wind which would almost blow exactly the tail of the machine. Meanwhile landing and take-off, in principle should be against the wind and each runway is giving such possibility, as long as the cradle of wind blows along the runway. Approach with the wind raises the need to increase the speed, and in their situation this would be an additional unfavorable circumstance.

OKAY. We are continuing to six hundred fifty – captain makes the decision.

They will surround the airport and they will approach to the landing exactly into the wind on the longest belt. Their altitude is of about 2000 meters. Until Okecie 90 kilometers left.

– …yes, yes, we are slowly lowering – second one confirms by radio.

– There’s nothing under you.

– Thank you. But there is possibility that we will sit down on the ground, because – captain sighs – we have in general problems with everything here, and with electricity, and in general with all.

The captain’s voice becomes almost incomprehensible – is bogging between cracks, squeaks and noises.

– If our landing gear will not come out, fuselage is damaged – Pawlaczyk give an account. – If our landing gear will not come, what is called – it can be seen that he is extremely tired – flaps, then we will need to sit down on the ground

– Roger. Approaching.

– And for the information, we don’t have control with altitude rudder.

– I understand.

When you are dying, people are starting to finally listening you. You don’t need to wait until you are able to say something, to be able to express own view, but for the first time they are really listening. Because already further none of the words are existing, none of truth is not true, except for that one that will materialize soon in the silence, which is pulled inevitably by death.

– Aha – Capitan remembers something – girls let them say that…

– They should come? – second one is asking.

– Yes, girls, let them come. Yes. Call the girls.

For flight attendants, flying on Il–62 was ennoblement. The deck of this aircraft was serviced only by the most experienced of them. They dreamed bout, flying in this aircraft.

– Here is the head, Mr. Capitan – says one of them.

To the cabin enters Maria Berger–Senderska, 39 years old, head of the cabin crew. She works in LOT since 13 years. On board of aircraft, she had spent 6,300 hours.

– I’m listening Mr. Capitan? – she whispers.

– Let’s all – captain ordered her with hard voice –be prepared, all prepared for emergency … for emergency exit from aircraft. All the actions, as they should be, and you all everywhere there where you need to be.

Woman covers her mouth with hand. She realized that it’s not good, but the voice of commander is for her like final confirmation of the worst fears and most terrible assumptions.

– Don’t get nervous! Don’t get nervous Marys! Everything will be alright! – Chmielewski calms her down.

But he’s wrong. He can’t think otherwise; after all they are still fighting. But he also doesn’t know, that in almost eight minutes they will lose.

– Watch out, watch out, because…

– Something is happening? – Woman said.

– Well, it is happening – second one says. – It can be seen, that something is happening all the time. Something is happening with the electricity.

– Vistula – Captain mutters.

– Oh, you have Vistula! – mechanic indicates.

– We have still some thirty–five miles – Pawlaczyk adds.

A moment later, Maria Berger–Senderska wipes away her tears. She is trying to calm down and keep professionalism. Surprisingly much depends from her. She is taking the microphone in her hand. They are 55 kilometers from the desired airport.

– Can I have your attention – she starts – Captain informed us that for technical reasons we will be forced to make an emergency landing. We have to consider need of quick disembarkment. Please stay at your places and keep calm and be careful – woman emphasizes the last words – execute commands of the crew.

One of the passengers, Halina Domeracka, writes down on the copy of Holy Scriptures date, her name, address and words “Failure in the aircraft, God what it will be?”.

She is 59 years old. The woman doesn’t know, just like no one on the earth, and mostly all of them on board, in how tragic position they are.

At this moment, she remembers the crash of another IL. Seven years before Mikolaj Kopernik buried 87 lives, crashing in the moat next to the fort in Okecie.

– Please take off your shoes. – voice of a flight attendant is heard. – I will remind the emergency procedure. Sit deep into the chair. Fasten your seat belt tight. Lean body as low as possible. Hold your knees with your hands. Rest your feet firmly on the floor.

