The public prosecutor in Krakow has launched an investigation into the causes of two fatal air accidents, in which privately-piloted planes crashed in good weather and with no immediately obvious technical problems.
A 42-year-old man and three 14-year-old girls died when their plane went down in Wyciąże, just east of Nowa Huta, on August 21. The crash also caused wide-ranging chaos in the neighbourhood, destroying some homes completely and forcing families to seek emergency accommodation.
On the same day a second crash, close to the Łososina Dolna air club near Nowy Sącz, claimed the lives of the pilot and his passenger. No other people were hurt.
The pilot of the Cessna that crashed in Wyciąże was director of the airfield at Pobiednik Wielki, some 3km from the site of the accident. One of the teenagers killed in the plane was his daughter. The other girls were her friends, from Tarnów and Podkarpackie. The flight had been intended as a pleasure trip on a clear Sunday afternoon.
The president of the airport told Gazeta Wyborcza that the Cessna was less than four years old. It had no history of accidents, and had been serviced according to regulations, he added. But witnesses to the crash told reporters that the plane came in low, with the engine making a high-pitched whine, before it appeared to stop and ‘plummeted’ from the sky. The impact caused fires at two houses, which were completely destroyed.
Families stayed with friends and relatives overnight, but the mayor of Krakow, Jacek Majchrowski, has promised that the city will help finance rebuilding and relocation costs. He also said that the children of the family would get help with education costs. Immediate relief, bedding and other necessities were provided by well-wishers.
Aviation experts are now combing the wreckage of both aircraft, as well as the airfields and runways, for information that could throw light on the causes of the accidents. However, no report is expected for some time. In the case of the Wyciąże crash especially, a similar tragedy has been under investigation for two years and conclusions have yet to be drawn.
A member of the Polish Agency for Air Navigation Services (Polskiej Agencji Żeglugi Powietrzne – PAŻP) told Gazeta Wyborcza that there had been an increase in the number of licenced pilots recently. He also said that regulations for private aviation, in which planes do not enter major air corridors or use official airports, are very loose. A flat piece of land large enough for take-off and landing, and a licence and vehicle registration (similar to driving documents) were all that were needed, he added.
The newspaper also reported comments from Krakow Aeroclub president Jacek Turczynski, who said that private-pilot accidents were not uncommon. Only those that resulted in tragedy made the news, he said.