The Polish tragedy: accepting the truth

The accident report by the Russian investigators, MAK, has been published. It does not make happy reading for the Polish people or their government, and indeed they are finding its truths difficult to swallow.

This understandable. That crash at Smolensk in April 2010 was a national tragedy for Poland. In a few seconds on final approach to the fog-obscured runway, the nation lost its president, his political retinue, and Poland’s top military people, intelligentsia and churchmen.

As if that were not enough of a tragedy in its own right, the irony associated with their purpose adds to the pain. The 90 occupants of that Polish military Tupolev Tu-154 were on their way to commemorate the 1940 Katyn Forest Massacre perpetrated by the Stalinist Russian regime, which murdered 22,000 Polish military, professionals and intelligentsia.

A tragedy does not get much more emotional than that.

And now the report reveals, as anticipated, that this was an ordinary, avoidable, controlled flight into terrain accident.

The Polish government is not happy with the report. It does not deny the main findings, but would like to see the Russians accept some of the blame for the mistakes its own crew made. Their target is the air traffic controllers at Smolensk.

The Smolensk controllers did all they could to prevent this accident, given that the Polish crew were clearly operating autonomously, conducting their own FMS letdown and not requesting any help. Language was almost certainly a much bigger problem than the Russian report suggests. The Polish captain spoke basic, functional Russian, but he was the only crew member who did, and he was flying the aeroplane.

The fact that explains it all for me is that there was no approach briefing before top of descent. And this for a non-precision let-down toward an unfamiliar aerodrome wreathed in fog with visibility reports way below the limits of all the parties involved.

The fact that the head of the Polish air force was a presence on the flight deck, and that there were dark mutterings recorded on the CVR to the effect that the President would go ballistic if they had to divert, may have been the reason for the lack of a TOD briefing, and for the crew’s persistence with attempting the approach even if only to prove it couldn’t be done. But however obvious a reason that is - and the MAK considers it obvious - that does not provide the crew with a valid excuse for what happened, and the way it happened.

The whole descent was a series of mistakes, misjudgements and poor decisionmaking by the crew.

If the Polish government insists on dredging up procedural technicalities in an attempt to prove that the Russian controllers should shoulder some of the blame for the crew’s actions, all it will do is dishonour the dead and obscure the lessons that Poland’s military aviators must learn from this.

This was a truly Polish tragedy in which Polish leaders paid the price for Polish mistakes and misjudgements.  



5 Responses to The Polish tragedy: accepting the truth

  1. Uwe 14 January, 2011 at 10:42 pm #

    Being a spite driven visit of the polish discontent
    6 days _after_ the official ceremonial meeting of Tusk and Putin at Katyn ( the relevant heads of government )
    the whole affair comenced under a bad omen.

  2. glen towler 16 January, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    I did think that all air traffic control radio communcations done in English not the local language. Guess shows accident shows that pressure from people who don’t know much about can over rule those who do.

  3. David Connolly 19 January, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

    It is par for the course that history repeats itself as tragedy and thereafter as farce. So it was repeated in Smolensk on April 10 2010, twice on one flight, though Stalin was absent on this tragedy.
    When dealing with a “ballistic” passenger in chief, there is only one SOP to assure a sterile cockpit prior to TOD. That is the Ryanair O’Leary final approach. “Sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up, or the River Dance will be executed upon your head be it… PDQ” That is what command or taking it, is all about, a decision and changing this decision when conditions change. Such cognition was completely absent on this flight deck.
    In recent times I attended a pilot selection interview with a Gulf carrier as an FO. A question of the interview panel was asked thus : Panel Question=PQ, Pilot Answer=PA
    PQ :“You have the Emir as a VIP pax and are taxing for take-off at midday. The Captain stops the aircraft for midday prayers, what is your reaction ?”
    PA : “Is there SOP provision for the Captain’s action ?”
    PQ : “No!”
    PA : “Then I communicate my objection to the Captain !”
    PQ : “The Captain insists !”
    PA : “In that case, I relieve the Captain of his command, inform the cabin crew and ATC of the Captain’s incapacity and taxy the aircraft back to the gate.
    PQ : nodding and scribbling, neutral facial expressions of percieved approval, by me.
    Great question, I thought and wise and mature reaction too, I think ?. Unlike the political report of an actual objective non-political Russian report, where politics normally infects everything.
    Lessons learned ?…hot-blooded polemic politics is best left in a parliament play pen. Investigation-analysis is best left to the cold-blooded play ground of a field investigator.

