U.S. Army Choppers Forced to Land in Polish Fields

Six U.S. army helicopters landed in a rapeseed field in northern Poland, eyewitnesses said, after coming back from military exercises, alarming locals on guard over tensions across the border.

Five Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and one tandem-rotor Boeing Co. Chinook chopper touched down near the village of Gruta, 220 kilometers (140 miles) north of Warsaw at about noon yesterday, according to local eyewitnesses. Some residents were at first spooked at the sight of the aircraft, Halina Kowalkowska, the village’s head, said by phone.

“We know that security is the most important thing right now,” Kowalkowska said. “But thank God it was the Americans.”

NATO is intensifying military exercises on Russia’s doorstep in Poland and the Baltic states in response to the crisis in neighboring Ukraine. At a summit in Newport, Wales, last week, the alliance agreed to rotate more troops through eastern Europe and set up a rapid-reaction force.

“The Americans came over and asked where they landed,” Waldemar Krukowski, a local resident, told TVN24 television. “They wanted to know the name of the village.”

The air crews weren’t lost and didn’t seek or need directions, a U.S. Army spokesman said. The landing was in response to severe weather and followed standard safety procedures, he said.

Residents brought in leaflets in English about their village and handed them to soldiers, according to Kowalkowska.

Lost Boys

“It was a heavy, thick fog and you could barely see anything, so the boys had to land,” she said. “I’m still shaking after a sleepless night.”

The helicopters were coming back from Saber Junction exercises in Lithuania to their temporary base in Miroslawiec near the German border, according to Polish army spokesman Lt. Col. Artur Golawski. Twelve aircraft made an unscheduled landing on their way from Lithuania yesterday and the day before in what’s a “standard procedure” in poor visibility, he said by phone.

“Those Americans were really heaven sent,” Kowalkowska said. “Now, when I think about it we could have served them some food, but we were in shock and the boys had to go.”