New facts emerge about 1975 downing of Polish aircraft

Wojciech Jaruzelski

New facts have emerged about the downing of a Polish plane by communist Czechoslovakia’s air force in 1975, resulting in the death of a Polish citizen trying to flee to the west. For three decades the circumstances surrounding the incident have been veiled in secrecy, but now the veil has been lifted.

Wojciech Jaruzelski
According to the newspaper Mladá Fronta Dnes, on July 16th, 1975 two MiG-21 jet fighters and two L-29 aircraft belonging to the Czechoslovak air force were scrambled to intercept a civilian biplane flying from Poland towards Austria. The biplane was shot down by one of the L-29s near the Slovak border town of Kuty, just eight miles from Austrian airspace. The sole passenger – the Polish man piloting the plane – was killed. The incident is now being investigating by Polish and Slovak authorities.

The newspaper claims the incident was hushed up by the communist authorities, who attempted to pass it off as an accident. A historian from the Slovak archives who is working on the case says this is partly because even in communist Czechoslovakia, shooting down an unarmed civilian aircraft was illegal.

Mladá Fronta Dnes also managed to track down the pilot, who says he knew what he was being asked to do was against the rules of engagement, and requested clarification from his superiors several times before pressing the trigger. His commanders apparently contacted their counterparts in the Polish air force, who told them they had received personal instructions from the then Defence Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski to shoot down plane – Jaruzelski later of course became the president of communist Poland.

As to bringing the case to trial, that may be difficult, as it’s 34 years old and involves the jurisdictions of three countries - the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland. At present it’s being investigated by the Slovak police in Trnava, who have asked for documents from their Czech and Polish colleagues.

Presumably if the evidence is gathered there could be a criminal prosecution, although the pilot says he was just obeying orders from his commander, General Jaruzelski is 86 and already being tried for unrelated offences, and the most senior Czechoslovak official who allegedly knew about it – former defence minister Jaroslav Obzina - is dead.