  4. SpiEwka 2 February, 2011 at 9:38 am #

    Smolensk Tragedy – Polish opinion of blog users from:

    Smolensk Tragedy

    On the 10th of April 2010, the Polish army airliner, Tu-154, was involved in a fatal crash in the city of Smolensk, Russia, killing all the crew and passengers aboard. This incident has been shrouded in suspicious and unexplained circumstances, as the crash included the Polish President and First Lady, the last Polish President in exile, the Chief of the General Staff, Commanders-in-Chief, the Chairman of the Polish National Bank, the President of the Institute of National Remembrance, as well as a number of MP’s, senators and prominent figures of the Polish elite, among the 96 dead.

    On the same day of the crash, the Polish government decided to leave the investigation solely in Russian hands, without securing the rights to appeal to international organizations, aviation organizations, and relinquished the right of an inspection, or any efficient supervision over examination procedures.

    The Polish government refused to consider any help from NATO, and did not attempt to gather any support from other European Union countries. As a result, all the evidence gathered has been left on Russian soil, including confidential army and security codes belonging to NATO’s armies, “black boxes”, and other flight recording devices containing all flight parameters. None of this evidence, as well as any debris of the wreckage, has ever been returned to Poland.

    The death certificates of the victims are cursory, barely containing any basic information, and some certificates are missing. There is doubt (no proof has been provided) that any post-mortem examinations were ever performed in Russia; none were undertaken in Poland, as opening the coffins was strictly forbidden. Families received the bodies of their relatives in sealed coffins, under the threat that they would be prosecuted under Russian criminal law, if coffins were opened or tampered with. No medical evidence has been produced so far.

    Shortly after the funerals took place, Russia sent a number of coffins back to Poland with anonymous human remains inside, and claimed that thorough DNA examinations had been performed. Even these unidentified remains, released for burial, had never been inspected. There is no post-mortem examination data available.

    All legal evidence is kept in secrecy. Polish authorities have had admittance only to some of the Russian reports, but not to the evidence itself, allegedly accumulated in Russia. The only interrogation ever performed in the presence of Polish army prosecutors in Russia has been withdrawn from files and replaced with an updated version, contradicting the original.

    The only Polish inspections allowed were archeology and geology surveys, and these were strictly limited to narrowly outlined areas. Usage of any specialized equipment was strictly forbidden, reducing inspections to a “bare hands” retrieval method. All these survey results were confiscated by Russian officials. There were no Polish crash investigators, criminologists or explosives experts allowed to inspect the scene.

    The scene of the crash investigation has not been secured (was never secured?). In the subsequent days and months following the tragedy, victims’ relatives and mourners of the dead gathered at the nearby Polish War Memorial for murdered Polish prisoners of war, still in deep shock and pain in the acknowledgment that human remains still remain in the field where the crash took place.

    The investigation in Russia is flawed, as no impartiality can be assigned. MAK (the Interstate Aviation Committee) is closely connected with the manufacturers of the crashed Tu-154 aircraft,and is responsible for certifying both the aircraft and the airfield.

    The Russian Prosecutor’s Office Chief, Mr. Czajka, is the very same man who refused the British government’s attempt to investigate Litvinienko’s death in the Russian Federation, and curbed their attempts to extradite the suspect of politically motivated murder.

    Within days following the tragedy, there was an unprecedented media disinformation campaign – in both Poland and Russia – to cover up and blur many of the facts, such as:

    1. Immediately after the crash (within minutes) the Russian government (and Polish?) stated that the crash was due to “pilot error, lack of training and poor communication skills (that the pilot could not speak Russian?)” After the investigation these accusations turned out to be complete false, as the captain of the aircraft was one of the most experienced, master class pilots of the regiment, with over a thousand flying hours completed on this aircraft type. He was also well versed in the specifics of the Russian airports, ground personnel habits, all the procedures, and spoke fluent Russian.

    2. Aircraft movements before the crash were falsified, including a report of four abortive landing attempts, when in fact only one attempt had been performed.

