The Königs Wusterhausen air disaster

The crash of an Ilyushin Il-62 in August 1972 remains Germany’s worst plane crash to date. All 156 people on board died when the Interflug holiday charter flight crashed shortly after takeoff from Berlin Schönefeld Airport. This was caused by mechanical problems, with a fire destroying the aircraft in flight.

Interflug and the Ilyushin Il-62

Interflug was the national airline of the German Democratic Republic, based in East Berlin. It was founded in 1958, essentially as a back-up to the Deutsche Lufthansa brand, with challenges from Deutsche Luft Hansa as the main national carrier. Deutsche Lufthansa was established in 1955 as a new airline for East Germany. Due to financial difficulties, it was liquidated in 1963. Its aircraft and operations were later transferred to Interflug.

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Interflug was based at Berlin Schönefeld Airport. The airline operated a variety of Soviet-built aircraft, including the Ilyushin Il-18, Ilyushin Il-62, Tupolev Tu-134, and Tupolev Tu-154. The Ilyushin Il-62 quadjet was one of the most numerous in the fleet (second after the Tu-134). Interflug operated 39 of these aircraft throughout its time (according to ATDB.aero data).

Towards the end of its operations, it took an Airbus A310 in 1989. The airline was liquidated in 1991 following the reunification of Germany in 1990.

Interflug flight of August 14, 1972

The flight in question was operated by one of the airline’s Ilyushin Il-62 aircraft, registration DM-SEA. This aircraft had been delivered new to the airline just over two years earlier, in April 1970.

It was a charter flight taking tourists to the Black Sea resort town of Burgas, Bulgaria. There were 148 passengers and eight crew members on board. The flight left Berlin Schönefeld Airport with no reported problems at 4:30 p.m. According to the accident report, the first reports of trouble came in at 4:43 p.m. At this time, the pilots reported difficulties with the aircraft’s elevator and asked to return to the airport. They began to dump fuel at 4:51 p.m. and began an emergency descent at 4:54 p.m.

An emergency was declared at 4:59 p.m., with the pilots citing the same elevator issues as well as a fire in the rear of the plane. Very soon after, the aircraft entered an uncontrolled descent and began to break up in midair. The debris hit the ground near the town of Königs Wusterhausen in eastern Germany. There were no survivors.

Crash caused by fire in the rear cargo compartment

Post-crash debris investigation quickly established the cause. The pilot’s reports during the flight pointed to the rear of the aircraft, and it did.

There was a leak in a hot air tube at the rear of the plane. This escaping hot air caused the insulating material of the electrical wires to weaken. Electrical sparks (with temperatures up to 2000 degrees Celsius) caused a fire in the aircraft’s rear cargo hold. This weakened the airframe structure, quickly leading to elevator failure and the loss of the aircraft’s tail. The pilots were clearly not at fault.


Feel free to discuss more about this crash or the history and performance of the Ilyushin-62 in the comments.

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