Polish investigation of Smolensk aircraft crash gets support from international team
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Polish investigation of Smolensk aircraft crash gets support from international team

The Polish commission for reinvestigating the aircraft crash in Smolensk in Russia on 10 April 2010, when 96 people, incl. the Polish president, lost their lives, was recently reinforced with an international team.

The international team includes Frank Taylor, a leading British aviation accident expert, and accident investigators from UK and Sweden. Taylor has been involved in the investigation of several other air accidents and has been the chairman of the UK’s Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety.

The Polish commission was established in March this year, following the parliamentary elections in Poland in October 2015 when the Law & Justice Party (PiS) gained a majority and formed a new government instead of the Civic Platform Party (PO).

In a statement at a press conference arranged by the commission in Warsaw last week (15th September), Taylor mentioned a number of suspected shortcomings in the previous Russian and Polish investigations of the Smolensk aircraft crash.

 “It is unacceptable that elements of the wreckage were moved immediately after the crash. This and each of the other issues raised, particularly the failure to obtain information from the cockpit area microphone, shed serious doubt on previous findings and provide sufficient justification for a new investigation.”

He also said “the lack of any proper report into the survival aspects of the crash, with details of how each person came to be fatally injured, was sufficient in itself to justify a further investigation”.

The international experts have called for a further investigation into all aspects of the Smolensk crash. They further concluded that previous investigations focused solely on pilot error and excluded the analysis of any other possible causes.

A Member of the Federation of Katyn Families who was involved in this international initiative told The Brussels Times  that “relatives of the Smolensk victims and a divided Polish nation can now be assured of growing international support, technical expertise, and foundations for an impartial process that will leave no stone unturned.” 

The people on board the Polish aircraft were en route from Warsaw to attend an event marking the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre. The Katyn forest west of Smolensk in Russia was the site of a mass killing of Polish officers by the Soviet security police during the Second World War.

The Smolensk air crash was the biggest tragedy in Poland’s modern history after the fall of the iron curtain. The air crash deepened existing political divides in Poland and has lingered on as an open wound.

The presidential plane, a Tupolev TU-154, crashed in the morning on 10 April 2010 in an attempt to land at the Severny airport in Smolensk or to find another airport because of the fog that morning. What really happened is disputed in Poland.

According to the previous investigations by the Russian and Polish authorities, the crash was caused by the crew because the pilot, pressed by the passengers to land, descended on a too low height at an excessive speed and in a fog that prevented visual contact with the terrain.  This led to collision with a birch tree causing the plane to lose part of its left wing. The aircraft become uncontrollable and finally crashed on the ground in an inverted position.

Those responsible for the previous Polish investigation reacted dismissively to the Polish reinvestigation of the air crash.

The European Parliament called in March 2015 for an “international and independent investigation into the causes of the crash”. It would seem that only such an investigation would have the required credibility to be accepted by a divided Polish society.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times