What was the first plane crash

System failure: a flight disaster in the GDR

Status: December 16, 2018 11:02 p.m. | archive
The plane wreck at the crash site. The cause of the accident today is considered to be a pilot's error.

It was one of the worst aircraft accidents in German history: On December 12, 1986, a Tupolew 134 A of the Soviet Aeroflot crashed while approaching Berlin-Schönefeld. At that time there was also a Schwerin school class on board on their way back from a trip to Minsk. 20 students in a 10th grade at the Ernst Schneller School and three of their companions did not survive the accident. A total of 72 people die, only ten survive the accident.

To this day, many questions remain unanswered

Frank Scheffka lost his younger brother André in the accident. He saw him shortly before the disaster in Minsk, where he visited his brother on a school trip. "Andre was just in love at the time," recalls Scheffka. All he has left is a memory and a piece of pottery that he found much later at the crash site, as well as many open questions.

The plane crashed into a forest near Berlin. The relatives were not allowed to visit the crash site.

The catastrophe does not fit into the self-image of the GDR leadership. The Stasi machinery is set in motion as soon as the first report of the crash is received. Criticism of the Soviet Union should be stopped. Measures "to follow up and assess the population's reaction to the crash" will be taken “immediately”. The relatives are denied answers and denied access to the crash site.

"You could have ensured a lot. You had nothing left to cling to," says Scheffka, who has kept the pottery shard to this day. He is primarily concerned with the question of whether his brother died in the impact or was burned in agony. "We didn't even know what exactly was in my brother's grave. Suddenly you had nothing from him," said Scheffka.

Stasi puts relatives under pressure

Frank Scheffka is looking for answers in the Schwerin branch of the Stasi records authority. Over 10,000 pages of paper on the plane crash in 1986 are stored there. The files document the inhuman disaster management of the GDR. They show: On behalf of the SED, the main concern of the State Security was that the tragedies in the families took place behind closed doors. Official and unofficial employees start "looking after" the shocked relatives on the night of the accident, bringing survivors, bereaved relatives and journalists "on track". In order to prevent criticism of the Soviet Union in advance, the families are now under closer observation.

At the funeral, officials sit in the front row

Only since 2012 has a memorial stone in the Schwerin forest cemetery commemorates the victims of the plane crash.

The commemoration in Schwerin turns into a controlled display of the SED: Functionaries sit in front of the families. Young people in FDJ shirts have been driven up from other schools, friends and classmates are banned from entering the hall, including Christian Marin, who lost three of his comrades from the handball team in the disaster. "We were really outraged about it. We belonged there, that was our boys, our team." He had played handball with them since first grade. "It was like family," he recalls.

Many contemporary witnesses remained silent about the consequences of the accident for more than three decades. And about the systemic failure of the state, for which the belief in the victory of socialism was more important than the grief of the relatives.

1986 plane crash: Fatal school trip

December 12, 1986: An Aeroflot plane crashes off Berlin. 72 people are killed, including 20 students from Schwerin. They were on their way back from a school trip to Minsk. more

Schwerin commemorates the victims of the 1986 crash

30 years ago a plane crashed near Berlin. Among the victims: a school class from Schwerin. The disaster was commemorated with a wreath-laying ceremony (message from December 11, 2016). more

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North magazine | December 16, 2018 | 19:30 o'clock