    3. It was reported that the aircraft’s left wing hit a 40 cm diameter tree. This has been officially confirmed to be false.

    4. Within hours after crash, before any inspection had been completed, the Russian (and Polish?) governments refused to consider the possibilities of either a mechanical/equipment failure or the prospect of a terrorist attack (a reasonable possibility, in this post-9/11 world, as well as Russia’s penchant for blaming so many incidents on Chechen terrorists).

    5. Reports were filled with misleading information about the exact time of the crash. The official time given by the Premier of the Russian Federation Ministers is over a dozen minutes later than it was finally set.

    The entire landing navigation, performed by the Russian airfield ground personnel (the flight control tower), misled the crew, falsely confirming their positions, which led to the crash. This conclusion is based on the hard evidence of the flight controller’s recordings, and forced the officials to admit this fact. According to military procedures (both the crew and the ground personnel were military) decisive power, in the landing of an aircraft, is ultimately up to the flight controllers. In this case, all the flight controllers were Russian.

    All independent inquiries and examinations show incoherency and incompatibility of the Russian version of events. There was no fuel explosion as it crashed (“emergency-landed”) into a swampy forest ground, weakening the pressure – which was the Russian version of events. What, then, would have caused the crash then?

    The death of ALL the passengers on board, the total dispersal of wreckage (annihilating 40% of its mass), the unexplainable range and scale of the injuries, the carnage left from the crash, whereby most of the bodies were unrecognizable: all of these facts do not coincide with the Russian “perpespective” on the crash.

    In addition, there is the mysterious, unexplained phenomenon, at the Russian airport in Smolensk, between 8.20 and 9.14 Warsaw time, when the airport had no outside communication, no power supply, and no eye-witnesses present.

    There are hundreds of examples of evidence being destroyed, or simply being overlooked and never considered for examination. This whole investigation has been a fabricated campaign lies and disinformation, delivered through the main media by both colonel Putin and the Polish Prime Minister Tusk. Even the media has been forced to acknowledge the most obvious lies.

    Faced with this disturbing situation, Polish citizens commenced their own inquiry, using the power of the Internet. Among these inquirers are pilots, flight controllers, physicians, mathematicians, engineers and people of science. Their efforts proved, without a doubt, that the Russian so-called “final cockpit recordings transcript” had been manipulated, and that the protocol (report) delivered by the Russian Aircraft Accidents Investigation Committee does not contain any technical data, and lacks any official documents of the inspection. The investigation report simply does not describe the reality; it does not answer any questions. Some of its crucial statements are blunt lies, which were finally confirmed by Polish officials investigating the tragedy.

    The preliminary stages of this investigation revealed that the aircraft Tu-154 was deliberately driven to the outside of the landing path. There is a hypothesis that the “beaconing” (the interception and rebroadcast of navigation signals) might have been used. Russian flight controllers insisted until the very last seconds, and reassured the crew that they were “on the course and on the approach lane”. This was despite the fact that the aircraft had not been on course, on the final approach lane, throughout the whole landing procedure.

    All public protests and demands for a thorough investigation and explanation of the “catastrophe” are being refused, blocked and prevented by both the Russian and polish governments. The Polish people want to know what happened to that aircraft: the last minutes of the flight, the crash (“emergency landing”), the mysterious loss and restoration of communications – everything that occurred, up until the public was informed about the accident and President’s death.

    All original recordings related to this accident disappeared in Russia. There is neither any photographic evidence being presented, nor video or audio, which would assuredly provide the answers for how this flight progressed to its fatal end. There is no electronic trace of evidence, no eye-witness testimony of the accident circumstances. No one saw anything, no one heard anything, no one filmed anything and no one recorded anything with his mobile phone.

    In this situation, only the world’s public opinion can force the Polish government ,and the government of Colonel Putin, to disclose the documents and all the evidence. Only military services of NATO, of which Poland is a member, who may possess or have access to the satellite pictures of the accident scene, can help us to establish the truth.

    The truth is what victims deserve. The truth is what we are obliged to deliver.

    JAGA1991 0 2 | 27.01.2011 03:45

  5. Uwe 2 February, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    All kinds of conspiracy allegations will not turn this “accident” away from being a “Pharaoh’s Suicide”.
    A politician thinking himself so important that his whole entourage had to follow him into his self afflicted death.