On the night of 03 October at around 21:00-22:00 local time, Lučko Airfield (LDZL) suffered a hit by a powerful squall line that caused considerable material damage – but, fortunately, no human (or animal) casualties. According to information available at the time of writing (subject to update), the airfield was struck by sudden gale-force winds and hail, with wind speeds in excess of 65 knots (as recorded by the anemometer just before it failed).
As of 16:00 local on 04 October, the damage to aircraft includes:
Reims FR172F Rocket | 9A-DMJ: flipped over, heavy damage
Cessna 150M | 9A-DEY: flipped over, heavy damage
Piper PA-18-150 Super Cub | 9A-DBS: struck by hangar door, heavy damage
Scheibe SF-25B Falke | 9A-DGZ: struck by hangar door, heavy damage
Pilatus B4-PC11AF | 9A-GPA: struck by debris, superficial damage
Storm Century 04 | YL-ARV: struck by hail, light damage
Mil Mi-8MTV-1/Mi-171Sh (4-5 machines): struck by hail, rotor damage
In the same period, the damage to infrastructure is:
main hangar: doors blown in, partial roof collapse
police hangar annex: light roof damage
Delta Air canvas hangar: severe damage
fuel pump: protective housing damaged
Unsurprisingly, the airfield has been closed for a week, as per the following NOTAM:
AERODROME CLOSED TO ALL TFC EXCEPT POLICE AND MIL HEL. 04 OCT 00:04 2020 UNTIL 11 OCT 22:00 2020. CREATED: 04 OCT 00:06 2020
UPDATE: as of the evening of 05 October, the above NOTAM is no longer in force; the airfield is now open once again
More information and photos as the situation develops!
04 OCT 12:00 local – initial info
04 OCT 16:00 local – aircraft and infrastructure damage revised
Another break from my regular programming for a current GA development at Zagreb Airport; at 15:17 local (14:17 UTC), Piper PA-23-250 Turbo Aztec E registered 9A-DAT had suffered a nose gear collapse/failure while landing on RWY 23. Information currently available does not specify whether the aircraft had landed with the nose gear retracted, or the gear had snapped/unintentionally retracted on runway contact.
The aircraft had come to a stop with its nose dragging along the runway, with no other damage reported as of yet. No information on casualties, but judging by the presence of firefighting vehicles only – and the fact that it had been towed off without much effort – suggests there have been no injuries nor loss of structural integrity. The number of persons on board is not known.
The flight had originated in Maribor, Slovenia (LJMB) and had been flying under VFR rules along the way. As of 16:20 local (15:20 UTC), it had been removed off the runway*.
* during the removal process, the runway had been briefly closed as per the following NOTAM: NEW TODAY TIL 1502211545 RWY05/23 CLOSED.
More information soon…
16:45 local: according to archived ATC communication recordings made by LiveATC, the tower controller on duty had informed other traffic that “a light GA aircraft has had a nose gear collapse on the runway”.
17:00 local: additional information about the aircraft itself from personal research: sporting serial 23-7554060, DAT is one of the late-production Aztec models, manufactured back in 1975. Its only previous reg was OY-BLK of Denmark, from where it came to Croatia in the mid-2000s. Up until its sale to a private owner here in Zagreb in the latter part of 2014, it had been operated by Zadar (LDZD)-based Eudora Let.
22 FEB, 09:50 local: the first photo of the event has surfaced on the Net, though in low quality (and from an unknown author). However, it does seem to confirm that the aircraft’s structure had essentially suffered only light damage to the nose underside, with the biggest items on the repair bill likely being the bent props**…
** however, the engines will have to be examined as well to see whether they had sustained any ill effects from their sudden stop as the props hit the ground.
22 FEB, 10:15 local: another shot, snapped at 16:25 local, a minute or two after the aircraft had come to a stop (and before the arrival of the firefighting services).
While I’ve frequently dabbled with Yugoslav Air Force Dakotas on this site – the hunt for which had led me across multiple countries and left me with a sizable stack of fuel bills 😀 – I’ve never really delved deeper into the lives of their civilian counterparts, flying passengers and mail for the national airline JAT (Jugoslovenski aerotransport, Yugoslav Air Transport). Birds of a feather, the Daks of both services had seen their fair share of action during the later stages of WW2 – some even having participated in the Normandy landings and operations at Arnhem – and were later given the task of restarting and re-energizing Yugoslavia’s war-torn logistic and passenger air services.
