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. As of 2020, it is the worst aviation accident in Germany. [1] [2]


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.

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.

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 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.


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.


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

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  1. Der Spiegel: Stotterndes Geheul. Published on 21 August 1972 (in German) Archived 5 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  2. "Accident Description". Aviation Safety Network . Retrieved 18 May 2020.

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