Choose freedom at MiGhty speed

The TS-8 Bies training plane, belonging to the Monuments of Polish Heaven Foundation during the Mazury Airshow 2016 in Giżycko. Major Ryszard Obacz and his family escaped from Poland with such a machine in 1963. Photo: PAP / Tomasz Waszczuk

The beginning of the 1950s in communist Poland. The hardest times of the Stalinist period. Young Polish pilots were being trained by the Russians how to fly barrel-shaped MIG-15 jets. There were those who strived to escape by their aircraft to the West. Every time it was a great shock for themselves, their colleagues and superiors, for their families – and, of course, for the communist authorities.

It could be heard of successful escapes over the Radio Free Europe – from those who had made it. Their colleagues spoke about it reluctantly, all the more so, because if somebody talked to them, it was the investigators of the Military Information.

A flight in the blizzard

It was March 5, 1953. Nobody yet knew that late in the evening Joseph Stalin would die, the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and prime minister, but more frankly – the ruler of the USSR. Life was going its normal way, also in Poland. – We took off as a pair – says Colonel Jan Jąkała, then a second lieutenant. – We set a course over the Kampinos Forest and then towards Kutno. He was the target, I was going to attack him. Unfortunately, the base of the clouds has lowered. I entered the clouds as he turned. I lost sight of him. I fell into a terrible snowstorm in the area of Łowicz. I was flying in plain sight of the ground and had no experience of flying in clouds. The turning point was planned over Łódź; I lowered the flight, but I was aware that I could not descend below 300 meters, because there was a danger of colliding with something, for example, a chimney…

The young pilot was doing every effort to find the nearest airport.

“In spite of the snow, I was finally able to see them”, he says. – I made a runway approach, I failed the first time and had to elevate the plain. Finally, I decided to land. I released the flaps, aerodynamic brakes and I managed to land safely – he laughs.

Meanwhile, an event that shocked the entire Polish military aviation, took place almost simultaneously.

– On the same day, a friend from Słupsk, second lieutenant Franciszek Jarecki, flew from Słupsk with Józef Caputa, who was leading him. When he was over Kołobrzeg, he changed course and flew over Bornholm – recalls colonel Jąkała…

The escape to Bornholm had immediate consequences for Jan Jąkała. – It was largely believed that I was in collusion with Jarecki and I was interrupted only by a snowstorm – he says. – I was suspended and incarcerated. I wrote my CV every day. Unfortunately, captain Robak, the head of human resources of the 5th Fighter Aviation Division, discovered that I had a family abroad. It incriminated me…

The escape to Bornholm

Jarecki's decision was shocking for his colleagues. – He was a training leader, it had been written about him in the newsletters. Many thought that he was favoured, even envied him - says Jan Jąkała. – Meanwhile, he decided to fly to Bornholm…

The entire escape took several minutes. As he himself said, among others at the Radio Free Europe, there was considerable overcast during the flight. He took advantage of it and detached himself from the tutor. He dropped the heavy fuel tanks and descended to a small height.

– It was relatively easy to get away. He flew at an altitude of 100 meters at a speed of 800-900 km/h. The radars were still imperfect, so no one detected it – indicates col. Jąkała.

Initially, it was assumed that Jarecki had crashed. However, discarded fuel tanks were found. Eight Soviet MIGs patrolling the Baltic Sea were sent after him. But it was too late.

– Jarecki said that the Russians were chasing over him, which could not be true – no one intercepted him in Poland, and even more so over Bornholm – claims Jan Jąkała.

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By Piotr Kościński
Translated by Dominik Szczęsny-Kostanecki