Unassuming Polish Hero Just Wants To Fly Again

November 2, 2011

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A Polish pilot who safely crash-landed a Boeing 767 with 230 people on board recounted on Wednesday his astonishment at discovering that the plane's landing gear did not work, but he said he was keen now to get back to work again.

Hailed by Poles as a hero for keeping calm and avoiding a disaster during Tuesday's emergency landing at Warsaw airport, Captain Tadeusz Wrona cut a modest, unassuming figure at a news conference called to explain what had happened.

"I've flown this plane maybe five hundred times and the landing gear always worked. This time it didn't," he said.

"The awareness that we'll be forced to make an emergency landing only dawned on me three or four minutes before we touched down. Earlier we were trying to open the landing gear again and again," said the father of two.

"I was just thinking we must not allow ourselves to make a mistake and not to make contact with the ground too hard," said Wrona, a veteran pilot at Poland's national flag carrier LOT who lists gliding among his hobbies.

Polish President Bronislaw Kwasniewski said on Tuesday he would bestow a state decoration on Wrona for his feat.

Warsaw's Okecie airport remained closed on Wednesday and hundreds of flights were cancelled or severely delayed as the crippled Boeing 767 continued to block the runway.

LOT said it hoped to restart regular flights from Warsaw on Wednesday evening and to return to a full normal service by Thursday as TV footage showed the craft being moved from the runway.

Adding to Poland's air traffic disruption, thick autumn fog closed the airports at Krakow, Lodz and Poznan on Wednesday morning, though they reopened shortly before midday.

Undaunted by Tuesday's drama, Wrona was among those keen to get back into the sky.

Asked whether he was ready to fly to Hanoi, Vietnam, on Saturday as scheduled, he said: "Well, I hope they won't stop me because I want to fly there."