Tragedy Ił-62 SP-LAA on 1980-03-14

Warszawa 2009-03-14

The crash of the IŁ-62 SP-LAA Nicolaus Copernicus plane on March 14, 1980.

Iljuszyn Ił-62 SP-LAB. 2009 year. Photo by Karol Placha Hetman
Iljuszyn Ił-62 SP-LAB. 2009 year. Photo by Karol Placha Hetman

Lot 007.

The Ił-62 SP-LAA Mikołaj Copernicus plane with its commander, Captain Tomasz Smolicz, flew the Atlantic on March 13, 1980, on the Warsaw - New York route. In the afternoon the plane landed at the airport named after J.F. Kennedy in New York. Everything went smoothly. The plane was handed over to the ground service, which performed a standard inspection and refueled the plane. The crew of Captain Paweł Lipowczan prepared for the return flight. The two captains met at the hotel and chatted socially. As it turned out, the last time. Captain Paweł Lipowczan's crew went to the airport. It was evening already. There was a snowstorm at the airport. The take-off was postponed and the ice was chemically removed from the plane.

After 20:30, passengers were asked to board the plane. There were only 77 passengers, although the plane had 168 seats. Let us not be surprised at this. After all, it was winter. Most of the passengers were Poles, including the famous singer Anna Jantar-Kukulska and six young delegates from Warsaw universities, returning from the meeting of the International Association of Students of Economic Universities. There was also the American ethnomusicologist, Alan Merriam. The twenty-two-person team of athletes stood out from the rest of the passengers. It was the US amateur boxing team flying to Warsaw for a boxing match with Poland. In addition to Poles and Americans, several Germans from the GDR and several citizens of the CCCP were on board.

The crew of the plane consisted of 10 people, and it was commanded by the 46-year-old captain, Eng. Paweł Lipowczan. There were no novices in the crew. All of them were the elite in LOT Polish Airlines. For the employees of PLL LOT, the service of cruises across the Atlantic was an ennoblement that only met the best. Paweł Lipowczan has worked at LOT for 15 years. The co-pilot engineer Tadeusz Łochocki has been in LOT Polish Airlines for 14 years. Radiotelegraphist Mr. Stefan Wąsiewicz in LOT Polish Airlines 29 years. Navigator Mr. Konstanty Chorzewski has been working for PLL LOT for 7 years. Mr. Jan Łubniewski has been an on-board mechanic at LOT Polish Airlines for 14 years. Head of the deck, Mrs. Alicja Duryasz at LOT Polish Airlines for 17 years and the other four ladies also experienced; Alicja Mormol Dudlej, Grażyna Szafarkiewicz-Węglińska, Elżbieta Grabowska, Krystyna Krawczyk, Joanna Podstolska. The last of these ladies was presumed to be flying privately.

The start took place at 21; 18. The flight number was 007. There were nearly fourteen hours of travel ahead of the passengers and the crew. The plane was flying to Warsaw without a stopover. The incomplete load on the plane made it possible. Almost until the end of the cruise, everything goes according to plan. It was even boring. The plane crossed the Atlantic and entered the Polish air zone over the Baltic Sea. The plane flew over Darłowo and Grudziądz. The maneuver to descend from the height has begun. In the vicinity of Płońsk, the plane was taken over by the Okęcie control area, which then handed over the machine to the control tower at the airport, which was to lead the plane to landing.

It was frosty over Warsaw, but sunny weather, the visibility was very good, the wind was normal. The sun could only be a problem when approaching RWY, because it will be shining straight in the eyes of the pilots. The eyes were tired of several hours of vigilance. In anticipation of the facts, it was a suggestion for the correct interpretation of the landing gear control light.

11: 13 o'clock has passed. The control tower was already communicating with the plane. There are short, routine reports. There was nothing to predict the tragedy .... KZ (approach control): - 007, left 5 degrees. SP-LAA: - Yes, I understand ... Wait a minute, we have difficulties with the landing gear signaling, we're going around.

