Zdeněk Jarkovský (30 years old), Miloslav Pokorný (22 years old), Karel Stibor (24 years old), Vilibald Šťovík (31 years old), Zdeněk Švarc (28 years old) and Ladislav Troják (34 years old) died in the cold waves of the English Channel 75 years ago. .
Czechoslovak hockey lost one of its best players, members of the first gold championship team.
First, let’s summarize the realities of the time. In 1947 in Prague, Czechoslovakia won the title of world hockey champions for the first time in history. At the Olympic Games in 1948, the Czechoslovaks did not lose to Canada for the first time in a major tournament and finished second in the Olympic tournament by just one score. In February of the same year, a coup took place, after which the communists came to power in our country. And they started to really tighten the screws.
The result was, among other things, that tens of thousands of inhabitants left Czechoslovakia, plagued by Soviet domination, and among them, of course, hockey players. Even the pre-war stars of the European format, such as Josef Maleček or Oldřich Kučera, or the world champion and later Wimbledon tennis champion Jaroslav Drobný, gradually left the border. Even coach Mike Buckna, the architect of great success, did not return from Canada to communist-controlled Czechoslovakia.
Stories from the history of hockey
List News has prepared a series of articles on the history of hockey championships. Where was hockey passion born, when were the Czechs champions? Unknown stories from the history of this sport.
The new leadership of the hockey section, appointed by communists, did not have the necessary experience – neither coaching nor organizational. And that’s what the first tour of the new season 1948/49 looked like. Originally, it was supposed to fly overseas in November for the first time in history, but in the end the management of the union decided to go on a well-paid trip to Great Britain. And in order to make even more money, the powers-that-be arranged a previously inserted match in Paris with the local Racing. Antonín Vodička, a former excellent soccer player who never played hockey properly, became the new coach of the national team. And he already had big problems with the nomination – being released from clubs, but also from the army, where some representatives enlisted, wavered against his original intentions. And when he finally named the team, it was discovered that the four Šťovík, Pokorný, Troják and Stibor did not have valid visas.
The flight was scheduled to take place on Friday 5 November, with a match in Paris on Saturday, followed by a transfer to London on Sunday and the first of five matches there on Monday. Because of the missing visas, the departure had to be postponed to Saturday, but the plane was already sold out that day! Vanity upon vanity.
But when some passengers found out, they freed up their seats for hockey players. But not enough, because Foreign Minister Clementis and his entourage also traveled by plane, and of course they had priority. The team had to split anyway. Replacement goalkeeper Jarkovský and defender Švarc flew to Paris with their teammates’ voluminous luggage only on Sunday, and therefore missed the match in France at all. In short, it was chaos and confusion from the beginning.
But the rest of the team was in fine form at the Palais des Sports in Paris on Saturday night, defeating a local selection full of very well-paid Canadian and American legionnaires 4-3. Vladimír Zábrodský scored two goals, Vladimír Kobranov scored one, and defender Vilibald Šťovík scored his last goal in Czechoslovakia.
On Sunday, the players bought various gifts for their families and were preparing to fly to London. But one of the unfortunate French “traditions” intervened – the flight staff strike. It was not possible to get enough tickets for the whole trip from Air France, so the trip had to be split into two parts. Already on Sunday, Modrý, Sláma, Hainý, Roziňák, Bubník, Kobranov, the two Zábrodští brothers and all the officials flew to London with the first private French airline company Escadrille Mercure. And they left six players alone in Paris, who were supposed to leave on Monday with the same company, even directly with its founder, owner and chief pilot René de Narbonne. Augustin Bubník tried to persuade Pokorný in vain at the time, he wanted to stay in Paris a day longer because of a private matter, but in the end he had to fly. And that saved his life…
René de Narbonne was a thirty-six-year-old extremely experienced pilot. Not only was he battered by the battles of World War II, where he fought for the RAF, but even after the war he undertook several record-breaking air journeys, for example, a 3,400-kilometer journey from Paris via Geneva, Rome, Vienna, Prague and Brussels back to Paris, which took 15 hours and 40 minutes and which his thirteen-year-old son Roland completed with him. Or even an incredibly long flight for its time Paris-Nice-Tunis-Algiers-Oran-Tanger-Madrid-Bordeaux-Paris, which lasted 24 hours, 10 minutes and 30 seconds! Newspapers all over Europe wrote about his extraordinary stunt at the time. So he had a lot of experience.
But on November 8, 1948, the weather was such that he wouldn’t drive the dog out. It drizzled and the omnipresent fog was so thick that no planes left Paris for the next four days. But the players, who already had a match waiting for them in London that day, were understandably in a hurry. And the pilot had such experience even in similar weather that he believed in his abilities and finally decided to undertake the risky journey. Together with him, the navigator André Robert decided to board the plane. But the fog was not their only problem, the second was the weight of the hockey luggage, which was quite heavy for the small twin-engined Beechcraft 18 with the registration number F-BGAF, especially when it was filled with much more fuel than was needed for the relatively short trip.
Finally, after all the vicissitudes, the plane took off from Le Bourget airport at 16:28. But from the beginning it had obvious problems with maintaining the right direction. Accordingly, it is possible that the pilot wanted to fly around the thickest fog, so he chose a circuitous route. Anyway, at 17:39 he made a fourth contact with Paris air traffic, reported nothing out of the ordinary and reported from the area over the city of Rouen. From that moment there was a silence… Long, agonizing and unfortunately deadly.