But while the YuAF fleet had an auspicious debut here on Achtung, Skyhawk!, the introduction of the “Dakotaliners” starts, sadly, on a far more sombre note. Today completely forgotten and long buried by the sands of time (not to mention the period’s restricted freedom of the press), this opening story concerns Dak YU-ABC and its last ever flight into out very own Lučko airfield…
Its full name reading out as C-47A-25-DK, ABC had started out in life as 42-93352 of the USAAF, initially ordered in the 1942 fiscal year, but delivered – due to the immense backlog of orders – only in 1944, wearing the serial 13254. The finer details of its operational history are quite sketchy even on normally fastidious C-47 tribute sites, but it is known it had spent the entire war serving with the 3rd Combat Cargo Group initially stationed in India. A rag-tag formation cobbled together in a hurry during the spring of 1944, this unit was part of the so-called “Bond Project” (also known as “Project 90752”), and was intended to supply and relieve the British garrison in the mountain town of Imphal, at the time besieged by superior Japanese forces. Under this project, semi-trained and untested crews would be sent straight into the fray, where it was hoped they’d be brought up to standard as they went along by a cadre of experienced professional officers. Following their tour, the crews – now working together as tight teams – would be given additional advanced training and sent off into the more demanding and rigorous European hotspots.
Assigned to the unit’s 11th Combat Cargo Squadron, 42-93352 was commanded by (then) 2nd LT Duane B. Crites – who would later go on to fly F-86 Sabres, F-102 Delta Daggers and F-106 Delta Darts – and had quickly added its bit to the mass haulage of food, fuel and ammunition into Imphal. Abandoning the original plan of rotating the unit back to the States, the 3rd CCG would continue to operate in theater once the town had been secured, going so far as to even adding flights across the infamous “Hump” to its repertoire 🙂 . Following a spirited Allied advance near war’s end, the unit would eventually relocate into Burma in June 1945, becoming the 513th Troop Carrier Group along the way. However, 42-93352’s history beyond this point is unknown as far as the Internet is concerned; but, given that the unit was disbanded in April 1946 – and the JAT Dakota fleet formed in early 1947 – it is safe to say that it was part of the first batch of Daks acquired by Yugoslavia in the immediate aftermath of the war 🙂 .
Having eventually been re-fitted with a passenger interior – and re-christened YU-ABC – the aircraft was quickly pressed into passenger service, flying scheduled flights across the width and breadth of former Yugoslavia. It would continue to do so until 21 September 1950, when it was lost with all passengers and most of its crew in one of Zagreb’s worst ever aviation incidents…
Despite the fact that it remains one of only two fatal, large-scale airline disasters to occur in the Zagreb area since the war, this event is – as near as makes no difference – completely forgotten today, limited only to the odd footnote in the occasional list of Yugoslav passenger aircraft (indeed, I myself had found out about it completely by accident while reading up on an unrelated topic). With searches on the net unexpectedly drawing mostly blanks, I’d decided to dig into the city archives and attempt to shed some light on the matter. Unfortunately though, the only thing I did manage to find were two short articles in the daily newspaper, which – while containing valuable information – were essentially just brief snippets. More interestingly, the results of the official inquiry – results stating a definite cause – were published already on 23 September, which strongly suggests that the whole issue was quickly swept under the carpet and that no in-depth report was ever made publicly available. A follow-on article from a few days later praising JAT and the development of the nation’s air transport system further cements the impression that the findings – which had surely been made in great detail – were kept classified and hidden from view since day one. Somewhat unsurprisingly, books on Yugoslav aviation incidents were similarly vague – while even correspondence with the Archives of the Republic of Serbia, Archives of SFR Yugoslavia, Air Serbia (the legal successor to JAT), Belgrade’s Aviation Museum and the Serbian Civil Aviation Directorate had failed to yield much in the way of usable results…
Nevertheless, after collating together all the information available from reliable sources, a clearer picture of ABC’s last flight began to emerge. On that fateful day, the aircraft was operating a scheduled flight from Belgrade, Serbia (LYBE) to Pula, Croatia (LYPL) with a stopover at Lučko (LYZL and at the time still the city’s primary passenger airport). The flight was operated by a crew of four, including:
captain Borivoje Marković (a former military pilot)
co-pilot Stevan Tot
flight mechanic Milorad Jovanović
radio operator Nikola Jovanović (no confirmed family link to the flight mechanic)
The loads for the flight were light – just seven passengers – including:
and Pavle Mihajlović
Approaching Zagreb on a westerly heading on the leg from Belgrade, ABC had either “descended into fog” (according to the initial article) or was “caught in a sudden change of weather” (as per the 23 September report)*. In the process, it had apparently deviated from its course, bypassed Lučko by several kilometers and impacted into the slope of the Medvednica mountain some 200 meters/656 ft below its 1,035 meter/3,395 ft peak of Sljeme**.
