43 years have passed since the crash of two buses in Oczków near Żywiec (Śląskie Voivodeship). The vehicles used by the mine workers skidded one by one and fell off the bridge into a several-meter-long abyss to the Żywieckie Lake. Nine people survived the catastrophe, 30 died.
The tragedy happened on November 15, 1978 in the morning. The bus, carrying miners to the Brzeszcze, Ziemowit and Mysłowice mines in the Wilczy Jar gorge, skidded and fell off the bridge into a several-meter-long abyss to the Żywieckie Lake. A dozen or so minutes later, the same happened to the second bus, which fell just three meters away.
“I saw these people moving”
– I went on a reconnaissance; I got on one bus. (…) It was dark. I had a flashlight. I saw these people moving. Their heads were down and they were moving. I picked them up, looked at them, and they had “mushrooms” in their mouths. I already knew from other actions that this man was dead. Drown. We were taking them out. It’s a terrible experience. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven … More. At. on the sixth there were already 19 of them – recalled Capt. 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 incident made us feel very emotional. We did not feel cold, but when the firefighters later offered us “highlander” tea, we could not hold the glasses in our hands – said Marek Strzelichowski, a diver participating in the rescue operation.
The crash killed 30 people: 27 miners, the widow of a miner who had died in an accident two weeks earlier, and two drivers. Only nine people survived.
The witnesses were supposed to see the police car
Prosecutors from Bielsko-Biała recognized the error as the official cause of the accident by the drivers who were not careful and did not adjust the speed to the conditions on the slippery road.
“The cause of road disasters was the drivers’ failure to maintain a safe speed (below 30 km / h) when entering the bridge and proper driving techniques (…), which took place in particularly unfavorable weather conditions. At night the temperature dropped to minus 6 degrees Celsius. Celsius. Witnesses said that white sediments of frozen dew drops were formed on the roads near water reservoirs + “- the Polish Press Agency informed.
Paweł Zyzak, a historian from Oczków, author of the book “The Secret of the Wolf’s Ravine”, believes, however, that the investigation was conducted in such a way as to not really 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 crash was the icy road. Two bus drivers were blamed – Józef Adamek and Bolesław Zoń. No other versions have been considered. The case files were adjusted to the version established in the offices of the government – he said in a 2013 interview with Mariusz Nowik, then a journalist from “Dziennik”, who works at tvn24.pl today.
Zyzak drew attention to the rumor circulating at the time that the witnesses saw a militia Nysa on the bridge. – The story of Nysa was written right after the accident. It was created by miners who came in “mines” shortly after the first of the two buses fell into the abyss. This legend then spread to the wider public and spread throughout the entire Żywiec region (…) Without exceeding the competences of the scientist, I can say that on the bridge there was probably a collision of a coach with a vehicle, most likely a police car of MO – explained Zyzak in “Dziennik”.
The list of victims is opened and closed by drivers
During the Polish People’s Republic, many road disasters were covered up. It was similar in 1969, when a bus fell off the bridge in Nowe Miasto on the Warta River.
– It was one known pattern of nationwide media activity at that time – said Tomasz Cieślak from the Institute of National Remembrance in Poznań. As he reported, the findings of the Institute of National Remembrance show that there were about 100 similar catastrophes in 1945-1989. About 2,500 people died there. “We only know a few of them, just because they were loud,” he emphasized.
The victims of the disaster in Oczków are commemorated by a plaque by the bridge. Their alphabetical list is opened and closed by drivers. The first bus was driven by Józef Adamek, father of the boxer Tomasz Adamek. Behind the wheel of the second one was Bolesław Zoń. The youngest victims were 18 years old, the oldest 48.
The tragedy in Oczków was the second largest disaster on Polish roads after the war in terms of the number of victims. In the largest one, when a bus hit a tree near Gdańsk in 1994, 32 people died and 43 were injured.
Main photo source: Poviat Starosty in Żywiec