1972 Königs Wusterhausen air disaster

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Königs Wusterhausen air disaster
Interflug Ilyushin Il-62 Bidini.jpg
Interflug Il-62 similar to the aircraft involved in accident
Date14 August 1972
SummaryOn-board fire
Sitenear Königs Wusterhausen , Bezirk Potsdam, East Germany
Aircraft type Ilyushin Il-62
Operator Interflug
Registration DM-SEA
Flight origin Berlin-Schönefeld Airport, Schönefeld, East Germany
Destination Burgas Airport, Burgas, Bulgaria

The 1972 Königs Wusterhausen air disaster occurred on 14 August when an Interflug Ilyushin Il-62 crashed shortly after take-off from Berlin-Schönefeld Airport in Schönefeld, East Germany, on a holiday charter flight to Burgas, Bulgaria. The accident was caused by a fire in the aft cargo bay. All 156 passengers and crew died making it the deadliest in Germany at that time. [1]

Interflug airline

Interflug GmbH was the national airline of East Germany from 1963 to 1990. Based in East Berlin, it operated scheduled and chartered flights to European and intercontinental destinations out of its hub at Berlin Schönefeld Airport, focusing on Comecon countries. Following German reunification, the company was liquidated.

Schönefeld Place in Brandenburg, Germany

Schönefeld is a suburban municipality in the Dahme-Spreewald district, Brandenburg, Germany. It borders the southeastern districts of Berlin. The municipal area encompasses Berlin Schönefeld Airport.

East Germany Former communist state, 1949-1990

East Germany, officially the German Democratic Republic, was a state that existed from 1949 to 1990, when the eastern portion of Germany was part of the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. Commonly described as a communist state in English usage, it described itself as a socialist "workers' and peasants' state." It consisted of territory that was administered and occupied by Soviet forces at the end of World War II — the Soviet occupation zone of the Potsdam Agreement, bounded on the east by the Oder–Neisse line. The Soviet zone surrounded West Berlin but did not include it; as a result, West Berlin remained outside the jurisdiction of the GDR.


Aircraft and crew

The aircraft was a Soviet built Ilyushin IL-62 aircraft, registed DM-SEA, powered by four Kuznetsov NK-8 engines. It first flew in April 1970, and up until the accident had acquired 3,520 flight-time hours.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a Marxist-Leninist sovereign state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Tashkent, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres (4,500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Kuznetsov NK-8 turbofan aircraft engine

The NK-8 was a low-bypass turbofan engine built by the Kuznetsov Design Bureau, in the 90 kN (20,000 lbf) thrust class. It powered production models of the Ilyushin Il-62 and the Tupolev Tu-154A and B models.

The flight crew consisted of 51-year-old captain Heinz Pfaff, 35-year-old first officer Lothar Walther, 32-year-old flight engineer Ingolf Stein, and 38-year-old navigator Achim Flilenius. The flight crew members had 8,100, 6,041, 2,258, and 8,570 hours-experience respectively.


The Interflug flight left Berlin-Schönefeld Airport at 16:30 local time. With it being summer holiday, the number of passengers mainly tourists intending to spend their holiday on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast almost reached the full capacity of the airliner. Take-off was normal, and the aircraft then headed on-course southeast towards Czechoslovakia, now Czech Republic.

Czechoslovakia 1918–1992 country in Central Europe, predecessor of the Czech Republic and Slovakia

Czechoslovakia, or Czecho-Slovakia, was a sovereign state in Central Europe that existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until its peaceful dissolution into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on 1 January 1993.

Czech Republic Country in Central Europe

The Czech Republic, also known by its short-form name, Czechia, is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west, Austria to the south, Slovakia to the east, and Poland to the northeast. The Czech Republic has a landlocked and hilly landscape that covers an area of 78,866 square kilometers (30,450 sq mi) with a mostly temperate continental climate and oceanic climate. It is a unitary parliamentary republic, with 10.6 million inhabitants. Its capital and largest city is Prague, with 1.3 million residents; other major cities are Brno, Ostrava, Olomouc and Pilsen.

