Crash of the Polish Air Force One, 2014 Status Report By Maria Szonert Binienda, J.D.
Maria Szonert Binienda
About the author: Maria Szonert Binienda, M.L., J.D., MBA
Attorney Szonert-Binienda received her Master in Law Degree in Public International Law from the University of Warsaw, Juris Doctor Degree from Rutgers University, and MBA from the University of Akron. She was one semester short of completing her post-graduate journalism program at the University of Warsaw when she was forced to leave Poland as a result of 1981 Martial Law.
Attorney Szonert-Binienda began her legal career in Philadelphia and subsequently joined the law firm of Jones Day Reavis and Pogue. With the demise of communism, she joined Skadden Arp Slate Meagher and Flom and became involved in the restructuring of post-communist countries. Subsequently, she worked at the U.S. Department of State, Agency for International Development, serving as Capital Market Specialist for Europe and Newly Independent States. She later served as Vice President and Legal Counsel for KeyBank.
For the past decade, she has served on numerous boards of non-profit organizations, published extensively, and became Founder and President of Libra Institute, Inc.
In that capacity she led the efforts of Polonia in the USA for declassification of Katyn related documentation. Attorney Szonert Binienda also served as a project coordinator with the Public International Law and Policy Group for Janowiec and Others vs. Russia case before the European Court of Human Rights. Since 2010, she has been actively involved in the struggle for fair and transparent investigation of the Polish Air Force One crash in Smolensk, Russia, on April 10, 2010.
Early morning on April 10, 2010, the Polish Governmental Airplane Tu-154M (“Polish Air Force One”) departed from Warsaw, Poland, to Smolensk, Russia, carrying on board the highest level delegation of the Republic of Poland for the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre. The official delegation consisted of the President of Poland, First Lady, all members of the Central Command of the Polish Armed Forces, parliamentary, government and Church officials, and representatives of the families of the Katyn victims. Upon entering the airspace of the Military Airdrome “Severny” in Smolensk, Russia, the Polish pilot made one reconnaissance approach to landing. At the decision altitude, he chose not to land and issued a command to “go around.” Seconds later, the Polish Air Force One crashed. The entire Polish delegation of the highest level perished less than a mile from the Severny Airdrome in Smolensk, Russia. All 96 people on board were killed; there were no survivors ("Smolensk Crash").
Within minutes of the crash, the international media announced that pilot error led to the crash of the Polish Air Force One. This irresponsible rush to conclusion stands in contradiction to a well-known rule that whenever the head of state dies in a plane crash the probability of sabotage is increased. This principle was proclaimed, inter alia, in the Russian response to the investigation of the 1986 crash that killed President Samora Machel of Mozambique.1 The history teaches that when the head of state dies in the airplane crash, invariably the sabotage is involved.2 The history also teaches that initial investigations of high profile plane crashes tend to be conducted under undue political pressure. Transparent and impartial in-depth investigations are possible only years later.3
On December 19, 2010, Poland, acting as the state of operator and registry and the state that suffered fatalities of unprecedented significance, submitted its comments to a draft of the Russian final report. The Remarks of the Republic of Poland to the draft final report of the Russian Federation (“Polish Response”) pointed to a number of factual errors, omissions, misrepresentations and false premises in the Russian report. The Polish side also complained about the lack of Russian cooperation in the investigation by pointing out that Russia did not respond at all to 169 out of 222 Polish inquiries for information. Most importantly, in its remarks the Polish side requested ‘the reformulation of causes and circumstance” of the Smolensk Crash.4
Photo (left) Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visits Poland in December 2010. Source: PAP
The Polish Response was submitted to the Russian side under intense political pressure, in the context of a visit of the Russian President Dimitri Medvedev to Poland. During this visit, President Medvedev urged the Polish side not to object to the Russian findings.5 Subsequently, the Russian side disregarded entirely the Polish Response, including the Polish objections to the cause of the crash.
