QUEENS — The onetime Polish army pilot killed in a bus crash as he walked to work Monday was a family man who was "always full of life" and planned to buy a home in Florida after retiring, his grieving family said Tuesday.
“I still can’t believe that he is gone,” Henryk Wdowiak's only daughter, Katarzyna Turska, 43, who lives in Warsaw, said through tears over the phone Tuesday morning. “He was such a wonderful person.”
Wdowiak, 68, a former pilot in the Polish army who came to the United States in 1993, was walking on the sidewalk when a charter bus blew through a red light and collided with an MTA bus at a Flushing intersection Monday morning, killing him instantly, authorities said.
Halina Kurpiewska, 64, his wife of 10 years, said that Wdowiak came to the U.S. after retiring from the army because "he was still a young man at the time and wanted to try something new."
At some point, she said, he considered returning to his native country, but then met Kurpiewska and got married six months later.
“We were so excited to spend the rest of our lives together,” she said. “He was a very kind man.”
Kurpiewska, who works as a hotel housekeeper, said they were planning to buy a house in Florida after retiring.
Wdowiak, who worked for a building management company, got up early that Monday morning, Kurpiewska said.
He made her breakfast around 5:30 a.m. and left for work shortly after that. He would usually take the Q20 bus to the 7 train, but recently preferred walking to the train station less than a mile from their home “to stay healthy," Kurpiewska said.
She described her husband as very sensitive to the suffering of other people and always willing to help.
Kurpiewska added that her husband had been getting up much earlier than usual to visit his friend in the hospital before going to work. The friend, who was in a coma for some time, recently died and they were planning to attend his wake on Monday afternoon, she said.
She also said that her husband was very kind to her two sons from her previous marriage, Marcin, 37, and Pawel, 41.
“He always treated my two sons as his own, from day one,” she said.
Wdowiak’s step-nephew Mariusz Trochimczyk, 37, said that he could talk to his step-uncle “about everything.”
“We would discuss politics in the U.S. and in Poland,” he said. “He was always full of life.”
Kurpiewska said Wdowiak felt very connected to the Polish community in New York. He wanted to attend the annual Pulaski Day Parade on Oct. 1 and a music festival featuring a number of Polish artists in Central Park scheduled for the same day.
Throughout the years, Wdowiak, who grew up in Stargard Szczecinski in Poland's northwest, kept in constant touch with his daughter and her 12-year-old twins.
“We spoke on the phone at least three to four times a week,” his daughter said. “Every time we talked, he would tell me how much he loved me."
Wdowiak would also visit Poland on a regular basis, although his last trip in June was marked by a personal tragedy, when his younger brother passed away unexpectedly just before he was about to return to the U.S., his wife said.
Turska, who last spoke to her father on Sunday, said the family had not decided whether Wdowiak would be buried in the U.S. or in Poland.
During their last conversation, she said, her father told her how proud of her he was, she said.
"He was also happy that he felt so healthy," she said.