It is known that the green light of the extended landing gear did not come on. As it turned out, the bulb was burned out. In accordance with the procedure, the crew made the right decision to go around. You can check from the ground that the landing gear is actually extended. The undercarriage signaling failure happened relatively often in those years.

KZ: - Got it, runway course and 650. SP-LAA: - Runway course, 650.

It was the last report sent from the plane. After 26 seconds, the plane crashed.

The disaster.

Today we know exactly what happened on board. In order to reach an altitude of 650 meters, the pilot had to increase the power of the engines. He moved the throttle levers of all four engines forward. Then there was a failure of the engine No. 2.

This copy of the engine was just a buggy. It underwent an incorrect renovation, during which the shaft was undercut, which could not withstand and broke. The shaft had a notch which caused a stress concentration. As a consequence, the shield of one of the turbines collapsed. It was made of the wrong material and had numerous micro-cracks. Material defects and heat treatment defects. The shield with the wreath broke into three large pieces and numerous small ones. The shrapnel pierced the engine hull. One debris damaged Engine No. 1, immobilizing it. Others fell into the fuselage, breaking the rudder rods, heading, and the power supply to the black box, and still managed to damage the engine No. 3, which would also load it. The crew was left to control only the ailerons and one operational No.4 engine.

The crew behaved flawlessly. Engines No. 1,2,3 turned off, engine No. 4 at full power. But the plane's speed was too slow. Due to the momentum and the only working engine, it did not go up much. The plane was losing speed and thus lift. The machine was starting to fail. Tilted to the right wing, it was directed by the crew into an undeveloped area, which certainly meant that no one was killed on the ground.

The plane first cut down the trees with its right wing. It hit the ground, or in fact a narrow moat of a 19th century fort frozen with a dozen centimeters of ice, at a speed of about 350-380 km / h. A cloud of dust and dust rose. The plane broke up, starting with a fuselage breakthrough. Most of the parts bounced off the ground and moved tens of meters. The largest passages were; rear fuselage and wing fragments.

The site of the fall is a 19th century fort near the streets; Żegota, Rozwojowa, cemetery, car exchange square, about one hundred meters from al. Krakowska, i.e. the exit route from the capital towards Katowice and Kraków. The closest plane, however, passed the buildings of the juvenile detention center, which were full of people.

Crash site. 2009 year. The work by Karol Placha Hetman
Crash site. 2009 year. The work by Karol Placha Hetman

Then people flocked and the police arrived quickly, securing the area. Several photographers also got there, but the militia took them to police cars and picked up the films. Few photos taken from hiding have survived.

The body of the pilot was found in the square between residential barracks several dozen meters from the moat. A little further, on the embankment, the others lay. The bodies were torn and massacred. Fragments of clothing, scraps of blue and orange dinghies from aircraft equipment hung on the surrounding trees and buildings. The ground was covered with bags, handbags and shoes. The sight was terrifying.

Despite the crash, the airport functioned normally. The plane to Paris took off as scheduled at 14; 30. Also, no decision was made to suspend the flights of the remaining Il-62s until the cause of the crash was clarified.

The Ministry of Transport received the news of the Okęcie catastrophe when a conference devoted to the safety of passenger flights was held there. The conference was interrupted and the people scattered. On the same day, a Government Commission was appointed to establish the causes of the accident. The black box of the SP-LAA recording sixty-four pieces of information about the work of individual components of the plane was quickly found. The analysis of these records did not tell everything. It turned out that the black box stopped working twenty-six seconds before the crash.

The authorities of the Polish People's Republic did not hide the tragedy. Such information could not be hidden. Both TV and radio announced that - In the afternoon hours, the plane of the Polish Airlines Il-62, flying from the USA to Warsaw, crashed while approaching. For as yet unexplained reasons, the plane fell from a height of 100 m and crashed completely. There were 87 people on board, including 77 passengers. According to preliminary findings, none of these people are alive.

The next day, in an article in the daily newspaper Życie Warszawy, the tragedy was written in bold: "The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party, the Council of State and the Council of Ministers express their deep sorrow and sympathy to the families of the victims of the plane crash." On the second page, Życie Warszawy has published a list of its victims. The days of March 15 and 16, 1980 were declared to be days of mourning in the capital. All artistic and sports events in Warsaw and the capital city have been canceled. Scheduled for March 17, 1980, the premiere of the Polish film "Kung-Fu" was postponed by two days.