Woman puts in between yellow cards $ 400 and 10 000 PLN, and a receipt from the bank.

– We have thirty–five tons of fuel– meanwhile mechanic in the cabin is saying.

– How much?

– Thirty–five tons of fuel – he repeats. – Electricity went again off. Now fuel is going – he says.

– I can see it. I can feel it by the trimmer, you know – the captain asks the second one.

– 5055 wind has changed–approach controller reports. – it is right now two hundred and ninety degrees. Twenty–two kilometers per hour.

– Three–three, three–three!

There is no coming back. Captain has decided about runway to land. They are still getting lower.

– No, three–three, we are right now deciding…

OKAY. It will be three–three – controller explains–I’m just reporting change in the wind. And rest is unchanged. Pressure–seven–four–nine, and CAVOK.

CAVOK stands for “Cloud and Visibility OK”. That means visibility of 10 km or more no clouds below 1500 meters above the ground, no storm clouds and precipitation.

– Thank you.

– We passed the Vistula River.

– Yes. I confirm – said controller. – I’m tracking all the time. 55, downward.

– Only stabilizer, damn, we do not have – Capitan is worried.

– Dump of fuel will be successful, isn’t it?

– We will not go more down, because there is shaking, you know – the captain informs second one about the turbulence. – Well, for now, for now that’s it. I’m keeping speed.

– Also, this speed will be …

– Yes Yes Yes.

– Thirty–two tons at the moment we have – mechanic says. –Rest was dump.

– Thirty–two tons, one hundred seventy-one plus infant – Capitan is analyzing the risk. – Ok give … You can’t give?

200 liters for every person. 200 liters of fire. 200 liters to die in hell.

– Bogdan, are we throwing rest.

– And glass should be also turned off?

– And the glass too!

The radio operator executes commands of captain. In turn, disables the device indicated by the Pawlaczyk.

– No! – This after he adds. – Glasses not, because they can moisten.

– Aha. Okay, okay, okay.

A moment of silence. It is time for final instructions.

– Well, as I sit – the commander says to another pilot – to give me a hundred and fifty, but you see, damn it, twenty–two-hour wind.

– Exactly.

The captain gave instructions about the speed in miles. It is about 240 km / h. It is about 20 km more than the minimum speed at which the Il–62M can still maintain flight. But this is the speed in relation to the air stream, not the ground. Since they decided to land into the wind and the blowing around 20 km / h, in the opposite direction of their flight, so the actual speed of the aircraft relative to the earth will be as much as the minimum speed of the machine. 220 km / h.

In front of the Vistula River, they see Okecie, and to left Warsaw. They are in the air for nearly 27 minutes from the fatal explosion of the engine. They will die in less than four.

– Where is the airport? Can it be seen?

Suddenly, the pilot loses sight of the great letter crossing in front of strips at the airport.

– What?

– How much is the airport? – Nervous pilot.

– I do not know – corresponds to the second. –Rudder for height is working or not? – Asks the captain.

– No. No! I do not know, because the airport is not … – the last attempt to regain visual orientation.

Fire brigades command in Warsaw has been informed that the plane Il–62M in emergency will dump fuel.

– No Hanka, no! – They hear a sudden voice of Maria Berger–Senderska.

The woman realized that her friend Hanna Chęcińska is no longer alive. She’s not on board.

– Where exactly? – Asks the second.

– I’m afraid that something terrible has happened.

– Do not panic Marys.

– Missing flight attendants – explains mechanic. – because we blurted out the door!

It is obvious. Everyone knows what it means. Hanna Chęcińska, aged 35, senior flight attendant. Working in LOT, since 1972, she has flown 8300 hours. They thought that at the time of the first explosion, she was sucked out of the aircraft. Probably, however, it became something else. During the outbreak, she was found in the rear part of the fuselage in the technical compartment (bay). During the outbreak of the pressure in the bay, plummeted and prevented Hanna Chęcińska to get out from there. Unconscious without oxygen, then probably perished in the flames. The body will never be found. Her death will be a mystery forever. At the crash site, husband finds his wife’s ring engraved with the wedding date. After the disaster, many flight attendants at LOT resigned. A mother of a woman visiting her grave every day at Powazki, will always ask herself the same question for years. How was it really?