Thirteen minutes into the flight, at 16:43, 8,900 metres (29,200 ft) above the city of Cottbus, East Germany, the crew reported problems with the elevator and the aircraft had left its designated route by about 10 degrees. The flight requested a return to Schönefeld but didn't think that the situation was critical enough for an immediate landing at the nearest airport. At 16:51 the crew carried out a fuel dumping to decrease the landing weight. Meanwhile, the flight attendants reported smoke in the rear section of the cabin. With Berlin-Schönefeld Airport, already in sight and a few kilometres south of it, the flight issued a mayday at 16:59:25 indicating that there were problems controlling the aircraft's altitude. At this point in time, the flight crew was likely unaware that the fire had been consuming portions of the rear of the aircraft. A few seconds later the tail section, weakened by the fire, separated from the aircraft, which then caused it to then enter an uncontrolled descent. Due to the forces of the dive, the rest of aircraft eventually broke-up in mid-air with the debris landing in the town of Königs Wusterhausen, East Germany.

Cottbus Place in Brandenburg, Germany

Cottbus is a university city and the second-largest city in Brandenburg, Germany. Situated around 125 km (78 mi) southeast of Berlin, on the River Spree, Cottbus is also a major railway junction with extensive sidings/depots. Although only a small Sorbian minority lives in Cottbus itself, the city is considered as the political and cultural center of the Sorbs in Lower Lusatia.

Fuel dumping

Fuel dumping is a procedure used by aircraft in certain emergency situations before a return to the airport shortly after takeoff, or before landing short of its intended destination to reduce the aircraft's weight.

Flight attendant member of an aircrew

Flight attendants or cabin crew are members of an aircrew employed by airlines primarily to ensure the safety and comfort of passengers aboard commercial flights, on select business jet aircraft, and on some military aircraft.


Memorial at Wildau cemetery Flugzeugabsturz Wildau.JPG
Memorial at Wildau cemetery

The pilot's last messages suggested that a fire in the rear of the aircraft was responsible for the accident. This part was not accessible from the cabin and had no smoke detectors, so the crew was not immediately able to realise the severity of the situation. The fire was caused by a leak in a hot-air tube through which air with a temperature of some 300 °C (572 °F) left the tube and damaged the insulation material of electrical wires and the aircraft flight control system. After take-off a short-circuit caused sparks with a temperature of some 2,000 °C (3,630 °F) and a fire in cargo bay no. 4. This fire then grew until the smoke reached the passenger cabin and the fuselage structure was weakened. Finally the tail section failed in flight.

Smoke detector device that detects smoke, typically as an indicator of fire

A smoke detector is a device that senses smoke, typically as an indicator of fire. Commercial security devices issue a signal to a fire alarm control panel as part of a fire alarm system, while household smoke detectors, also known as smoke alarms, generally issue a local audible or visual alarm from the detector itself.

Aircraft flight control system aircraft system utilized to control flight surfaces

A conventional fixed-wing aircraft flight control system consists of flight control surfaces, the respective cockpit controls, connecting linkages, and the necessary operating mechanisms to control an aircraft's direction in flight. Aircraft engine controls are also considered as flight controls as they change speed.

Fuselage aircraft main body which is the primary carrier of crew, passengers, and payload

The fuselage is an aircraft's main body section. It holds crew, passengers, and cargo. In single-engine aircraft it will usually contain an engine, as well, although in some amphibious aircraft the single engine is mounted on a pylon attached to the fuselage, which in turn is used as a floating hull. The fuselage also serves to position control and stabilization surfaces in specific relationships to lifting surfaces, which is required for aircraft stability and maneuverability.


At the cemetery of Wildau, close to Königs Wusterhausen, a memorial commemorates the victims whose names are written on a black memorial stone.

Wildau Place in Brandenburg, Germany

Wildau is a German municipality of the state of Brandenburg, located in the district of Dahme-Spreewald. It is located close to Berlin and easily reached by the S-Bahn. As of 2006 its population was of 9,649 inhabitants.

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  1. Der Spiegel : Stotterndes Geheul. Published on 21 August 1972 (in German) Archived 5 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine

Coordinates: 52°18′23″N13°41′19″E / 52.30639°N 13.68861°E / 52.30639; 13.68861