Why did the plane crash?

The answer to the question about the causes of the accident was obtained from the examination of the remains of the machine. To collect them, water was pumped out of the moat into which the plane fell.

Here are excerpts from the final report of the Government Commission:

“In the final phase of the flight, during the plane's approach to landing, the left inner engine turbine was destroyed as a result of an unfavorable and accidental coincidence and hidden material and technological defects, which led to premature fatigue of the engine shaft. Two other engines and the aircraft's elevator and direction controls were damaged with parts of the destroyed turbine.

Having the only efficient engine and the ability to control only by tilting the ailerons, the crew managed, as confirmed by analyzes and witnesses, to orient the plane's path so that the plane collided with the ground in an undeveloped place.

The Commission found that no other circumstances had an impact on the accident. The crew's qualifications, their mental and physical condition and preparation for the flight did not raise any objections. Radio correspondence recorded on terrestrial and on-board tape recorders shows that the flight proceeded without any disruptions. 70 seconds before the scheduled landing, the captain of the airplane resolved to repeat the landing approach to check the landing gear signaling devices, for which he obtained approval from the air traffic authority. During the thrust increase associated with this maneuver, one of the engines failed, which led to a catastrophe. "

On March 10, 1981, the Provincial Prosecutor's Office in Warsaw decided to discontinue the investigation into the SP-LAA crash due to the fact that no crime was found.

What's next?

The report of the Government Commission was concise and unambiguous. It sparked discussions on how to deal with other similar tragedies. Could the mechanics of LOT Polish Airlines discover the microcracks in the turbine shaft earlier? Not. The engine is a factory-assembled device with the use of special instruments and control and measurement apparatus. The bore in the motor shaft is plugged and cannot be accessed. The engine operating instructions do not provide for such inspection.

Did the failure of this engine occur as a result of an unfavorable and accidental coincidence and hidden material and technological defects? Not. The breakdown was caused by the sloppiness of the engine manufacturer, lack of control during production, poorly carried out renovation, I will also do it without proper control. The NK-8-4 engine is a good engine, but on paper and in prototype copies, when the standards and regimes were followed. Later, it was haphazard. After all, the plane has as many as 4 engines. The failure of one could not theoretically have caused a catastrophe. The Soviets have always constructed airplanes in such a way that, in multi-engine machines, cutting off one engine did not even interrupt the take-off run.

What does premature motor shaft fatigue mean? This shaft could not be damaged during the entire service life. Our specialists rightly called the engine No. 2 of the SP-LAA aircraft a delayed fire bomb. This engine must have exploded. Had the plane landed from the first attempt, the flight would have ended happily. This engine was internal, so it was not equipped with a thrust reverser, so it did not participate in the shortening of the coastdown. Perhaps it would have exploded on the next takeoff, but more likely after it had warmed up completely in the air.

Contrary to official information, Soviet specialists did not participate in the work of the Government Commission. They were not even eager to cooperate in any way, including the transfer of relevant documentation. For them, this catastrophe simply did not take place. Even though there were also citizens of the CCCP on board.

The Soviets also received the results of the expertise of the crashed plane, along with critical conclusions about the technology and materials used in the production of the Il-62 plane. They hit, among others to the design office of Sergei Ilyusin. A few days after the Commission had determined the cause of the disaster, the manufacturer's team arrived at LOT Polish Airlines and checked all engines using special devices. No defects or faults were found (?). Similar studies were carried out on all users of the Il-62 aircraft. There were also no faults (?).

Soviet constructors did not take into account the comments of Polish experts and specialists. The design error of the lack of reinforcement where the turbine shaft changes its diameter has not been corrected. This information reached Polish society after many years. But the people deciding about the safety of planes at LOT Polish Airlines took all possible steps to prevent history from repeating itself. Long and difficult talks with the Soviet side began. We will probably never know their details. It is important that the Polish side managed to get rid of planes with disastrous engines. They were given in the settlement for newly acquired Il-62 M planes. We believed that the problem had been solved, after all, the Il-62 M had engines from a different design office.

