45 years have passed since the crash of two buses in Oczkowo near Żywiec (Silesian Voivodeship). The vehicles used by the mine workers skidded one by one and fell off the bridge into a 10-meter-long abyss into Lake Żywieckie. Nine people survived the disaster and 30 died.
The tragedy occurred on November 15, 1978 in the morning. The bus carrying miners to the Brzeszcze, Ziemowit and Mysłowice mines skidded in the Wilczy Jar gorge and fell from the bridge into a precipice of several meters into Lake Żywieckie. Several minutes later, the same thing happened to the second bus, which fell only three meters next to it.
Rescue commanders: one, two, three, four, five… next
– I went on a reconnaissance; I boarded one bus. (…) It was dark. I had a flashlight. I saw these people moving. They had their heads down and were moving. I picked them up, looked, and they had these “mushrooms” in their mouths. I already knew from other operations that this man was dead. Drown. We dragged them out. It’s a terrible experience. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven… Next. At. By the sixth there were 19 of them – recalled Captain years later. Czesław Pruski, a firefighter who commanded the rescue operation at that time.
– We were in the water for over four hours. The conditions were not good, but this accident caused great emotions. We didn’t feel the cold, but when the firefighters later offered us “highlander” tea, we couldn’t hold the glasses in our hands – said Marek Strzelichowski, a diver participating in the rescue operation.
30 people died in the disaster: 27 miners, the widow of a miner who died in an accident two weeks earlier, and two drivers. Only nine people survived.
Witnesses allegedly saw a police car
Prosecutors from Bielsko-Biała stated that the official cause of the accident was the drivers’ error, who did not exercise caution and did not adjust their speed to the conditions on the slippery road.
“The cause of road accidents was drivers’ failure to maintain a safe speed (below 30 kilometers per hour) when entering the bridge and proper driving technique, (…) which took place in particularly unfavorable weather conditions. At night the temperature dropped to minus 6 degrees. Celsius. Witnesses said that “white deposits of frozen dew drops were forming on the roads near water reservoirs,” the Polish Press Agency reported.
Paweł Zyzak, a historian from Oczkowo and author of the book “The Secret of Wilczy Jaru”, believes, however, that the investigation was conducted in such a way as not to actually explain anything.
– The police and prosecutor’s investigation was conducted in such a way as to prove at all costs that the cause of the disaster was the icy road. Two bus drivers were blamed – Józef Adamek and Bolesław Zoń. No other versions were considered. The case files were adjusted to the version agreed in the government offices – he said in a 2013 conversation with Mariusz Nowik, then a journalist of “Dziennik”, later working at tvn24.pl.
Zyzak drew attention to the rumor circulating at that time that witnesses had seen a police Nysa on the bridge. – The story about Nysa was written just after the accident. It was created by miners who arrived in “miners” shortly after the first of two buses fell into the abyss. This legend later spread to a wider audience and spread throughout the Żywiec region (…) Without exceeding the competence of a scientist, I can say that there was probably a collision between a bus and a vehicle on the bridge, most likely a police car of the Citizens’ Militia – explained Zyzak in “Dziennik”.
The list of victims is opened and closed by drivers
During the Polish People’s Republic, many road accidents were covered up. It was similar in 1969, when a bus fell off the bridge in Nowe Miasto nad Warta.
– This was one known pattern of operation of the nationwide media at that time – said Tomasz Cieślak from the Institute of National Remembrance in Poznań. As he said, from the findings Institute of National Remembrance It turns out that there were about 100 similar disasters between 1945 and 1989. About 2,500 people died in them. – We only know about a few of them, only because they were loud – he emphasized.
The victims of the Oczkowo disaster are commemorated on a plaque near the bridge. Their list, arranged in alphabetical order, is opened and closed by drivers. The first bus was driven by Józef Adamek, the father of boxer Tomasz Adamek. Bolesław Zoń was behind the wheel of the second one. The youngest victims were 18 years old, the oldest 48.
The tragedy in Oczkowo was the second most fatal disaster that occurred on Polish roads after the war. In the largest one, in 1994, when a bus hit a tree near Gdańsk, 32 people died and 43 were injured.
Main photo source: District Office in Żywiec