Meet Poland's hero pilot

By A. Pawlowski, CNNUpdated 3rd November 2011
Capt. Tadeusz Wrona, right, and co-pilot Jerzy Szwarc smile at a news conference in Warsaw on Wednesday.
Capt. Tadeusz Wrona still has trouble sleeping. The night after executing a spectacular belly landing in Poland, the veteran pilot tossed and turned until 4 a.m.
The phone kept ringing, he told Polish media, and he kept reliving the chilling moments when his crew and passengers came close to a disaster.
Now basking in his nation's adoration and fielding countless interview requests, Wrona is resting even less, he said with a weary smile.
Wrona, who has worked for LOT Polish Airlines for 20 years, was at the controls of a Boeing 767 en route from Newark, New Jersey, to Warsaw on Tuesday when he realized there was a problem with the landing gear.
When the second attempt to open it failed, he knew that everyone on board -- 220 passengers and 11 crew -- was in danger.
"I've maybe flown this plane 500 times, and the landing gear deployed every time," Wrona said during a news conference in Warsaw on Wednesday. "I never had any trouble flying Boeing."
A Boeing 767 plane was forced to land on its belly after a technical failure with the plane's landing gear.
Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger on the remarkable landing of a Polish Airlines plane without landing gear.
Aware of comparisons to the 2009 "Miracle on the Hudson," when Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger landed a plane in New York's Hudson River after a flock of geese damaged both of the aircraft's engines, Wrona pointed out that his situation was less dire.
Both of his engines were working fine and there was time to prepare.
After notifying Warsaw's airport that there might be an emergency landing, the crew had time to perform checks and various functions, Wrona said. They circled the city to burn off excess fuel.
While the crew reviewed the procedure in the cockpit, the flight attendants prepared the cabin, instructing passengers that they would have to evacuate as soon as the plane stopped on the ground.
The autopilot helped the crew guide the plane until about two minutes before landing, Wrona said. That's when he took manual control.
"We rested the plane on three points: two engines plus the rear portion of the fuselage," Wrona said. "We tried to do it delicately, and we were successful."
There was less noise during the belly landing than a normal touch down, which shocked Wrona. It was just quiet, he recalled.
Wrona, who has been dubbed the Polish version of Sullenberger, was praised by the original "miracle" pilot.
"The captain and the crew obviously did a great job," Sullenberger told CNN. "It definitely requires skill to do this well, and from all reports and from watching the video, it looked like it was done very, very well."
But for Wrona, there were still tense moments ahead.
"When the plane stopped on the runway, I wasn't sure whether everyone was safe, because smoke appeared," he recalled. (Wind had blown the smoke caused by the friction of the landing toward the cockpit.)
"I finally felt full relief only when the purser reported that the cabin was empty."
Everyone got out safe and unhurt.
Like Sullenberger, Wrona is now grappling with sudden fame and the gratitude of hundreds of families. He's a Facebook star, with several fan pages established in his honor. One page has more than 33,000 followers leaving messages of praise and adulation.
But Wrona insists it's too much to call him a national hero.
"I am convinced that all of us who work for LOT would do the exact same thing, and it would end in the same way, because we train for such situations on simulators," he said.
Wrona is fully prepared to return to his duties as pilot, he said. In fact, his schedule -- prepared before the incident -- has him flying to Hanoi, Vietnam, on Saturday. He's not sure whether the commission investigating the emergency landing will let him go.
Wrona's wife and two adult children beamed when they were interviewed by Polish media on Thursday.
Marzena Wrona found out about her husband's troubled flight on television while the plane was still circling Warsaw and raced to the airport to watch the emergency landing, she told the program Dzień Dobry TVN.
But she had to turn back when authorities closed off many streets leading to the airport as a safety precaution. When she got back home, the plane had already landed.
"I knew the landing would be successful because I couldn't imagine otherwise," Wrona's wife said.