Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pilot Error and a Whole Lot More in Polish Presidential Air Crash

The headlines are already out there, attributing to pilot error the April 10, 2010 crash in Russia of the Tupolev 154 carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski his wife and 94 others. Certainly there's much to suggest that the captain of the flight didn't exercise the best judgment in choosing to continue into the Smolensk airport which air traffic controllers and other pilots had described as foggy and unsuitable for landing. 

In a news conference today, Tatyana Anodina, the chief of the Russian Interstate Aviation Committee  said the crew of the presidential plane could have avoided the crash by opting to land at another airport.
IAC chief Tatyana Anodina
Despite warnings, Ms. Anodina said, "the crew of the Tu-154 did not take a decision to switch to a backup airfield." 

There were many errors in the cockpit, terrain warnings unheeded, crew communication not made, extra people present, which speaks to what the Russians say was a contributing factor in the accident.

"The presence of senior officials – the Polish Air Force Commander and the chief of protocol – in the cockpit, and the likely negative reaction of the number one passenger – put psychological pressure on the crew."

Its important for everyone trying to make sense of the disaster that devastated a nation to understand that throwing all the responsibility onto the shoulders of this one pilot does little to provide lessons for every other pilot who will one day feel seduced by get-home-itius, or accommodate-the-very-important-passenger-itius.  The English language translation of the Russian report describes the pilots likely response to the pressure atmosphere on the flight deck as a psychological clash of motives.  

The brother of the late Polish president Jaroslaw Kaczynski told reporters today the Russian investigators have made "a mockery of Poland," for failing to include points the government made in its 150 page response to the Russian report.  But if Poland and Russia square off in a round of finger pointing and a parsing of fault, it will be air safety - the mission of investigations after all - that will be most deeply mocked.

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