– Oh, the airport is near! I see Raszyn – suddenly the woman says.

– Okecie is already visible! – Confirms the captain with relief.

– You can go down slowly – adds the second. – Ask for radar?

– Wait, wait.

– Approaching – he reports himself through radio. – we are lowering, 55.

– I’m listening you Sir.

– I wanted to check communication, because there is such a silence in the ether, only noise…

Suddenly there’s an ominous ring tone which signalize fire. It’s sound like an alarm clock.

– Where? – Capitan shouts. – in what? Switch it off…

– I’m all the time observing – an approach controller said calmly – and I can hear you on five. So far nothing is broken.

– I’m turning off … – mechanic shouts.

– For what you are switching it off? – second one asks.

– And we have got fire again – Capitan almost with resigned voice answers to controller.

– In what? – controller is terrified. – Are you on fire?

However, the aircraft is on fire for a long time. It is pulling the tail of fire and smoke, since few minutes, marking its last minutes in the sky. It will be seen a moment later, by a witness of the catastrophe. Fire is detected just right now, because of the sensors that are fixed in the fuselage. Those in the tail, at the place of fire, have been damaged by the first explosion and don’t work.

– We have fire! – Chmielewski shouts.

– Are you on fire?

– I guess so – Capitan is answering to the controller. – Where is the airport? In which place? – he already speaks to the crew.

– We are landing with the fire – Chmielewski argues. – So, we are landing on one–five – he tells about the closest runway. Straight ahead. With the wind.

– But where you have it? Where is the airport? – Captain shouts. He can’t see the airport.

– …Warsaw? – He throws into the ether. – From which side is the airport? Hey!

Controller is answering, but the correspondence is overlapping, in result of which no one hears each other. In aviation, simplex is used, that means, transmission or reception. When the transmission is at the same time, no one hears. Moments later, it is already too late for landing from straight on the nearest runway.

– …we are on fire! – Mechanic locates the fire. – It’s in the trunk…

– But where are we? Shit, come on?! – Captain is losing orientation.

He must now fly with wind to the south of Raszyn and make turn by 180° before Piaseczno. There is no way out.

– To the left! – second one is suggesting him.

– In the trunk! The trunk it is … – mechanic shouts.

He knows that the fire is in the trunk number 4, under the floor in the rear part of the fuselage. On board panic starts. Passengers move towards the bow of the machine, running away from the fire. The balance of machine is changing. The aircraft is less and less controllable.

Air traffic control tower transmits information about the probability of fire occurrence to the command of firefighters in Warsaw.

– On one–five, you lead us, because we have fire.

– 5055 – controller says – whether you gentlemen can see Raszyn at eleven o’clock at a distance of five kilometers?

Silence. Aphonia. Silence. No one is answering. Only fear.

– Do you want … shall I guide you gentlemen?

– Yes – Capitan answers.

In 180 seconds they hit the ground.

– Zero–Nine–Zero – direction of approach falls immediately.

– Watch out! Little throttle, little throttle – captain reminds to second one.

– So, go down to five hundred meters. – They hear the voice of the controller. – Pressure seven–four–nine.


Next acoustic signal speaks up, irregularly intermittent, indicating that there is no ejection of landing gears. Inside the tanks there is still 32 tons of fuel. Thus, the fear of mechanic doesn’t turn out to be futile.

– Where’s the runway? – Shouts second one.

– Wait! Don’t get nervous! – Capitan says.

– From this position – controller continues – you have about fifteen kilometers to the runway.

– I understand.

– To the left! To the left! – shouts second one.

