Back in September I wrote a post that quoted a story claiming that the air traffic controller on duty when the aircraft carrying Polish President Kacyzinski and 96 other high-level government officials crashed had retired three days after the crash, and that the Russian government claimed that it was unable to find him. (How convenient. And how amazing it would be that in a state like Russia with its relative lack of mobility and intrusive police and security presence that a government employee could disappear when he would be an essential material witness in an investigation with international implications.)
That story is of particular interest today given this report from Stratfor (h/t R):
Russian air traffic controllers failed to warn the crew of then-President Lech Kaczynski’s plane that they were off course shortly before crashing in 2010, Polish Interior Minister Jerzy Miller said Jan. 18, AP reported.
Here’s the AP report:
Russian air traffic controllers failed to warn the crew of Polish President Lech Kaczynski’s plane that it was off course shortly before it crashed last year in Russia, Polish investigators said Tuesday.
Interior Minister Jerzy Miller –who heads a Polish panel investigating the crash –made the claim nearly a week after the release of a Russian report that laid the blame squarely on the Poles.
. . . .
Miller said that Russian controllers consistently told the crew that the plane was on the correct course to land _ but the aircraft was actually flying 70 yards (meters) below the level where it should have been. He said it was also 80 yards (meters) off course just seconds before it crashed close to the airport.
“The controller should not be telling the crew that they are on the right course while they were off course,” Miller said. “There is no information at all from the control tower to the crew to tell them that they are not on the right path to descend.”
Miller presented parts of the recorded conversation between the crew and tower coupled with a video animation of the descent.
In the recording the tower tells the crew that all airport systems are on and ready.
Note that the Poles will not absolve the flight crew:
The Polish commission is to publish its findings in February and Miller said it will be even tougher on the Poles who were responsible for the flight.
But the Poles will demand that the Russians identify any errors made on the Russian side:
However, Polish officials insist that Moscow address whether any mistakes might have been made by Russian officials.
Good luck with that.
It would be very interesting to learn what happened to the controller. Did he really retire? Did he really disappear off the face of the earth? (Anybody have him in the dead pool?)
I don’t know for certain, but in light of these Polish accusations, the curiously timed “retirement” and unknown whereabouts of the controller are a matter of considerable importance. Has anybody seen any subsequent reporting on this subject, either supporting or debunking the story? If it is true, it would cast serious doubts on the Russian account. If it is not, what has he had to say? Were the Poles allowed to question him?
Regardless of the truth of the retirement/disappearance story, there is a yawning gap between the Russian narrative and the Polish one. The Russian narrative places all the blame on the Poles–most notably on the deceased president. The Polish narrative assigns blame to both the Poles and the Russians. (Likely, both conditions–errors by the Russian controllers and foolhardy flying by the Poles–were necessary for the crash to occur like it did.)
Recently Poland and Russia have made steps towards something of a rapprochement; the recent deal between Poland and Gazprom is one example of that. Will a dispute over the crash impede that warming trend? That remains to be seen. But Russian actions with respect to the handling of the crash forensics should serve to remind the Poles that with the Russians, “reset” often resembles Lucy resetting the football.