* knowing Zagreb’s often unusual autumn weather, both situations are possible – though the former scenario appears more likely. While late September is generally known for its unstable and fast-changing conditions, it is also frequently marked by thick and long-lasting morning and evening fog. Given the length of the entire Belgrade-Pula route – 570 km/307 NM one way as the crow flies, or about 2 hours 30 minutes at Dakota speeds – it is possible that the flight had arrived overhead Zagreb during the late morning or early noon, which would have left it plenty of time to load at Lučko, fly to Pula and then return the same way – with the same stop-over – before dark. This would have meant that it might have arrived well before the morning fog had time to fully clear. An additional factor is Zagreb’s extensive underground water table, which often causes unusual fog formation; one end of town can thus enjoy clear skies and excellent weather, while the other – not 10 km/5 NM away – can be mired in deep fog, with visibilities down in the double digits of meters.
** this would have given it a height above the city’s mean ground level of around 680 meters, or about 2,200 ft – above the usual fog depth. However, assuming that the crew did not spot the mountain at the last moment and pull up in an attempt to clear it, this opens the door to a third possibility – that they’d descended not into fog, but a low stratus layer formed with the fog lifts. These are usually between 500 and 1,000 ft deep and can sit for days at anything between 1,000 and 2,500 ft above ground.
Of the 11 people on board, the only survivor was the radio operator Nikola Jovanović – 23 at the time – who’d suffered non life-threatening injuries. Indeed, in what is the only silver lining of the incident, he would remain with JAT after his recovery and eventually return to flying status, serving on the Ilyushin Il-14, Convair CV-440, Caravelle – and finally as the Flight Engineer on the Boeing 707 🙂 . Interestingly, he would be involved in another accident on 13 August 1972, when his 707-321 (YU-AGA) overran the runway at JFK during an aborted take-off*.
* on the take-off run, the copilot’s side window had opened with a loud bang, prompting the captain – who had assumed it could be an on-board bomb – to perform a rejected take-off even though the aircraft had passed V1 (decision speed) three seconds earlier. In the following overrun, the aircraft had struck a blast fence, with the left wing and engines #1 and #2 suffering damage by fire. Thankfully there were no fatalities among the 175 passengers and 11 crew, with only 15 light injuries reported during evacuation. The accident was also put down to an undetermined fault in the anti-skid system, which had disabled two of the 707’s eight wheel brakes, rendering it unable to stop in time. The aircraft was later repaired and returned to service 🙂 .
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that more detailed information about YU-ABC might appear any time soon. As I’ve been told openly in more than one archive, many such documents from the period were either not diligently kept, were instantly classified – or outright lost and destroyed during the chaos of Yugoslavia’s dissolution in the early 90s (indeed, neither the Civil Aviation Directorate nor its accident investigation unit had anything on file about the incident). Lacking the high profile and international reach of the region’s other major air incident – the mid-air collision above ZAG VOR at Vrbovec in 1976 – means that digging up any subsequent report on ABC’s last flight could very well make “looking for a needle in a haystack” seem like child’s play…
I would also like to extend my sincere thanks to Mr. John Crites, son of the late Duane Crites, for information regarding his father’s service record!
While I normally shy away from sombre themes, on this one occasion I’ve decided to make an appropriate exception. The unfortunate circumstance that had led to this change of tone is the fifth anniversary of the destruction of Cessna T303 9A-DLN, which had been lost with all on board in a ground impact accident on 5 February 2009.
