Sunday, April 11, 2010

What really happened on that plane?

Reading about the Polish airline crash which took the lives of the president of Poland and his wife and close to 90 members of the Polish elite, the first thing to come to my mind was that it would be a very respectful and reasonable thing to do to drop the Polish yellow press that I have been publishing in the Polish Police and Administrative Corruption page. And my first thought was that that I shouldn’t print any such stories in today’s BEING HAD Times either.

But while cruising through some of the stories about the crash, I found a very interesting article in the Bulgarian (The Sofia News Agency). The article included an opinion by Poland’s Ambassador to Sofia, Andrzej Papierz saying that the captain of the Polish government plane, which crashed near Smolensk on Saturday, was likely pressured by the high-ranking delegation.

“The easiest thing is to put the blame on the pilot because he was in charge but I would abstain from doing that,” His Excellency said talking to Bulgarian journalists after the service in the Catholic cathedral in Sofia honoring the memory of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and the other 95 person who died in the horrific crash on their way to the Katyn Massacre remembrance ceremonies.

“I wouldn’t want to elaborate on this topic but I have traveled with such delegations many times, and I know that there is enormous pressure piling on the pilot in such cases even if the person in charge of the flight believes landing should not be attempted,” Papierz declared commenting on why the Polish pilot attempted to land at Smolensk even though he was advised by the Russian dispatchers to land in Minsk.

Papierz pointed out that a lot of people had gathered for the remembrance of the 70th year since the Katyn Massacre, and after landing at Smolensk, the VIP Polish delegation, which was led by President Kaczynski, had to travel another 15 km to the actual spot of the ceremonies. The Belorussian capital Minsk, where the plane was advised to land, is located 150 km away from the Katyn Massacre site, and the delegation probably decided that landing there would mean a huge delay.

Ambassador Papierz said he participated in the opening of the Polish military cemetery near Katyn 10 years ago, and knows the fatal airport at Smolensk where Kaczynski’s plane attempted to land.

“This is one of the many military airports, in the woods, I don’t see any fault on part of the Russians here. These are very narrow, surrounded by forests, there was a very thick fog, and this is what caused this tragedy,” Poland’s Ambassador in Sofia suggested as cited by BTA.

He said that authorities would probably be more careful in sending such large VIP delegations on one plane. In his words, the Bulgarian President travels the same way with his delegations when he visits foreign countries.

“We are not so rich as to have Air Force 1 planes, and to transport everyone individually. This is our reality. There has been much talk of buying new planes but the society is very sensitive towards such purchases; such decisions are viewed very negatively by the people, I think the situation in Bulgaria is similar. People see them as a kind of privilege, and as a result our government had two Tu-154 airplanes, and one of them crashed,” Papierz concluded.

Now, what I like about this idea is that it reminded me of something I published back in October of 2008. That story was about an incident that occurred when Kaczynski was heading to an anti-Russian rally in Georgia in August of that year and had berated the pilot of that plane so he would not be troubled or too inconvenienced by a delay, which to me is pretty much exactly what the Bulgarian ambassador had to say.

Here is the text of that article here:

Pilot awarded Silver Cross for saying “no” to President

Poland’s Defence Minister has awarded the captain of the “Polish Air Force 1” Tu-154, carrying President Lech Kaczynski and the Baltic States leaders to the anti-Russian rally in Georgian capital in August, with the Silver Cross of Merit for refusing to change the flight schedule.

The captain of the Polish aircraft, with the presidents of Poland, Lithuania and Estonia and the Latvian PM on board, said “no” to President Lech Kaczynski when requested that he fly direct to Tbilisi instead of the originally planned destination of an airfield in Azerbaijan. The pilot decided that for safety reasons – Georgian airspace was in control of the Russians at the time - his aircraft should stick to the original schedule and, against Kaczynski’s wish, flew the top politicians to Azerbaijan.

To President Kaczynski’s distaste, the statesmen then had to travel from Azerbaijan to Tbilisi in a four hour car convoy.

Shortly after touchdown in Azerbaijan, the Polish President expressed his annoyance at the pilot’s “cowardice” and said he would hold him “responsible for his disobedience”.

"The pilot, who has been suffering from depression since the incident, is again on duty and has been awarded for his brave decision,” said Minister Klich.

I am not going to make any jokes right now. And I am not going to point out any obvious conclusions because I feel that this would be a little disrespectful all things considered. But to tell you the absolute truth, to me, and this includes the entirety of my experience and my association with this newspaper and in my time spent in Poland, it just makes complete sense. Most probably, they just decided that they would not be inconvenienced by something as stupid as the truth about the safety of the landing situation. They demanded to be served because their position was such that they felt they had the right to make all of the decisions. They knew what they wanted to do, and they were going to get there without any delays despite any rational evidence to the contrary. And the results are exactly what happened to them.

And really, my heart tells me I should not make any jokes. But if I had to say something, and this among the 2000 or so documents I have put up on the internet concerning the subject of Polish corruption, let me just say that it’s a hell of a lesson and something really to think about, should you decide to take a moment and think about what most probably really happened on that plane.

Anyway, this is all I wanted to say here.