– 5055 – controller repeats the approach – to the left, to the left zero–five–zero.

Captain decides for much tight curve. He has to do it. They don’t have time. Two minutes.

120 seconds. In front of the cabin they can see irregular patch of fresh green.


It is Kabacki forest. In the distance Vistula shines. The sun shines straight in their eyes. The plane is heavy for ailerons, is also not willing to respond to the full deflection of the flying controls and pressed to the down feet. Ilyushin lowers its beak, and a moment later leaves it, as it is fighting for its existence.

– Hold on! – Shouts second one. – hold on to heavy damn!

It is exactly 11.10 and 40 seconds. They still believe in personal happiness in their fate. They don’t have time for thinking; the aircraft is ahead of their thoughts, their movements and ineffective fight. Almost half an hour earlier their fate miscalculated them –nothing will change the result which is cooling the blood in their veins.

– 5055, to the left – controller precisely guides the aircraft towards the bend – course three hundred sixty.

– We want to turn! We already want! – Pawlaczyk answers, but he sees that probably nothing will come out of the true in the axis of runway, but further over the forest. Too far.

– Turn, turn on three–six–zero – approach controller encourages them.

His voice is calm. Just like he wants to say to these people: “You will make it”. Instead, it adds:

– At the moment you have around twelve kilometers to the runway.


– 5055, to left on course three hundred thirty.

– We are turning left – answer first one while pressing flight control and foot until it is paining.

– Begin final approach – controller says – around eleven kilometers from the runway.

– We will do everything what we can.

– I Understand.

The voice of controller is just like steel. At such a moment, you can’t say much. There is no need, because it is not worth. It will not change anything.

– To the left, course three–two–zero.


Only one minute is left. 60 seconds.

– You enter to the right side of runway axis – controller tirelessly, guides aircraft on fire – further to the left, course three hundred.

They know about it. Pawlaczyk sees runway three–three, a little bit to the left, flat at the bottom. Asphalt concrete which is shining promisingly. It is just around the corner. Not so far. Just after the forest. Trees are getting lower. Their tops are pricking pilot’s eyes.

– Wind is two hundred and ninety degrees – one more time meteo controller reports– twenty–two kilometers per hour. You can land on the runway three–three.


In the background of correspondence, man in the tower hears incomprehensible and frightening sounds. Pilot already knows, he already sees that this is the end. This is what is next, doesn’t matter. They still need to fight, try until the last moment, but all the actions make no sense. Because the last moment just came. It came. And inside it silent emptiness is exposed.

– Hold! – Someone yells. – Hold for God sake!

– I can’t!

Aircraft once again leaves the bow. They see trees in front of them. They are so terribly lonely during their powerlessness. They are not expecting anything right now. The clock shows the time: 11:12:10. You can hear, as the transmission button is enabled four times. Statements are incomprehensible, but three seconds later last communicate is heard perfectly.

– Goodnight, goodbye! – scream. – Bye! We perish!




It is 11:12:13. The aircraft cuts the first tree of Kabacki Forest. It explodes. Officer on duty at fire department receives information about the catastrophe from the fire brigade of Warsaw–Okecie Airport. A second later the same officer on duty receives the next call.

– I can see fire and smoke – anonymous female voice reports– rising from over the Kabacki Forest.

All persons on board were killed. None of the body was found as a whole. It was possible to identify the corpse of only 121 people. In the ashes, a copy of the Bible was found, with handwritten note on the title page with content: “Date 05.09.1987 Failure of the aircraft, God what it will be? Halina Domeracka 02 647 Warsaw Street (…) “. Money was not found. There was only a receipt from the bank.




Meanwhile, custom officer completes writing down the protocol in fur case. He feels bad, because Janina Tomaszewska Szulc was not arguing, and finally a place for his friend was found on the aircraft.

– Please don’t get worried – he comforts her – you can you still fly through Chicago.