Meanwhile, in London, the first part of the expedition waited in vain for the missing six. There were three Czechoslovak officials on site, but only eight players ready to play. Nevertheless, the match against Great Britain in the hall at Wembley finally took place. The home team sportily fielded only eight players and in front of 6,000 spectators they eventually lost to the world champions 3:5. A hat-trick was scored by Vladimír Zábrodský, who did not make a single substitution in the match, the other goals were scored by Bubník and Roziňák. The British scored three times in power plays. But the result of the match was of little interest to the Czechoslovak hockey players. After the match, everyone wanted to know only one thing – where are the six friends…
But there were no messages. Soon after the disappearance of the plane, the British went out to look for it, then the French joined in, the coast guard also searched, but the efforts of the searchers were also in vain due to the bad weather. The rest of the team in London did not go to sleep at all after the match and waited for the slightest information, but no news about their friends came. Instead of touring England, they all packed up and flew home.
A lot of people were hoping that the pilot, the navigator and the six hockey players would appear somewhere. The pilot’s wife refused to believe that her husband, such an experienced pilot, could crash. The version about the possible emigration of the players, which they wanted to carry out by hijacking the plane, was contradicted by information from both teammates and from the airport, which did not notice anything unusual in the pilot’s reports. Unfortunately, even members of the Czechoslovak State Security did not shy away from checking this version. Families suffering the horror of the very likely death of their loved ones were subjected to interrogations and searches of their homes instead of comfort. Back in 1950, when the StB arrested Modry and other players in a fabricated trial, they tried to get information from the players in their statements, whether they knew anything about the possible emigration of the deceased players. But nothing like that made any sense. The players were already in Paris, in the free part of the world, before boarding the plane. They had no reason to hijack the airship or anything like that.
The investigation of the accident took a long time, especially since neither the wreckage of the plane nor any bodies were found. In the meantime, many other important political events took place in Czechoslovakia, and at the end of the season, the Czechoslovak hockey players celebrated another world championship title in Sweden, even without the help of their dead teammates. The tragedy was so slowly forgotten. And what really happened, apparently only the families and friends of the deceased were interested in the country. But you didn’t get any answers.
At the same time, the investigation in France was very careful and only after a year and a half brought probable results. About a year after the accident, the remains of two bodies were found on the French coast, and one of them was most likely identified as that of pilot René de Narbonne. Since no wreckage has been found, it is most likely that the plane crashed into the vast marshlands of the French coast near the town of Dieppe. And the reason for the crash? The interplay of many adverse circumstances. In addition to bad weather and probable overloading, the commission of inquiry concluded that the main problem was apparently that the skates of the players were stored in the space directly under the dashboard and their iron parts were very likely to interfere with the proper functioning of the navigation equipment. She apparently helped the great Czechoslovak hockey players Jarkovský, Pokorný, Stibor, Šťovík, Švarec and Troják take away from the world the equipment they needed for the game they loved most in the world…
Victims of tragedy
- Zdeněk Jarkovský (October 3, 1918, Želiv) – Goalkeeper, 7 seasons in the league (all for I. ČLTK Prague), at least 31 games saved, 9 clean sheets, 23 wins, 3 draws, average of 1.87 goals per game. League champion 1941, silver in 1942, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1947 and 1948. In the national team, 7 matches, 1 clean sheet, 6 wins, 1 draw, average of 2.86 goals per game. Unofficially 6 more games, 3 wins. World and European champion 1947, silver from the Olympic and World Championships and the title of European champion 1948, academic world champion 1947.
- Miloslav Pokorný (5 October 1926, Prague) – Defender, 3 seasons in the league (1 for Podolí, 2 for LTC Praha), 15 matches, 7 goals. League champion 1947 and 1948. 18 matches, 4 goals and at least 7 assists in the national team. Unofficially another 3 matches without a goal. World and European champion in 1947, silver from the OH/WC and the title of European champion in 1948. In the Olympic match against Great Britain, when Modrý was suspended, he also stepped in as a goalkeeper for 1 minute, conceding 1 goal from 4 shots.
- Karel Stibor (November 5, 1924, Prague) – Striker, 5 seasons in the league (all for LTC Prague), 22 matches, 33 goals! League champion 1943, 1944, 1946, 1947 and 1948. 22 matches, 14 goals and at least 9 assists in the national team. Unofficially 4 more matches, 1 goal. World and European champion in 1947, silver from the OH/WC and the title of European champion in 1948.
- Vilibald Šťovík (9 October 1917, Prague) – Defender, 10 seasons in the league (all for LTC Prague), at least 44 games, 8 goals. League champion 1937, 1938, 1940, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1947 and 1948, silver in 1941. In the national team, 43 matches, 4 goals and at least 4 assists. Unofficially another 19 games, 3 goals. World and European champion in 1947, silver from the OH/WC and the title of European champion in 1948. Participant in the WC in 1937 and 1939, where he won European silver.
- Zdeněk Švarc (December 16, 1919, Prague) – Defender, 3 seasons in the league (1 for Stadion Praha, 2 for I. ČLTK Praha), 16 matches, 4 goals. Vice-champion of the league in 1947 and 1948. In the national team, 1 match, 0 goals. Unofficially another 4 matches, without a goal.
- Ladislav Trojak (June 15, 1914, Košice) – Striker, 10 seasons in the league (all for LTC Prague), 52 matches, 37 goals. Once he started for the suspended Hertl for 1 minute as a goalkeeper, he did not get a goal. League champion 1937, 1938, 1940, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1947 and 1948, silver in 1941. 77 games, 33 goals and at least 24 assists for the national team. Unofficially another 32 games, 23 goals. World and European champion in 1947, silver from the OH/WC and the title of European champion in 1948. Participant in the 1936 OH/WC, where he won European silver, the 1937 WC, the 1938 WC, where he won world bronze and European silver, and the 1939 WC, where he won European silver .