- Title: 'Nobody is not afraid': Chernobyl pilot recalls his fear 33 years ago
- Date: 16th August 2019
- Summary: CHERNOBYL NUCLEAR POWER PLANT, UKRAINE (RECENT - JULY 2019) (REUTERS) MONUMENT TO CHERNOBYL RESCUE WORKERS PLAQUE READING (English): "TO HEROES, PROFESSIONALS, TO THOSE WHO PROTECTED THE WORLD FROM NUCLEAR DISASTER. IN HONOUR OF THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF SHELTER OBJECT CONSTRUCTION" (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) UKRAINIAN MILITARY PILOT, MYKOLA VOLKOZUB, SAYING: "Some people may say they have no fear. But there are no people who are not afraid. The only thing is that people perceive fear differently. One is suppressed by fear, another is driven by fear. I had to do it (fly over reactor). I knew it was dangerous. I had been preparing. It was a very in-depth preparation process. I did all the calculations for the helicopter - its weight, etc. Interactions among crew members were very well planned." NEAR CHERNOBYL NUCLEAR POWER PLANT, UKRAINE (RECENT - JULY, 2019) (REUTERS) VIEW OF CHERNOBYL NPP VOLKOZUB SPEAKING WITH GUIDE VOLKOZUB AND GUIDE LOOKING AT CHERNOBYL NPP, TALKING GUIDE HOLDING DOSIMETER / CHERNOBYL NPP CHERNOBYL NUCLEAR POWER PLANT, UKRAINE (RECENT - JULY, 2019) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) UKRAINIAN MILITARY PILOT, MYKOLA VOLKOZUB, SAYING: "Radiation was not the main danger. As I said, radiation is not visible, we cannot hear it, it has no colour and taste. The most dangerous thing I thought of during the preparations was the thermal radiation. Thermal radiation affects the aerodynamics of the main rotor (of an aircraft) and leads to the immediate decrease of thrust. And also, engine power goes down as the air is thin. A helicopter hovers at height of 300 meters at maximum power settings. And if there is thermal radiation in addition to it, it is absolutely clear that no matter how experienced the pilot is, that helicopter will break down."
- Embargoed: 30th August 2019 10:04
- Keywords: Ukraine Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant military pilot Mykola Volkozub Prypyat nuclear disaster explosion radiation
- Location: CHERNOBYL NUCLEAR POWER PLANT, PRYPYAT AND CHERNOBYL, UKRAINE
- City: CHERNOBYL NUCLEAR POWER PLANT, PRYPYAT AND CHERNOBYL, UKRAINE
- Country: Ukraine
- Topics: Disaster/Accidents
- Reuters ID: LVA003ASGUU61
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: More than three decades after he flew his helicopter above the radioactive volcano that was Chernobyl's nuclear reactor number four, the site of the world's worst nuclear accident, Mykola Volkozub recalls how he feared for his life.
Now 87, the Ukrainian military pilot returned to Chernobyl last month for the first time since the 1986 accident and recalled how he had made three separate flights over the reactor to measure the temperature and composition of gases inside.
Recalling the events, Volkozub said the operation was well planned and despite the danger, he knew he had to go through with it.
Eyeing up the reactor for the first time in 33 years, Volkozub said he couldn't recognise it. Today the reactor is covered by a massive confinement shelter that was built to cover an ageing sarcophagus designed to stop radiation leaking out.
Volkozub, who donned a heavy lead vest to protect himself from radiation, was awarded a "Hero of Ukraine" medal for his bravery. After making three flights that lasted for 19 minutes, 40 seconds in total, he was nonetheless exposed to such a high dose of radiation that some dosimeters went haywire when he tried to measure his exposure.
The brand new MI-8 helicopter he made the flights in, which was fitted with special lead plates on the floor, was also exposed to radiation. It was later abandoned at a cemetery for irradiated equipment, having made only three flights.
The accident in then Soviet Ukraine was caused by a botched safety test that sent plumes of nuclear material across much of Europe. It killed dozens of people within weeks and forced tens of thousands to flee. The final death toll of those killed by radiation-related illnesses such as cancer is subject to debate.
Volkozub, who despite his age still supervises test pilots who work for Antonov, a Ukrainian state-run aircraft manufacturer, said he was calm and calculating at the time despite his fear.
(Production: Sergiy Karazy, Bogdan Basii, Margaryta Chornokondratenko)
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