Saturday, 10 April 2010
Why did this happen
A Tu-154M as pictured above flying over our house, crashed this morning 1.5km from Smolensk military airport, killing all 96 people on board including President Lech Kaczyński, his wife, the last Polish President in Exile, Ryszard Kaczorowski, the President of the National Bank of Poland, Sławomir Skrzypek, and many other politicians, military leaders and VIPs.
Emotionally, the shock of the news felt to me like a gigantic, numbing, punch in the chest, the more so when the full list of passengers on board was revealed. I'd met several of them. We will be mourning for a long time. The enormity of the implications are beginning to sink in.
No doubt there will be criticism of the fact that Poland's leaders still fly around in elderly Soviet-era aircraft, the planes of the 36th Special Aviation Regiment are of the same mid-'80s vintage as those used to fly Britain's royalty and politicians. The Polish VIP fleet is well-maintained, despite difficulties with spares and avionics.
It's worth remembering the crash in December 2003 involving the Polish premier of the time, Leszek Miller, in a 36th Special Aviation Regiment Mil Mi-8 helicopter. At that time, nearly six and half years ago, there was a renewed public debate about the urgent need to replace the elderly Soviet aircraft used to fly Poland's leaders. An inquiry concluded that the accident was due to pilot error (the pilot had not switched on the engines' de-icing heater). More recent talk about using chartered commercial airliners to transport Poland's VIPs remained just talk.
No doubt some voices will immediatly be talking of a 'second Gibraltar'; a full and transparent inquiry will be needed to ascertain why the Tu-154M hit trees in fog a whole 1.5km from the end of the runway at Smolensk. At first sight it looks like pilot error - after circling the airport three times, it clipped trees as it made its approach. There must be full openness, no obfuscation or official foot-dragging; why did the pilot not take up the offer to land at an alternative airport?
Poland's head of state is now Bronisław Komorowski, speaker of the parliament (and Civic Platform's presidential candidate). The presidential elections, due for November, will be brought forward.