On occasion flying out of Zagreb Intl, DLN’s mission that day was a multi-engine proficiency check, which had called for a cross-country VFR flight to Zadar’s Zemunik Airport (LDZD). The on-board complement had included:
Miljenko Bartolić, Pilot-In-Command, a much-loved examiner and former agricultural and airline pilot who had given me my PPL wings back in 2002
Gerd Govejšek, instructor (manning the co-pilot’s seat), also well known to many generations of student pilots at Lučko
Aleksandar Walter, passenger, a highly experienced former Police helicopter pilot and CO
Zvonko Kelek, passenger, a private pilot with aviation experience dating all the way back to the 80s and Yugoslavia’s national carrier JAT
According to the official accident report – available, in Croatian, here – the flight had proceeded normally until reaching the vicinity of the town of Gospić, located near the foothills of the Velebit mountain range and about 5/6s of the way in towards Zadar. At this point, DLN had entered an extensive area of cloud, moderate icing and mountain waves, eventually ending up in continuous Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC). However, the crew had elected to continue their flight to Zadar without a change of route, altitude or flight rules, likely relying on the aircraft’s comprehensive IFR instrument suite and wing and tailplane de-icing systems.
Approaching the Velebit range at 8,000 ft – a safe terrain clearance altitude even during moderate wind – the aircraft had entered an active military training zone (normally open to civilian traffic and only activated when the Air Force actually needs it), after which it was instructed to descend below the zone, whose lower boundary was at 6,500 ft. This new altitude had put DLN at between 800 and 1,300 ft above the approaching peaks.
Though there is still a degree of uncertainty acknowledged by the report, it states that the prolonged flight in cloud had led to extensive airframe icing, likely starting around the tail. Still flying at 6,500 ft, DLN had then entered an area of severe mountain waves, which had produced a strong and rapidly increasing rate of descent. Iced over and too heavy to counter it, the aircraft had quickly begun to plummet, impacting the mountainside at 4,734 ft, roughly 1,000 ft below Vaganski vrh (Vagan Peak). The final radar contact was recorded at 14:54 local time.
The report notes that the impact was so violent that the aircraft had virtually disintegrated. The search for the impact site – as well as the subsequent recovery of the wreckage and bodies – was hampered by bad weather for days, in addition to an avalanche that had buried most of the immediate surroundings.
Having lost four of its much loved members in an instant, the aviation community at large fell into a state of shock and bewilderment – a state that persists even today, five years on. The death of four experienced aviators – and the conditions into which they had flown – have left a lasting mark on all of us, now unable to look at the Velebit range the same way ever again…
Usually hidden away behind the police helicopter hangar, our poor old Skymaster has over the years almost become part of the landscape. Relatively inconspicuous – an epithet not normally bestowed on one of Cessna’s oddest designs 😀 – it has pretty much become a fixture of the ECOS apron, taken for granted, as exciting as a tree (which it somewhat resembles in its green paint scheme). You get the impression that it’s as stable and permanent as the hangar it hides behind… right up until the moment it moves :).
Arriving at the field this morning for my simulator run, I threw a glance around the apron as I always do, checking to see what – if anything – was new. Expecting nothing really interesting – the field having opened only three days ago – I was taken off guard by a Skymaster parked out in the open, unobscured for the world to see, at the end of the ECOS apron. Briefly excited by the prospect of finally seeing a flying example, I soon spotted the familiar paint scheme… nevertheless, now that it was out in the open and away from its usual cluttered background, I thought I might as well get some photography done… 🙂
As mentioned in the photo comments, a couple of us had thought of restoring it – but despite the fact that many of its common engine and system components can easily be found, being used on other Cessna designs, there really is no economic case for any form of serious restoration. The structural checks alone would cost a fortune – the entire airframe having absorbed the forces of the impact – plus you’d need to overhaul two engines, two props, the entire landing gear system, repair the wing damage, repaint it, rebuild the cockpit (this having been cannibalized for instruments) re-certify it and so on and so forth… it would be easier to just by a “new” one… 🙂
Just got back from the field with a few new bits of information about yesterday’s incident :). Apparently, DGW had landed a bit too long and couldn’t stop in time on the slippery grass. The pilot had managed to shut the engine down and switch off the magnetos before hitting the drainage canal, so the damage is said to be a lot less than previously though – just one bent prop blade. However, this will still necessitate an engine strip down and examination of the whole prop, so it’s not over yet… :). And that is as much as I have so far… stressing the “said” and “apparently”…
Just heard from Dean T. – and confirmed in the news – that 9A-DGW, our own Lučko C182T, was involved in a landing incident at the Zvekovac private airfield just outside Zagreb. Apparently, it had skidded off the slippery runway and ended up in a drainage canal that runs across the field. First reports indicate that the pilot is okay and without injuries, but that the material damage on the aircraft is substantial, at around €11.000, including a bent prop and knackered engine (pretty much what happened to 9A-BKS featured here recently).
Will post more updates as soon as I get some reliable information.