moja polska zbrojna
Od 25 maja 2018 r. obowiązuje w Polsce Rozporządzenie Parlamentu Europejskiego i Rady (UE) 2016/679 z dnia 27 kwietnia 2016 r. w sprawie ochrony osób fizycznych w związku z przetwarzaniem danych osobowych i w sprawie swobodnego przepływu takich danych oraz uchylenia dyrektywy 95/46/WE (ogólne rozporządzenie o ochronie danych, zwane także RODO).

W związku z powyższym przygotowaliśmy dla Państwa informacje dotyczące przetwarzania przez Wojskowy Instytut Wydawniczy Państwa danych osobowych. Prosimy o zapoznanie się z nimi: Polityka przetwarzania danych.

Prosimy o zaakceptowanie warunków przetwarzania danych osobowych przez Wojskowych Instytut Wydawniczy – Akceptuję

Precision Flying

The crew of a W-3 Sokół military helicopter have been on duty in the Tatra Mountains since the middle of November. The soldiers are supporting the Tatra Volunteer Search and Rescue (TOPR) in rescue operations.

On the early afternoon of November 19, in the vicinity of Zamarła Turnia, a mountain peak on the Orla Perć path, there was a dangerous accident – a climbing woman fell off a rock wall. She was saved by a safety line, but she severely injured her leg during the fall. “The Sokół crew on duty almost immediately set off to the site of the accident. Two rescuers landed on the path to prepare a post for the support team,” recalls Andrzej Marasek, TOPR’s head of training and one of the rescuers taking part in the operation. Next, three more rescuers with specialist equipment were sent out from the TOPR base, and a dozen or so minutes later they were already at the spot. “We had to lower the rescuers to the rock wall, and lift the climber up. We provided first aid and lowered her on ropes to the foot of the rock. From there, a helicopter picked the climber up and took her to the hospital,” continues Marasek.

Sounds easy? Well, it is far from easy. Andrzej Marasek admits the whole operation took over three hours, as it required using complicated rope techniques. Additionally, the injured woman lost a lot of blood, and the wound was very serious. “If help had not arrived on time, she would have found herself in a life threatening situation,” adds Marasek. He emphasizes that TOPR’s quick reaction was possible only thanks to the helicopter. “Without Sokół, reaching the climber would take us at least four hours. We would then have to spend an hour transporting her from the rock wall, and additional five hours evacuating her from the Dolina Pięciu Stawów region to Zakopane. She might not have survived it,” emphasizes the rescuer.

In the described operation, TOPR rescuers were supported by the W-3 Sokół crew of the command of the 3rd Transport Aviation Wing and the Air Search and Rescue Group of the 33rd Transport Aviation Base. The aviators from Powidz – two pilots and a technician – have been stationing in Zakopane since mid-November. They are supporting TOPR while their helicopter is undergoing its annual overhaul.

No Time for Mistakes

The commander of the air component in the Tatra Mountains is Capt (Pil) Magdalena Turczak of the 3rd Transport Aviation Wing. She graduated from the Polish Air Force University ten years ago, and pilots the Mi-2, the Mi-24 and the W-3 Sokół. “I have spent over a thousand hours in the air, but I must admit that the Tatras give you a real lesson in flying. There is no place for errors or inaccuracy. We learn a lot. That’s why I’m glad I can prove myself here. I am a highlander and I’ve always dreamed of doing search and rescue. That’s why I joined the army in the first place. Now I am doing exactly what I wanted,” admits the commander of a W-3 crew.

The pilots performing their duty in Zakopane are trained in rescue flights. They’ve also practiced flying in the mountains, but not in the Tatras. “When we fly over flat terrain, our helicopters have a full tank. In the mountains, we take a minimum amount of gas, for a little over an hour of flight. Thanks to that the machine is lighter, has more power, and we can hover at high altitudes. You can’t learn that in any other terrain,” stresses the Captain.

The soldiers also emphasize that there are no easy elements in flying in high mountains. “Even the touchdown is risky. We are always limited by rocks, so we can only land in pre-prepared places. On top of that, the helicopter has only three supporting points and a low undercarriage. If there are any protruding rocks, we are unable to sit the machine down. That’s why the hoist is so often used,” explains Lt (Pil) Damian Panas. The officer has spent over 550 hours in the air, piloting the SW-4 and the W-3 helicopters.

On Duty

Talking about the specific character of operating in the mountains, the soldiers recall events of November 19. “We had to work in difficult terrain and with changeable wind, which poses the biggest danger to us. We were flying 2–3 meters from the rocks all the time, so a sudden gust of wind might result in hitting our rotor blade against a rock wall,” says Capt Turczak. She adds that hovering the helicopter over an injured person is one of the harder elements of a rescue operation. “You need to be aware that Sokół works differently in the mountains. We fly at altitudes of about 2,000 meters, where the air is thinner. Consequently, the engines need more power. We must consider changes in the weather, watch out for strong winds and rotor blades on the leeward side of the mountains. In case of a stronger gust of wind, we need to react instantly, so that the helicopter doesn’t move while hovering,” adds Lt Panas.