Poles remember the tragedy.

The name of Captain Paweł Lipowczan is given to a street in Warsaw's Okęcie (formerly Rozwojowa next to the Lotnik cinema), cross al. Krakowska. 20 years later, a documentary about this tragedy was made, called Copernicus, which, until 2009, can be viewed on the Internet.

This article is also intended to honor those who died. God will take them over to His Kingdom.

Victims of the tragedy.

The crew consisted of: The captain of the plane was 46-year-old Paweł Lipowczan, who had been working in LOT Polish Airlines for 15 years. Tadeusz Łochocki (second pilot, with PLL LOT for 14 years). Jan Łubniewski (flight engineer). Konstanty Chorzewski (navigator, with PLL LOT for 7 years). Stefan Wąsiewicz (radio operator, with LOT Polish Airlines for 29 years). Alicja Duryasz (head of the deck, in LOT Polish Airlines for 17 years). Alicja Mormol Dudlej. Grażyna Szafarkiewicz Węglińska. Elżbieta Grabowska. Krystyna Krawczyk. Joanna Podstolska.

Polish passengers: Myszkiewicz Tomasz - Warta, pow. sieradzki, Łęczycka Henryka - Warsaw, Sobala Krystyna - Elbląg, Szulc Henryk - Warsaw, Szerenos Mieczysław - Pisz, Repelewski Edmund - Warsaw, Rospondek Kazimierz - Katowice, Szafarkiewicz-Węglińska Grażyna - Warsaw, Podpora Jan - Warsaw, Pałka Józef - Czeszowice, Peliksza Monika - Dąbrowa Białostocka, Nowacki Julian - Tarnów, Piasecki Leon - Toruń, Heel Stanisława - Zarzecze, Wiśniewska Zofia - Tarnów, Wardein Józefa - Kłodzko, Wesołowska Wirginia - Łeba, Witkowski Jerzy - Gdańsk, Wojciechowska Ewa - Warsaw, Wilanów Zbigniew - Szczecin, Dźiłko Czesław - Suchowola Augustowska, Dytry Wojciech - Warsaw, Chwedoruk Andrzej - Różanka, Baranowski Janusz - Gliwice, Gajda Krzysztof - Warsaw, Flis Bolesław - Toruń, Dwojakowski Leszek - Warsaw, Janczyn Maria - Olsztyn, Gilewska Janina - Płońsk, Gac Jerzy - Warsaw -Ząbki, Kokoszczyńska Janina - Warsaw, Kosiorski Ireneusz - Warsaw, Jakimiec Wacław - Warsaw, Jantar-Kukulska Anna - Warsaw, Kotula Władysława - Białka near Tyczyna, Konopka Mirosław - Sulejówek, Niemiro Krystyna - residing in the USA, Wojciechowski Edward - residing in the USA, Wielińska vel Nielińska Krystyna - residing in the USA.

Foreign passengers: Petrovsky Andrey, Petrovsky Viktor, Petrovska?, Petrovska? all USSR, Schilling Egon East Germany, Drude Hans-Georg East Germany, Kurtz M. East Germany, Noonan G. USA, Noonan W. USA, Merriam Alan USA, Bochniak J. (male) USA, Sutkowska Maria USA, Pilcek aka Pilcer Victor USA, Pilcek aka Pilcer Janine USA, Misiaszek B. USA, Bieda Jakub USA.

US boxing team members: Andersen Kelvin, Bland Joseph, Harris Walter, Johnson Tom, McCoy Andre, Palomono Paul, Payton Byron, Pimenthal George, Robinson Richard, Robies Junior, Rodriguez David, Steeples Lemuel, Stewart Jerome, Wesson Ray, Wesson Dolores, Young Lonnie, Callahan Bernard, Clayton Gary, Lindsey Byron, Radison John, Smigiel Steve, Chavis Elliot.

Written by Karol Placha Hetman