On January 12, 2011, the Russians announced their final report on the investigation into the Smolensk Crash at a press conference in Moscow (“Russian Report”)6. This high profile event was broadcast across the globe. The Russians put the blame for causing the crash squarely on the Polish pilots and the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Air Force General Andrzej Blasik. The Russians went so far as to make groundless allegations that General Blasik, acting under the influence of alcohol, was not only present in the cockpit at the time of the crash but also interfered with pilots’ duty by forcing them to land.7 Indirectly, the Russian report also blamed late President Lech Kaczynski for exerting undue pressure on the pilots to land “at any means.”
One-sided arbitrary actions of the Russian Federation concerning the investigation of the Smolensk Crash violated the spirit of international cooperation, fundamental norms of any airplane crash investigation, and Annex 13 of the Chicago Convention accepted by Russia as a guiding framework for this investigation. The primary objective of the Smolensk Crash investigation was not achieved because the pilot error scenario upon which the Russians based their conclusions remains unsubstantiated. The Russian Report contains a considerable bias by presenting unreliable information, replacing a solid technical analysis with a speculative psychological characterization of the Polish crew, and omitting important information in order to advance the pilot error scenario. As a result, the Russian Report presents groundless conclusions.
The United States has a direct interest in the investigation of the Smolensk Crash for several reasons. It shall be noted that a US citizen, Wojciech Seweryn from Chicago, Illinois, died in this crash. Also, among ten generals of the Polish Armed Forces who perished in the crash, five of them served as top NATO commanders. Among them was General Franciszek Gągor, who was next in line to assume central command of NATO forces in Europe. Furthermore, the following Polish generals who supported the US military mission in Iraq and Afghanistan were killed in this tragedy: General Andrzej Błasik, Gen. Tadeusz Buk, Gen. Bronisław Kwiatkowski, Gen. Włodzimierz Potasiński, and Gen. Tadeusz Płoski. The USA played an important role in the investigation of the Smolensk Crash as a manufacturer of the Terrain Awareness Warning System (“TAWS”) installed in the Polish Air Force One. The TAWS system recorded data critical to the last phase of the fatal flight.
This Status Report does not address all the problems arising in connection with the Russian investigation into the Smolensk Crash but rather highlights the most important examples of mishandling of the investigation, the most representative violations of standard norms and procedures, and the most obvious flaws in the conclusions.
1 Russian Comments to the Report of South African Civil Aviation Authority "Report of the Board of Inquiry into the accident to Tupolev 134A-3 aircraft C9-CAA on 19th October 1986," p.155. http://bit.ly/1mBcqer
2 M. Szonert Binienda “Badania Istotnych Katastrof Lotniczych, Polityczno-Prawne Studium Porównawcze,” II Konferencja Smoleńska, October 21-22, 2013, Warsaw, Poland, http://konferencjasmolenska.pl/; See also: M. Szonert Binienda, “Katyń, Smoleńsk i co dalej?” October 20, 2013, Klub Ronina, http://bit.ly/1mBcFGv; (retrieved March 14, 2014).
4 The Polish Response was submitted in Polish and Russian languages and was posted on the internet in Polish only. The Polish Response was not officially translated into English. It was through the efforts of the families of the Smolensk victims that the Polish Response was translated into English and posted on the website of the Parliamentary Committee for the Investigation of the Smolensk Crash: http://bit.ly/1mBdfUO (retrieved March 17, 2014).
5 Grzegorz Wierzchołowski, “Prokuratura spełniła życzenie Miedwiediewa,” April 13, 2011. http://bit.ly/1mBdNtA (retrieved March 17, 2014).
6 Final Report Tu-154M, tail number 101, Republic of Poland, Interstate Aviation Committee, Aircraft Accident Investigation Report, http://bit.ly/1mBdSxt (retrieved March 17, 2014).
7 This offensive allegation has been proven false beyond a reasonable doubt. The Polish Military Prosecutor’s Office on March 20, 2014 issued a statement that additional toxicological analysis that was conducted confirmed previous findings that General Blasik at the time of his death had no alcohol in his blood. http://bit.ly/1mBdYp1 (retrieved March 18, 2014).
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views the SmolenskCrashNews.com. All information is provided on an as-is basis, and all data and information provided on this site is for informational purposes only. The Smolensk Crash News DOT COM makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use.