Every day, the helicopter crew and three TOPR rescuers perform duties at the Military Training and Fitness Center. Every morning, pilots start their Sokół, lift it off the plate and check if the hoist mounted on board works properly. If the result of the test is positive, they report their readiness for the eight-hour duty. The aviators can perform tasks from sunrise to sunset. “When we get a call, we only have a dozen or so minutes to set off to the injured person. Obviously, the sooner we lift off the ground, the better,” stresses Capt Turczak.

After the first week in the Tatra Mountains the soldiers already have stories to tell. The first call came during a training flight with TOPR rescuers, soon after starting the duty. “We were near the Mały Kościelec peak, practicing descending rescuers on ropes. We got information that a tourist collapsed while hiking not far from our location. It later turned out the path taken by the tourists was very icy and they didn’t have crampons or ice axes,” says the commander of the W-3. The pilots hovered directly over the affected woman, so that the rescuer could help her. He secured the woman and she was pulled onboard using a rescue triangle. A moment later, it turned out that her friend, who was already closer to the peak, had similar problems. “All in all, we returned to Zakopane with two patients,” recalls Capt Turczak.

There are more similar stories – one time, the soldiers transported rescuers to a man who had lost a crampon near the top of Rysy and struggled to stay on the rock with an ice axe only. “If not for the quick help, it might have ended badly. It was very steep, and the tourist would not be able to hold on like that much longer,” say the pilots. In this case, they were unable to hover next to the victim, but they lowered the rescuers to the nearby tourist path.

Mutual Profit

The army has been cooperating with TOPR for several years now. Two years ago, soldiers supported rescuers during an operation in Jaskinia Wielka Śnieżna, where two speleologists went missing – GROM operators offered their diving equipment, military aircraft were also on standby. On the other hand, TOPR rescuers have many times helped in military training. For example, they have supported special forces units in caving and ice diving trainings. They have also helped Polish pilots preparing for the first rotations of the Polish Military Contingent in Afghanistan.

On the strength of inter-ministerial agreements and ASAR (Aeronautical Search and Rescue) regulations, in 2019 soldiers returned to the Tatra Mountains and supported rescue operations for several weeks. The situation is similar in 2020, and the Board of TOPR openly admits that they are already preparing to establish forms of cooperation for 2021, when TOPR’s Sokół is to be grounded for three months due to general repairs. “We are counting on the army’s help,” say the rescuers unofficially.


In 2019, the duty in the Tatras was performed by soldiers of the 2nd Search and Rescue Group from Mińsk Mazowiecki with a Sokół helicopter. The soldiers took part in several operations, such as transporting TOPR rescuers to a woman who got injured in the Czarny Staw region and had symptoms of hypothermia, or helping tourists who got lost in the vicinity of the Krzyżne Pass.

“We are very happy to cooperate with military pilots. Thanks to them, we can act effectively and help faster,” says Andrzej Marasek of TOPR. “However, in order to work smoothly, we should also train together. That’s why we practiced synchronizing our crews in Powidz and Mińsk Mazowiecki in the summer,” he says. The rescuer explains that the training aimed at familiarizing aviators who had not yet cooperated with TOPR with S&R procedures and the language used by the rescuers. “First, we trained in easy terrain. We wanted the crew to listen to and learn the commands we use, so that in a stressful situation, in difficult terrain and severe weather conditions there would be no mistakes,” adds Marasek. Several months later, the training flights were already performed in the Tatras. At the same time, the soldiers supported TOPR in their search for a missing tourist from Warszawa. A military helicopter equipped with a thermal imaging camera, with rescuers on board, combed through every part of the Tatra National Park.

The servicing of TOPR’s helicopter will last until the middle of December. The rescuers hope the duty of military pilots will be prolonged until their own machine can fly again. “A helicopter is essential here. In 2019 – the year with a record number of accidents – we saved over a thousand tourists, over 300 of whom were transported from the mountains by helicopter,” emphasizes TOPR’s head of training.

Soldiers also see the benefits of the cooperation. Rescue flights in the Tatra Mountains are great lessons, but also an opportunity to prove themselves in real-life situations, not only during training or field exercises. “We are aware that these are not training flights, that there is no possibility to correct yourself, and mistakes might cost someone’s life. We feel the responsibility, but we also get a lot of satisfaction from helping people,” stresses Lt Panas.

Magdalena Kowalska-Sendek

autor zdjęć: Michał Zieliński, Marcin Firczyk / TOPR

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