Report on the condition of the state

Witold Dudzinski

Inadequately trained, wrongly directed by the Russian air traffic controllers and fatally equipped airfield - the most important conclusions of the committee chaired by Jerzy Miller, the Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Have we learnt anything more about the Smolensk plane crash? If yes, it has not been much more. 'The report consisting of 328 pages and five annexes, prepared by over 30 people investigating into the causes of the Smolensk crash, was unanimously accepted,' Minister Jerzy Miller said. The report enumerates the causes of the crash and the circumstances that favoured it. It shows that there were numerous causes and even more favourable circumstances. However, the guilt and responsibility for the crash was not pronounced. The resignation of Bogdan Klich, the Minister of National Defence, was not any punishment, as Prime Minister Donald Tusk swore, but Mr Klich's own decision that he as his superior understood and accepted.
'The immediate cause of the accident was the descent below the minimum descent altitude at an excessive rate of descent in weather conditions which prevented visual contact with the ground, as well as a delayed execution of the go-round procedure. Those circumstances led to an impact on a terrain obstacle resulting in separation of a part of the left wing with aileron and consequently to the loss of aircraft control and eventual ground impact,' the report says.

They wanted an alibi

We waited for the report indeed long. It was in February that Minister Miller announced that the report would be created with a six-week delay. Then the dates of its presentation were postponed many times. It was to be presented in March, April, June and finally, Prime Minister Tusk, explaining the delay caused by translators' difficulties, announced that its publication would be on 29 July 2011.
However, as Prof. Marek Zylicz, one of the experts of the committee, specialist in aviation law, revealed the committee worked under the unprecedented pressure on punctuality. 'If it had had half a year more, the results would have been much richer.' However, in his opinion it is impossible to get to know the whole truth about the crash.
For Witold Waszczykowski, the former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Head of the National Security Bureau, Prime Minister Tusk chose that date of the presentation of the report on purpose. 'The thing was not the difficulty with the translation but the approaching elections - they are the cause of the manipulation of this date. There was a dispute about the range of the contents of the report even in the ruling team,' he says. 'Who and how much should be possibly burdened with responsibility for the crash. And the fact that no one has been blamed is misunderstanding. Even if someone causes a bump the guilt is pronounced when the fine is given,' Waszczykowski says. 'Whereas when the president and all army commanders are killed no one feels responsible for that, not even the head of the Government Protection Bureau (BOR) and his superiors responsible for the president's security. Nobody was held responsible.
The presentation of the report was directed preceded by a scandal connected with the form of inviting the victims' families. The invitations were sent by e-mails. 'I received it two days before the presentation when I was at the seaside,' says Andrzej Melak, a brother of Stefan Melak, one of the victims of the crash. 'I spoke to the families that do not use e-mails, like the parents of one of the crewmembers. They had no information. It is not elegant to invite families 15 minutes before the publication of the report. And what was it for? To have an alibi? We are upset about such a behaviour of the government.

Only one man had clearance

The leaks said that the most severe criticism would be directed towards the pilots. But no one expected what was found in the report. The main culprit was the 36th Special Regiment of Aviation Transport. Its pilots operate the governmental aircrafts. There were violations of regulations concerning pilots' rest. The new pilots, employed just after their graduation from aviation schools, were trained hastily and against the norms.
'The level of training of the crew of TU-154 threatened the security of flights. Some members of the crew appointed to the flights on 7 April (the flight of the Prime Minister to Smolensk) and on 10 April did not have clearance for these flights,' said Maciej Lasek, a member of the committee. The only person who had clearance was the technician. Before the flight to Smolensk the regiment gave up the help of the Russian leaders. The Russians accepted it although the presence of such aid was a condition to land in Smolensk. But such actions were common - in the opinion of the committee.

The airfield and the work of the air traffic controllers

According to the committee the airfield in Smolensk was prepared incorrectly. The lamps of the lighting system were out of order and the trees around the airfield were too high. The thickly planted trees could have disturbed the work of the radiolocation landing system. The committee acknowledged that the airfield did not ensure adequate conditions for save landing. Although the airport was closed from October 2009 the Russians assured us that they would be ready for the visits of 7 and 10 April. As the committee found out the decision to attempt to land was right but during its realisation the pilots used the wrong altimeter. The air traffic controllers gave wrong landing directions to the pilots. At the tenth km they suggested to begin descending. The captain might have been the only one that knew Russian well and that's why, being overloaded with duties (he steered the plane, supervised the apparatus and at the same time talked to the traffic control tower) did not hear the message. But two km farther, although the aircraft was above the path and to the left of the runaway, the controllers confirmed that the plane was on the right path and good height. It had fatal effects.

A year and half delay

Was it worth waiting for the report? According to Tomasz Terlikowski, publicist and head of the portal, it was not since the report did not bring a lot to our knowledge about the disaster. The theses could have been formulated a year ago. 'The fact that the pilots were not trained adequately, that they were misled by the Russian air traffic controllers, that we had irresponsible Minister Klich, was known for long,' he says. 'It was hard to expect something new when we had no access to the original black boxes; we did not examine the wreckage of the plane, which had been destroyed in the meantime. It is hard to expect that the presentation of the report was more than a public relations game of Prime Minister Tusk. 'The report should have shown concrete people, the heads of departments, offices, who are responsible for the lack of security of the visit. It is unprecedented that throughout 16 months after the plane crash no one has been held responsible - neither political nor penal or any other responsibility. It is the discredit of Prime Minister Tusk,' Arkadiusz Mularczyk, MP from the Law and Justice Party, says. The several month-delayed resignation of Minister Klich does not change anything in this evaluation.
'Both the contents of the report and the resignation of Minister Klich result from political arrangements that a scapegoat must be found,' Witold Waszczykowski evaluates. 'The blade of the report was directed against the 36th Special Regiment. It is worth asking how some members of the committee that controlled the regiment earlier are going to explain that they did not notice anything wrong in it. The report says very little about the role of the Government Security Bureau supervised by Minister Miller. Almost nothing has been written about the Chancellery of the Prime Minister, directed by Minister Tomasz Arabski. 'It is this office that coordinates and is responsible for such flights. The report tries to turn attention away from it,' Waszczykowski thinks.
But in his opinion the report also has positive aspects: no one can any longer accuse General Andrzej Blasik and President Lech Kaczynski of exerting pressure on the pilots. Unfortunately, it also shows a horrifying condition of the state and its institutions after a few years of rules of the present government.

"Niedziela" 32/2011

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