Sunday, 11 April 2010

Fertile ground for conspiracy theorists

Princess Di: murdered by the Royal Family. NASA on the moon: an ingenious fabrication. 9/11: devised by the Bush regime for its own ends. JFK: assassinated by the Military-Industrial Complex, Cuban guerillas, LBJ, the Mob and the KGB all working together.

It is clear that conspiracy theories will circulate around yesterday's tragedy at Smolensk for decades to come. The sense of shock and disbelief will turn into rumour and searches for dark motives and guilty conspirators. Here we go!
The death of General Sikorski at Gibraltar strongly parallels Smolensk; both resulted in the deaths of the nation's head of state and military leader (along with President Kaczynski and many senior politicians, the chiefs of Poland's army, navy and air force and the chief of general staff all perished yesterday). To me and to a great many Poles, Gibraltar was sabotage. It will take mountains of historical evidence to convince me that the crash was simply an accident. Previous attempts on his life also involving his aircraft and the presence of Soviet spy Kim Philby all lead the rational mind conclude that it was murder at Stalin's behest.

Removing a large number of the nation's elite at a stroke, yesterday's crash immediately revives the ghost of Gibraltar. I must confess my very first thought on hearing confirmation of the news was 'this was deliberate'.

In my professional career I was always taught never to speculate, yet speculation based on unfounded information will circulate, plots will be devised, shady characters uncovered, entire underground cottage industries will inevitably develop, each firmly wedded to their own theory of who, why and how managed to wipe out such a significant number of the people who run Poland.

To the elderly man or woman in the Grochów tram, the motives of any putative plotters would have been clear - remove the conservative right from Polish politics, the staunch defenders of Polishness against godless liberalism at home and Bruxello-Muscovite machinations abroad (no doubt aided and abetted by Jews, Masons and Cyclists).

It's too early to offer a true explanation of how this latest Polish tragedy came to pass. As I wrote yesterday, an entirely transparent air crash investigation is an absolute must - not the minutest detail can be hidden or brushed aside by either Russia or Poland. The world's media need to have total access to all information concerning the crash.

After 24 hours of media examination, my current thinking is as follows. In thick fog, the crew of the Tu-154 made three attempts to land. The control tower is reported to have recommended flying to another airport. The captain (who takes ultimate responsibility for the aircraft and its passengers) took the decision to make a fourth attempt. I feel that there may well have been an element of mistrust between tower and flightdeck (as in 'those Russians don't want us at Katyń so they're trying to put us off). The cockpit voice recorder will tell us whether the pilot was pressured by someone into making another attempt to land. Whether or not this was the case, whoever ultimately took the decision to land made a fatal error of judgment. It was also the sheerest folly to pack so many VIPs on one flight, akin to Princess Di failing to put on a seatbelt as she set off at high speed from the Ritz.

A pilot who makes it down safely through thick fog is praised for his skill. Several years ago, flying back from Christmas in England, our LOT flight was unable to land at Okęcie because of fog. As we circled over Poland, waiting for a decision whether to make for an alternative airport (Berlin? Katowice?), we could see the Tatras and even the Świętokrzyskie hills (600m) sticking out through a uniform white blanket covering the entire country. After several circuits, we were told to prepare for landing. From our position, I could work out that we were going for Warsaw. As we neared the top of the cloud, the undercarriage was lowered. I've never seen that before - wheels out, and not only could we not see the ground, but we were still above the clouds in a blue sky! We dipped into the dense cloud, I could not even see the wingtips. Then suddenly, the wheels were on the ground. One attempt, a perfect landing. Skill or luck, Kapitan Śmietana*? Later on the TV news we learned that only one plane had managed to land at Okęcie that day.

But then Okęcie has Category II instrument landing system. Smolensk has no ILS, just a rudimentary glide slope indicator. The element of risk in trying to put down a plane as large as a Tu-154 in such weather conditions with so many VIPs on board was shockingly high.

I'm mindful of the Mirosławiec disaster in January 2008, where 16 senior air force officers were killed when their CASA-295M crashed in bad weather on a repeated approach to a military airport in north-west Poland. Lessons just don't seem to have been learned. The Polish media and blogosphere is also talking about the flight of five presidents to Georgia in 2008, where Lech Kaczyński insisted that the pilot of the Tu-154M land in Georgia despite adverse conditions. The pilot, whose passengers also included the presidents of Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia disobeyed the order, flying on instead to Azerbaidjan.

* Could it be this Kapitan Śmietana?


Anonymous said...

With one particular conspiracy theory there are a lot of people 'beating around the bush' at the moment.

