Captain Tadeusz Wrona
It was 1st November 2011, when Boeing 767 flying from Newark in New Jersey was approaching to the Okecie airport in Warsaw, and over 220 passengers, eleven-man crew and crowds of people in front of TVs caught their breath. Weighed almost 130 tones machine was coming down without slided out landing gear. Marginally wrong angle while doing the maneuver could lead to dramatic consequences. This task was even more risky when taking into account the fact that under the fuselage of this machine one of few gasholders is placed. Its damage could lead to vast fire. Near Chopin’s Airport, 26 fire brigades and a dozen or so ambulances were standing by. To minimize the friction between fuselage and asphalt the ground crew put suppression lather on the runway. This is all that could be done to maximize the chance for successful landing. The rest of the task and simultaneously the whole responsibility rested on the pilot who had to smoothly place the machine on the runway, which resisted and was devoided of brake system.
Boeing 767-300ER which was flying from Newark to Warsaw on 1st November 2011 was in the serve in Polish airlines since 1997. After the start, more precisely in the moment of pulling in the chassis and flaps, there was a leakage of hydraulic liquid from the central hydraulic installation. It led to pressure drop in this installation. As a result of this fault the system which informs about ensuing failures was activated. After the appropriate procedure connected with signalizing the failure was conducted and consulting with operational center, the crew decided to continue the flight to its destination place. While landing the landing gear was supposed to be opened by using alternative installation. Considering its ineffectiveness the crew contacted the air traffic controller. After consulting with Command Post of Air Operations Center, to estimate the status of landing gear, two fighters F-16 have been sent. After approaching to Boeing, F-16 pilots conveyed the information to the crew that the landing gear still remains unopened.
The crew decided to have a try to open the landing gear by gravitational way (causing the gravity load which should lead to extrude the wheels). Regarding to the face that this attempt was unsuccessful and fuel resources enabled further tests to open the landing gear, the final decision to crash landing without landing gear was made.
57-year-old Tadeusz Wrona, the captain, made the manoeuvre in perfect way during the final approach on runway covered with suppression lather, thanks to which the passengers and crew didn’t get injured. The interesting fact is that after successful landing, some of passengers admitted that despite the announcements during the flight, they were sure that the landing gear was opened, because the difference between standard landing and the one without landing gear was unnoticeable. After landing the emergency services and ground crew helped in very quick Boeing evacuation. After less than 90 seconds the machine was abandoned.
After the evacuation the passengers, who were informing about the problems during the flight, could finally breathe a sigh of relief. The crew was congratulated. The moment of landing was transmitted live by few TV channels and repeated many times in all domestic and international news services. Experts, including experienced pilots, shared the same opinion that the right maneuver, especially when it comes to such a big machine, is extremely hard and requires perfection and calmness, and the pilot is being complimented – chances for landing without any injuries among passengers, are in such cases very low. Although pilots practice such operations many times, on the flight simulator mapping the situation of machine landing without landing gear is impossible. While actual doing this maneuver many unpredicted situations may happen. Tadeusz Wrona who works in Polish Airlines LOT belongs to very experienced pilots. From 1st November 2011 he had almost 16,000 hours flying as a pilot, whence over 14,000 hours as a commander.
Over 90% of 14,000 hours conducted flights on Boeings 767. The captain was also competitive gliding, starting when he was 16. Moreover, Tadeusz Wrona’s brother and son are pilots as well and aviation is nothing new for his wife, who is an active fanatic of gliding.
Six days after the landing, the crew and ground crew as well as emergency services have been given by the President of Poland for operational conducting the emergency landing and evacuation action.
Captain Tadeusz Wrona was becoming overnight more and more popular, as a hero in news stations and social media portals. He was also welcomed in TV programs and some events, not necessarily connected with aviation. Till today captain Wrona’s achievement is compared to landing of pilot Chesley Sullenberger, who also admired his performance and shared this opinion on social portal. Sullenberger in the beginning of 2009 was piloting a scheduled plane with 150 passengers and made a successful landing on Hudson river, almost in the centre of New York. Not to divagate, which achievement was harder to accomplish we should have hope that in the nearest future the skills of the pilots will not have to be put to such difficult test.