Sakrakopec by Jitka Parobeková
It was 4:30 PM, November 24, 1966 when the inhabitants of Rača heard an explosion and saw flames shooting from the nearby forest. None of them imagined they had just witnessed the biggest air crash in the history of Czechoslovakia. They did not know what had happened at all. People were running up to the forest and half an hour later the first of them reached a small hill called Sakrakopec. What they saw there remained stuck in their minds forever.
I was lucky to have the opportunity to speak to a man who, as a boy, was among the first people to see the place of the tragedy. He spoke about a devastated forest, fire, wreck and bodies all around, about the captain sitting quietly in his seat only in a shirt, leaning against his knees with a naked back. It was a beautiful snowy winter and all the passengers and crew were dead.
A Bulgarian airplane IL-18 had been flying from Sofia to Berlin but the weather had been unfavourable. Therefore, the plane was forced to land at the Bratislava Airport and wait for better flying conditions. At 3:30 PM the plane was allowed to continue its flight to Prague. Two minutes after the plane had taken off, it crashed into Sakrakopec. On the board there were 82 people – those who did not die immediately died of exposure; among them, for example, passengers from Chile, Brazil, Honduras, Argentina, the UK, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, the USSR, Tunisia or Japan. Even though the cause of the tragedy is considered to be a too low flight level, many speculations arose and the real reason of the disaster has not been found yet.
It is more than 44 years now and this tragedy has almost been forgotten. Fortunately, there are still people who remember and care. Shortly after the crash, 82 birch trees were planted on the clearing created by the falling plane (it is called Smrtná lúka – Deadly Meadow) – a birch for each victim – and two plain memorials were built on the site of the tragedy. Recently one of the memorials was replaced by a stony cross with a remembrance board. Unfortunately, a wind storm in 2009 destroyed a lot of trees in the Small Carpathian Mountains, among them almost all the remaining birch trees as well as the older of the memorials. However, the magical and meditative atmosphere of the place is still present. You can feel its strength, sadness, gloominess and melancholy.
Nevertheless, it does not mean that the place makes people depressed. It rather makes them aware; aware of the fragility of human life, of the immense power of nature and of the power of life. Not far away, in a place called Biely kríž (White Cross), you can find wild boars in an enclosure all year round. In the spring small stripped pigs can be seen there as well. If you happen to visit Biely kríž, stop for a while, take a look at the boars and give them nettle – they love it desperately.
At last but not at least, some useful information as to how to find Sakrakopec. I would advise you to start your adventure from Biely kríž, which is a crossroad of many tourist routes. Therefore, you will find it in each tourist map. Since the way to Sakrakopec is not marked, you will need a little bit of sense of direction. If you are interested, you may read the following article https://hiking.sk/hk/ar/662/kam_ist_nielen_24_novembra.html or see the photos, where you will find a detailed map and description (in Slovak). Or visit the on-line tourist map https://mapy.hiking.sk/. Its providers were so kind as to add the route to the map. A lot of interesting and much more detailed information can be found in the following article https://www.sme.sk/c/5646690/cesta-sa-konci-na-sakrakopci.html, which is, again, in Slovak. And finally a detailed description of the tragedy in English: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TABSO_Flight_101.
Even though the place is quite unknown, it is worth a visit. If you have a few spare hours or if you are fed up with everything, bored with your school or annoyed with your work, make a half-day trip to the heart of the Small Carpathian Mountains and discover one of the many secrets they have to offer. You will do something for your body as well as for your soul. You will see the world and your life from a different perspective and a few hours’ walk in a forest will refresh you more than a huge mug of coffee.
Should you have any questions, please get in touch with me at jparobekova(at)gmail.com. I will be glad to answer them.
One of the old memorials
One of the old memorials
Inscriptions on trees
Victory of life
Photos: Jitka Parobeková