Streetwise Professor

January 18, 2011

The Case of the Retiring Air Traffic Controller

Filed under: History,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:03 pm

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.

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  1. Doesn’t this give a Polish relative the right to murder the air traffic controller and return home a hero?

    Comment by Tim Newman — January 19, 2011 @ 1:50 am

  2. Doesn’t this give a Polish relative the right to murder the air traffic controller and return home a hero?

    That’s why Russia put the dude on a Witness Protection Program… he’s in a nice, cute village in Siberia.

    Comment by Howard Roark — January 19, 2011 @ 2:00 am

  3. Howard, you don’t know Russians.

    First, they will ask you to drive the plane into the ground for the sake of the country, and they will promise you all the benefits available in this world.
    Next, they will send you to the next world so that no one ever-ever-ever knows the truth.
    The dude might have already been made into dog food.

    Looking at the ugly BP deal, I can only guess what kind of violence they promised to Dudley, and they were successful to brake him down.
    There are animals, then there are vicious animals, and then there are Russians.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — January 19, 2011 @ 3:28 am

  4. Here is a typical example of Russian mentality.

    An excerpt:
    ?????? ?????? ??????? ??????? ??????? ??????????? ??? ????????? ???? ????? ?? ???????????? ?????????? ?????? ??????, ?????????? ?? ??? ???????????? ?????????? ??????? ????????? ???????? ????? ?? ???????????, ??????? ?????? ???????????? ?????????.

    Translation by Google Translate:
    And most recently, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Schtub committed a deliberate provocation against Russia, demanding that it grants permission for Finnish citizens to buy land in the territories which formerly belonged to Helsinki.
    End of the excerpt.

    The curious feature of Russian mentality is that they believe that Russians have a natural right to buy property anywhere in the world. But if Finnish citizens wish to buy land in the former Finnish territories of Russia – that is a provocation.

    As I say, there are animals, then there are vicious animals, and then there are Russians.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — January 19, 2011 @ 3:53 am

  5. It isn’t a coincidence that hours before Poland released this report Russia preempted it with, of all things, an attempt to blame Poland. Russian spies got wind of what the Polish report would say and when it would be released, and they responded the only way Russians know how, with a pile of neo-Soviet lies.

    Meanwhile, even a cursory glance at Russia’s air safety record (it’s by far one of the most dangerous places to get on a plane in the world) will show how utterly characteristic of Russia this behavior is. In Putin’s Russia, individual human lives have no value at all, and if a hated enemy of the Kremlin is sacrificed, so much the better. A clever person would realize the incompetence and callousness this extreme could easily be manipulated for purposes of assassination, if a government were run by a clan of spies and were so inclined. It’s hard to decide which is worse, if Russia killed this man on purpose or if it couldn’t protect him. Either way the potential ramifications for the Sochi Olympiad are dire indeed.

    Comment by La Russophobe — January 19, 2011 @ 4:35 am

  6. Sochi Olympiad?
    Ranimals don’t care much.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — January 19, 2011 @ 5:12 am

  7. Let’s not forget that Russia is hated not only by Poland but throughout Europe:

    Will Putin himself have his visa revoked? One can only pray.

    Comment by La Russophobe — January 19, 2011 @ 7:17 am


    Didn’t mean to imply Russians care, they’ll probably cheer the brutal murder of Western athletes as they cheered 911. I mean “dire” from the perspective of the West.

    Comment by La Russophobe — January 19, 2011 @ 7:18 am

  9. For the first time, Russian immunity at the EBRD is revoked and high-ranking Russians are targeted for prosecution:

    Putin is equally corrupt:

    Is he next for arrest? One can only pray.

    Comment by La Russophobe — January 19, 2011 @ 7:19 am

  10. LOL.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — January 19, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

  11. Smolensk – the tombstone of Polish power.

    Comment by So? — January 19, 2011 @ 8:26 pm

  12. Prof. Pirrong,

    The Russians released the cockpit recordings showing conversations with the Polish pilots and warnings by their flight system to ‘pull up’. Here’s the video:

    Never let the facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory. The equivalent of 9/11 Trutherism is a ok if Russians are implicated.

    Comment by Dirk — February 3, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

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