Because of distractedness, he makes a mistake in protocol. He had to rewrite it from the scratch. At the same time, Border Troops soldier comes up to them and he is looking at them strangely.

– You know what – the soldier start talking after a moment – don’t worry. Aircraft had failure, and it turned around, you can still fly with it.

– What? – Upset woman answers. – Please do not make such a silly joke! You already made me trouble.

After a moment, second army man comes. He’s nervous. He is whispering something to the ear of custom officer. Man immediately fades, he stops to write. A moment later, he leaves pen from a trembling hand.

– I saved your life! – he is whispering. – Jesus Christ! Life!

– What are you telling Sir?

– The aircraft just fell down and it caught fire.

– What kind of silly jokes are you keeping with you! – Outraged woman commented.

– They all died – whispers custom officer, probably more to himself than to woman. – At your place, friend of mine was flying – he adds and in a moment he starts crying. Woman starts to understand that these are not silly jokes.

Szulc–Tomaszewska will fly a few days later. People on the plane will talk about the catastrophe, someone will remind loudly that some of the passenger didn’t board and this saved her life. Woman started crying, and she admits that it was she. People came to touch her, they will believe that if “lucky one” is flying with them, then they are also not in danger. They will be on board another ILA–62.




In the aircraft Il–62, unfortunate constructional system was adopted, with engines positioned next to each other on the tail. What is worse, in engines, as a result of errors in design, used materials and workmanship bearings were blurred on the shaft of low pressure turbine, heating it to over 1000 ° C. Then, in less than 0.2 seconds turbine rotor was tearing radially. Its pieces, almost like after grenade explosion, were flying with speed of 160 meters per second, at the same time making damages to the aircraft.

In the case of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, elements of tore turbine from engine number two (left inner) firstly damaged the neighboring engine, firing it up and depressurizing the cabin. Further, after puncture of the fuselage in the area of the technical division, it cut wiring harness and the pushers of control system for altitude rudder. Still heated to temperature of around 700 ° C, it set trunk on fire.

Pilot was not able control and signaling systems of fire were not working because of lack of electricity. Damage in the electrical system contributed to the problems of fuel dumping. Crew was fighting for life, after convinced that the fire is down, until spreading of fire caused damage to the trimmer control, which was the only one thing which was allowing pilot to control the flight of the aircraft. Later Pawlaczyk was able to operate aircraft only on the sides. Machine, which was falling and rising alternately, after each another swing, flying at a speed of 470 kilometers per hour, it fell on the trees. Until runway they had left only 5 kilometers left.

Death of an aviator, whatever the circumstances are, has almost always the same expression. This is the picture of earth. On that distant morning, in one second, myth of Icarus became so real for all 183 people. Tadeusz Kosciuszko buried mothers, wives, fathers, sons and brothers. Experienced and great aviators. Brave and wise, who have sacrificed their lives for the most beautiful profession in the world. People that were fighting heroically to the last second to save the people chosen by fate. Those who stayed on the ground, until the last breath of hearts fully filled with sorrow, will look for shadow of that aircraft. In the silence, because only that was left for them.

Story was based on recording of radio communications with the cabin crew of flight 5055 with the control authorities from 9th of May 1987.


HALF an HOUR of TADEUSZ KOSCIUSZKO - tragedy of LOT Flight 5055

Goodnight, goodbye! Bye! We perish! On May 1987, passenger aircraft Il–62M Tadeusz Kosciuszko of LOT Polish Airlines crashed while on approach for the emergency landing near the Okecie airport. The crew lost a fight for life that lasted for 3o minutes. The last message given by the pilot was: – Goodnight, goodbye! Hello! We are dying!

  • Author: Aleksander Sowa
  • Published: 2016-05-29 13:50:08
  • Words: 12425
HALF an HOUR of  TADEUSZ KOSCIUSZKO - tragedy of LOT Flight 5055 HALF an HOUR of  TADEUSZ KOSCIUSZKO - tragedy of LOT Flight 5055