"Did Kaczyński order the pilot (either directly or via one of the many generals on board) to not divert to another airport but to keep trying until he landed at Smolensk?"

That's the question and the other question is whether we will ever know the true answer. Even if he did and if there is evidence of such in the flight recorders I'm struggling to believe that this will become public knowledge and he will end up being blamed for the accident.

Putin is truly there to help or to help keep the Russian end quiet?

As you say, lots of ammunition for conspiracy theorists.

Not that I'm one of them.

Stefan Kubiak said...

I remember comments on the Miroslawiec disaster. 'Talking heads' emphasised the irresponsibility of putting so many VIPs onto one machine. The question is whether we are able to draw conclusions from previous disasters.

adthelad said...

I'm with you Michał with regard to speculation but like you my antennae are on full alert.
Diplomatic niceties aside, it all depends on how much information the Russian authorities and existing Polish authorities will wish to share with the public. Will there be as much disinformation as real information. I've read today in the Times Russian media reporting the plane dumped fuel before their first landing attempt. Oh well, still early days.

student SGH said...

what gives ground for conspiracy theories is lack of transparency. If all records should be revealed, even if they are inconvenient. If there's a white hole, some facts are missing, the hole is filled in by what people devise.

Scatts and adtheland are right - some officials might be reluctant to divulge potentially unpopular information.

Ryszard Wasilewski said...

The main factor in this tragedy was the weather, hardly an event that could have been arranged, or even accurately anticipated well in advance, by the KGB or some other Mob.

Polish history is so burdened with so much horror; so many times our neighbors have tried to eliminate Polish elites, Polish existence itself, that to overlay Katyń, Gibraltar, and all else with this, marks us with deep stigma. Do we need this to be our main characteristic? I think I would prefer a lie, a concealment, a successful conspiracy. Playground of the Gods? That seems the most reasonable explanation.

Mike said...

I find it hard to believe that they will not attempt to find someone to 'blame' over this. Whether it's the pilot for disobeying orders or the ground crew at the airport for not switching enough lights on (that's a new one!). I can't think for a moment it will be the President.

We will receive whatever information is deemed necessary to quell our curiosity. The theories will be abundant, but far from the truth no doubt.

Jacek Koba said...

The laws of physics are one of the three conspirators, the way I see it. Tons of metal hurtling towards the runway and clipping an object on the ground can't be easily righted again. The instruments must have melted to the consistency of playdough in the pilot's hands. Two, the pilot may have been under pressure to put down. Three, and following on from two, Poles should take it on board that symbolic gestures, however noble, are not worth the price we are paying for them. The emotions have not yet cooled after the Katyn massacre, as each successive spat with the Russians shows, and it is too early for shows of triumphalism. As regards the age of the plane, conflicting stories abound. Planes are so thoroughly overhauled every few years that there is little left save the original shell. Indeed, planes that have been in service for a long time are referred to as the 'workhorses' of the (enter name of country) airforce (the case of Nimrod, etc). Plane years, if the planes are properly serviced, are not measured in human years.

adthelad said...

At the moment my best guess, if the info we've been given so far is true, is that after the third attempt they were so low on fuel the pilot might have been forced to do a quick turn and was simply a mite too low (or without enough juice) to complete the fourth and final manoeuvre. Still, what do I know?

Anonymous said...

Who made the arrangements for the flight? Why land the plane at a military airfield variously described in the media as decommissioned or abandoned, especially when an earlier plan full of the Polish press landed at the Smolensk civilian airport, rather than the abandoned military one?

However, PM Tusk used the same military airport, and indeed the same plane (does anyone know if it was the same pilot?) and no doubt the same in-and-out quickly timetable when he visited earlier in the week.

I would guess that the Poles wanted to keep both visits (but especially the second private one) extreme low key. Therefore, land at an obscure airport, bus directly to Katyn, hold ceremony, bus back to little-known airport and fly home, all in a matter of hours. The second flight in particular would involve no official receptions with the Russians, no Russian media interviews, indeed as little Russian input at all.

There had been no problems with Tusk’s visit, but not the second time round…

Lessons will have toi be learnt about where and how top level delegations will fly in futre. But will they?

Anonymous said...

In spite of being Grochów-dweller i had no thoughts of conspiracy. Could it be elderly ladies of Jeziorki infected you with left-bank-good-right-bank-bad-stereotype virus ?

Michael Dembinski said...

I mentioned 'Grochów' because that's where the rumour was heard. No doubt the elderly ladies of Jeziorki would share the same point of view - apologies for the stereotype!