Wednesday, May 19, 2010

From the Everybody's Thinking It File

Today Polish and Russian authorities have released one significant new piece of information on April's Smolensk Tu-154 crash that killed 96, including the Polish president, first lady, and several high-ranking Polish government officials: voices of two or more non-cockpit personnel are heard on the cockpit voice recorder minutes before the crash ... and the crew apparently ignores a cockpit warning to increase altitude just 18 seconds before the crash.

It's clear that Russia is in charge of this "joint" investigation, and as that nation's political culture has never nurtured Lance Itoesque media lackeyism, don't count on getting details of just what kind of non-cockpit personnel conversation we're talking about here anytime soon.

We're going to guess, based on statements from Smolensk air traffic controllers that clearly suggest that the president's plane was coming down one way or another in the lousy weather on April 10, that no one was discussing the latest cuts on Dancing with the Stars.

As an aviation safety organization that knows better than to speculate on air crash causes, let's put the above educated, insightful guess in our Everybody's Thinking it but this is Off The Record File, a safe bet for a worldwide internet blog. (Did you hear that gunshots are heard on a post-crash video taken by a videographer in Smolensk who was later assassinated by Elvis at Jack Ruby's night club? Mikey, Pop Rocks, Messy Gastric Explosion. See? Everything hides in plain sight on the web).

We might as well fess up to more aviation mishap mind reading while we're making the case for reading the minds of the Polish presidential transport crew:

Each week when we compile aviation accidents and incidents we can't help but notice a preponderance of apparent weather- and fuel-related general aviation crashes on Sunday evenings.

Mind Reading: Gotta be into work on Monday morning.

When Jessica Dubroff's plane crashed in a rainstorm during a whirlwind, media-hyped "child pilot solo record" tour in 1996 we couldn't help but notice the TV crews waiting at each stop on the itinerary.

Mind Reading: The instructor (and true pilot-in-command) must have been thinking more about meeting the next cluster of television cameras than making a safe departure decision in Cheyenne.

And even with the newest information on the circumstances of the crash in Smolensk, it's hard not to keep reading minds along with everyone else who is privy to the same sparse third-hand information we possess regarding this event.

The crew of a presidential transport full of government and military brass that is already an hour-and-a-half behind schedule en route to a make-it-or-miss-it national commemoration is advised by air traffic controllers at least twice to land at another airport after thick fog blankets its destination primitive instrument airport, but nonetheless presses on before crashing in the woods short of the runway.

Mind Reading: Your bosses and your bosses' bosses ... the latter of which just happen to be as high up as bosses go in your country, really want to be wheels-on-the-ground to commemorate an important national event. A diversion means your choice between missing the time or the place. And you're a relatively young military (read "no union to cover you butt") crew. Your careers may be negatively impacted by failing the mission, even if the alternative is really failing the mission. (The New York Times lends some credence to this kind of speculation with a report that President Kaczynski ordered his pilot to land in poor weather in Tbilisi, Georgia in 2008, only to be countermanded by the pilot, who is presumably still alive if not highly decorated).

Add to this the ultimate throw-down for a planeload of politicians and military bosses: the press plane made it in just ahead of you. Journalists on the ground with stories to write, perhaps stories about those too-timid, or those too-bold.

Have at it with international cover-up subterfuge, but no tight-lipped KGB spook made up the impossible-to-ignore nuances of this all-too-familiar get-there-itis air crash scenario ... especially after we're done reading minds here.

M.O.

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