The Truth about the Fatal Plane Crash in Smolensk
by James Buchanan
Information is still coming in about the crash of the Polish Tu-154 at Smolensk with President Kaczynski and a good part of the Polish government on board. There seems to be an organized effort to blame the pilot for the crash claiming that President Kaczynski pressured him to land under impossible conditions.
The first strange piece of information that has come out was that the airport at Smolensk reportedly does not have an Instrument Landing System (ILS). Considering how horrendous the weather can be in Russia during winter and spring and fall, it’s stunning to hear that a significant European city of 330,000 people does not have an airport with an ILS.
One excuse is that the airport was an ex-military airbase. Which raises the question: “Were the Russians letting their $30 million dollar Sukhoi Su-27 fighters land there without an Instrument Landing System?”
Assuming the Russians did let a city that large run their airport on “visual flight rules” raises the question: Why would anyone ever want to land there? If I were planning an important event, where people had to fly in, I’d only recommend an airport that had an ILS. In this case, there was an airport at Vitebsk in Belarus with an ILS that was only 66 miles from the Katyn forest.
To safely land an airplane under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), the minimum safe distance for landing varies from 1 to 5 miles depending on the airspace. At an airbase like Smolensk North which may have Soviet fighters using it, a 5 mile visibility is necessary to spot any stray fighters in time to avoid them. Another source notes that –even with an instrument landing system, a half mile visibility is needed before a pilot is allowed to land his plane.
One source reports that the day of the crash the Smolensk North airport had a visibility of 400 meters. Other reports on the evening news and radio have mentioned much less visibility as low as 50 or 80 meters. Any sane pilot would not have attempted a VFR landing with that little visibility. The pilot likely made one orbit of the airfield to appease President Kaczynski and to show that the visibility was not good enough to land.
Obviously the pilot would not knowingly fly lower than the height of the surrounding hills plus the added height of trees and power lines. If the altimeter were sabotaged, this would be where the plane flew too low and everyone got killed.
A number of false or unsubstantiated stories have been circulating around the Internet and it would be good to address them:
1).Diverting the plane would have caused the Polish president to be extremely late for the Katyn ceremony: False. There was an airport with an instrument landing system at Vitebsk, Belarus only 66 miles from the Katyn Forest.
The Katyn memorial service was largely ceremonial and only a few hundred people were reportedly at the site. The Polish contingent would have been the most significant group since this included the Polish president, and the press would have waited for them to show up.
2).The Polish president pressured the pilot to land against his will: Disputed. This has been reported as fact even though everyone on the plane is dead and the Smolensk air traffic controller didn’t hear anything that would confirm this. Hopefully the black boxes will shed some light on this.
An article notes “In August 2008, Mr Kaczynski had pressed a pilot to land in Tbilisi, Georgia, even though conditions were dangerous during Russia’s short war with the country. After the pilot refused, Mr Kaczynski went into the cabin and later said: ‘If someone decides to become an officer they should not be cowardly.’
The pilot, who diverted to nearby Azerbaijan, was later awarded a medal for refusing to yield to the president. Andrzej Seremet, Poland’s chief prosecutor, told a news conference on Monday that, at this stage of the investigation, there was nothing to suggest pressure was put on the pilots. However, the Tu-154’s black boxes were still being analysed to see ‘if suggestions were made to the pilots’.” Judging from the earlier incident, the pilot would have stood to get a medal if he ignored pressure from Kaczynski and diverted the plane to another airport. Also President Kaczynski would have embarrassed himself and gotten bad press if he tried to bully another pilot.
3).The pilot made four or five approaches. Disputed. One article notes “The pilot told Mr Plyusnin (the Russian air controller at Smolensk) that he would make one approach to land before switching to an alternate destination if he did not succeed.” Another news source has eyewitnesses describing the crash.
None of them mention the plane making multiple attempts to land. Another article reports “The air traffic controller at the Air Base said, the airplane attempted only one approach before radio contact was lost.”
4).Lech Walesa said the pilot was pressured into landing. False. One source notes “Lech Walesa, the former Polish President, said that Captain Protasiuk would have been expected to consult. However, pilots are trained to resist pressure to take wrong decisions.”
5).The Tu-154 was a flying coffin with a horrible safety record. False. A list of crashes for the Tu-154 since 1994 by FoxNews, show only two previous crashes in Europe. All the other crashes were over Siberia or the the Third World, including two planes shot down and one plane blown up over Europe by Czechen terrorists.
Another source notes “On a note about the type of aircraft used, Paul Duffy, an expert on Russian aviation, stated… the hull-loss (crash) rate was normal for the number in service, the number of years it has been operated, and for the technology of the aircraft… 1015 Tu-154s have been built, 214 of which are still in service as of 14 December 2009.” The plane that carried President Kaczynski was only 20 years old and had undergone a major inspection and overhaul in December 2009.
All this raises the question: Who would want to eliminate the Polish government? An article in Jewish Currents entitled “The Return of the Radical Right in Poland” reports “Something has gone very, very wrong in Poland. After elections last September, a group called ‘Law and Justice,’ led by a longtime Solidarity activist and right-wing politician named Jaroslaw Kaczynski, emerged as the largest party in parliament.
Victory in the following month’s presidential election went to Kaczynski’s identical twin Lech… The Kaczynskis formed a coalition with an agrarian populist group called “Self-Defense” and a radical-right party with the innocuous name of ‘The League of Polish Families.’ Polite Western journalists have labeled this government ‘center-right’ or ‘conservative,’ but it is hard to find anything centrist about those holding power in Warsaw today.
Even Europe’s mainstream conservative parties have publicly disavowed any affiliation with Law and Justice (not to mention the other two coalition members). Put simply, the extreme right now rules Poland, and people widely considered marginal and dangerous even a year ago are now within the corridors of power.”
All it would have taken to cause the accident at Smolensk would have been the sabotage of the plane’s altimeter so that the pilot would have thought he was higher up than he was. Thousands of planes land in bad weather in Europe and the US and only a tiny number crash.
The arch-criminal Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.”