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THE POLISH PLANE CRASH

By NBF News
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The recent plane crash in which the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, his wife, Maria, and 96 other high-ranking officials of the country perished is a monumental tragedy. The Russian built Tupolev-154 military plane, which flew the Polish delegation to Russia for the 70th anniversary of the massacre of 22,000 Polish prisoners of war in the village of Katyn during World War II, crashed during a fourth attempt at landing.

Initial reaction to the incident by Russian authorities blamed the crash on human error on the part of the flight crew. Polish Defence Ministry had explained that the plane took off from Warsaw Airport and was approaching the airport at Smolensk, just a few miles east of Katyn, when it hit some trees at the end of the runway.

However, the Russian prosecutor's office said that the plane was trying to land in heavy fog in total disregard of air controller's advice to divert the plane to another airport. Also, Russian aviation experts claimed that 'VIP passenger syndrome' might have played a part in causing the tragedy, as it was alleged that Lech Kaczynski had previously tried to sack a pilot who refused to land a plane for him in dangerous circumstances.

Black box recordings have confirmed that the pilot, Arkadiusz Protasiuk, an experienced airman serving with the Polish air force, had ignored a warning to divert to another airport because of heavy fog. It has also been suggested that Lech Kaczynski did not want to miss a ceremony for the Poles massacred by Soviet Forces in the Second World War and may have urged the air crew to land the plane.

There is yet another angle to the crash. A senior air traffic controller at the Russian airport where the plane was trying to land has suggested that the Polish pilot's poor knowledge of the Russian language was to blame. He said that the flight crew had difficulty communicating the altitude of the plane on the approach to landing.

Polish chief prosecutor, Andrzej Seremet, said there was no information from the investigation so far to suggest that Kaczynski put pressure on the pilot to land the plane. A Polish MP had claimed that the Krelim was partly to blame for the tragedy.

Though the two countries have set aside centuries of mutual distrust to present a united and recrimination-free front, Artur Gorski, a member of the Law and Justice Party founded by the late president believed that Russia may have tried to prevent Kaczynski's plane from landing and thereby indirectly caused the death.

Whichever is the case, the investigative team made up of Polish and Russian experts should unravel the circumstances that led to this disaster. They should make bare the factors responsible for the crash-be they human error, mechanical fault or foul play. Getting to the bottom of the matter will help aviation authorities to prevent a recurrence.

It is, indeed, ironic that those who went for the anniversary of those killed in the 1940 massacre, for which Moscow has not issued a proper apology, also met their death in tragic circumstances. Already, world leaders including Nigeria's Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, have commiserated with the people and government of Poland over the sad incident. In its message, the Nigerian government described the late president as a remarkable statesman, a modernizer of his country and a great contributor to international peace and security.

We commiserate with the people and government of Poland on the irreparable loss and pray that God would grant the souls of the departed eternal repose. Without pre-empting the likely outcome of the investigation of the incident, we implore flight crew to always adhere to air traffic controllers' instructions before landing. Each time such warnings are ignored, the result has been disastrous. Pilots should not take instructions from any passenger, no matter how highly placed, on issues concerning landing. It is most likely that the crash would have been averted if the crew had obeyed the instruction to land in an alternate airport.

Other pilots should learn a lesson from this crash and do things that would ensure air safety at all times. Aviation experts should equally come up with measures to reduce plane crashes.