After Smolensk. New Details About the Death of Lech Kaczynski
A new investigation into the causes of the tragedy that took the lives of President Lech Kaczynski and other top Polish officials suggests that there may have been explosions on board their aircraft
“28 months after Smolensk” is the title of a report published by a Polish parliamentary working group which put forward an alternative reconstruction of the plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and others in 2010. The group consists of more than 140 senators and Sejm members and is largely identified with the Law and Justice (PiS) party which Kaczynski headed. This, one of the most high-profile tragedies of the past decade, still lacks a definite and conclusive explanation.
NO TRUST IN RUSSIA
“We opened investigative activities, because the information that government agencies, including an investigation commission headed by Interior Minister Jerzy Miller and the Prosecutor’s Office, have been spreading since the beginning was limited and issued in doses and could confuse public opinion,” Antoni Macierewicz, chairman of the working group and Sejm member (PiS), explained to The Ukrainian Week. “It turned out fairly quickly that both the Prosecutor’s Office and Mr. Miller’s commission were uncritically repeating what the Russian side was saying, without even bothering to check it.”
Macierewicz also denies that Polish doctors and investigators participated in the expert examination of the bodies. He is also convinced that a bilateral Polish-Russian commission should have conducted the investigation of the Smolensk tragedy on the ground from day one. The Chicago Convention of International Civil Aviation puts the responsibility for investigating an air crash on the authorities of the country in which it occurred. But PiS draws attention to the fact that Kaczynski was using a military plane and thus the circumstances of his death should have been investigated based on bilateral treaties Warsaw and Moscow have had since 1993. Under these treaties, a bilateral investigative body would have to be set up.
To discover the causes of the catastrophe of the presidential TU-154M near Smolensk, a joint commission of the International Aviation Committee and the Russian Defence Ministry was formed. It carried out the investigation, and both governments agreed that there had been no explosions on board. A pilot’s mistake became the official explanation for the crash. Other versions had to do with poor weather conditions.
According to Macierewicz, the most alarming sign would have to be that the Russians reported quite a bit of information about the accident within an hour after it occurred, even though no investigation had been undertaken. RIA-Novosti reported that everyone was killed in the crash.
The investigation continues even today and looks at not only the causes of the crash but an entire range of political decisions and actions preceding and following it. Nearly 40 experts from Poland, USA, Canada, Australia, France and Germany are involved. Experts in a lab at the University of Akron, which cooperates with NASA, are conducting an expert evaluation worth a million dollars and financed by the US government.
THE VERSION OF THE OPPOSITION
The parliamentary working group which launched its own investigation into the crash reconstructed the following scenario: no more than 5 seconds prior to the crash, the presidential plane was moving at 80 m/s at 36 metres above the ground. At that point, the black box recorded two powerful jolts caused by explosions. The detonation occurred in the left wing, followed by another in the place where the wing joins the hull. The second explosion caused the TU-154M to disintegrate in the air; its rear part turned upside down and fell to the ground, while the nose part went down in its normal position (see the diagram).
The key point of this hypothesis is that the crash was caused by explosions on board. However, there is no single explanation for the explosions themselves. Some of the experts who cooperated with the Polish MPs believe that the plane was carrying a dangerous load. Others think that the cause was fuel vapours in the left-wing tank and at the wing-hull juncture. Moreover, specialists concluded that the plane disintegrated in the air rather than on contact with the ground. “A plane of that size, construction and power cannot fall apart after hitting a birch tree,” Macierewicz says with conviction.
Experts have used photos of the TU-154M after the crash to model its disintegration in the air and the trajectory its parts followed on the way to the ground. “No-one has done such reconstructions until now,” Macierewicz emphasizes as he produces a diagram showing the plane’s disintegration from various angles. “The parliamentary working group is the only body in Poland which has studied this issue in a scientific way.” The drawings show that localized massive damage occurred in the left part of the plane.
Whether or not this data is sufficient to put forward hypotheses is an open question. “There are experts who support the explosions version, and there are those who doubt it. From the viewpoint of international law, the report the parliamentary group is working on is not a significant document, unfortunately,” Witold Waszczykowski, PiS member of the Sejm and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, told The Ukrainian Week.
Considering the scenario suggested by the parliamentary committee, it makes sense to ask: if the plane had disintegrated on the ground rather than in the air, would its passengers have had a chance to survive? Macierewicz is not sure. “I have never raised this question", he said, "Perhaps yes, but we find it strange that everyone died. We have not investigated this problem exhaustively as yet. There are millions of shocking questions about this tragedy, and we cannot advance any specific assumptions regarding them. We know for a fact that it all started with the left wing.”
In June, Polish MPs appealed to the Prosecutor's Office alleging that the report on the Smolensk crash made by Miller and his experts was falsified. On 22 August, — before the results of the working group were published — the Prosecutor's Office issued a statement saying that it launched its own investigation. “Because the Prosecutor's Office confirmed that the government document, which is what Miller’s report is, is suspected to have been falsified, it should be recognized that there is no official document today from which the Polish government could learn what actually happened near Smolensk,” Macierewicz says.
The parliamentary report has yet to cause any real political effect or draw international response. “It can be expected that there will be no reaction at the official level. If this report were taken seriously by the Polish government or international organizations, we could talk. But because this is not the case, it is not even known whether officials in Russia know anything about it. It is in vain to expect any reaction unless there is conclusive proof of what actually happened. The bulk of the blame for what happened is still put on the Polish pilot,” Waszczykowski says.
So, on the one hand, the prosecutor's office is conducting an investigation that may undermine the legitimacy of the government report and the official version of the tragedy. On the other hand, the parliamentary report is so far unable to challenge that version.