Stergios Kotoula: The heroism, the accident and the guilty silence
August 27, 2009, A tragic plane crash, crashing PZL, strikes Greece.
Brigadier Stergios Kotoulas , 55, and father of two children, will lose his life while trying to extinguish a fire in the Katelios area . The Polish-made aircraft, with a year of construction and arrival in Greece in 1983 , had completed 4,733 flight hours.
Kotoula had a total of 4,025 hours of flight experience in fighter, transporter and jet aircraft, of which 524 hours on PZL aircraft.
He had lived in Kefalonia for the last ten years, as he heads the steppe of aircraft based in the island and is ready to intervene in case of fires.
How the accident happened
On the afternoon of August 27, Brigadier Stergios Kotoula took off from Kefalonia Airport and move south to the Katelios area along with another fellow pilot of similar aircraft to participate in the fire.
At 12:45 pm, the aircraft detected the fire and flew low. When the commander arrived 20 to 30 meters from the fire, his aircraft hit high voltage cables causing the unfortunate man to lose control and the PZL to fall into the hotel yard, next to holidaymakers who were fortunately uninjured.
The heroic commander, in the few seconds available to him, tried and succeeded in steering the PZL away from homes & hotels.
The death of the heroic pilot was confirmed a few minutes later by the rescue men who collected his corpse.
Stergios Kotoulas was the second child of Christos Kottoulas from the lush Kalampaka (his roots are from the village of Trmatala Armatoliko). He was the groom and father of two children of Christos and Panagiotas. He had two brothers, Nikos and Menios, the second of them, a pilot of the air force!
His colleagues described Stergios Kotoula as a serious man, with a strong sense of duty, smiling, low-key, and willing to help whenever he was asked. He was distinguished for his ethics, professionalism and passion for the airplane. He said: “The more I load water, the more I have to throw into the fire. Not a drop back … “.
“These aircraft are at their limits”
The PZL aircraft are of Polish origin and this one was built for Greece and joined the Air Force in March 1983. It was one of the first eight to be received at that time.
By the end of January of the following year, Greece had received 30 aircraft of the same type used mainly for aerial spraying but also for firefighting and surveillance flights. Of the thirty that joined the Air Force, 12 have fallen and 6 pilots killed.
Asked if the aircraft was old and should not fly, Air Force officials, engineers and pilots argued that “the word ‘old’ for aircraft does not exist. The plane is not an object. It consists of thousands of pieces each with a specific life time. Even its components have a specific life time. When each segment passes the time specified by the manufacturer, it changes and starts from scratch. Of course an aircraft cannot fly indefinitely. The stress at the structural level will reach such a point that the manufacturer will not allow another take-off. These aircraft are quite close to this point.
Stergios Kotoulas was the nineteenth pilot to be lost on such planes since 1974.