Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Smolensk Crash ATC transcripts

The big picture is coming into focus, but very slowly.

The tragic crash last January at Smolensk that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others on their way to a memorial service for the Katyn dead has been a matter of great confusion. Was it purely weather related? Pilot error? Air Traffic Control error? Some matter of political intervention on the part of either the Poles or the Russians?

It hasn't been the clearest of investigations, either.

The Russians took complete charge of the investigation and recovery, and spent most of their effort on not letting out exactly what happened. That didn't go over well at all in Poland...

So they released transcripts of the black box recordings. (As far as this author knows, however, the actual recordings remain in Russian custody. They certainly held them back for a long time.)

Now, the BBC reports that Russia has released transcripts of the ATC traffic... and that still doesn't really settle things:
Russia released the transcripts after Poland complained they had not been included in Moscow's official report into the crash on its territory.

Questions remain about communications with the doomed plane.
That would be because the transcripts seem almost nonsensical.
In their conversation in Russian, detailed in the transcript released by Russia along with its final report on 12 January, the Polish pilot appears not to take in what the Russian ATC officer is saying.

"...fog, visibility 400m," says the Russian.

"Understood," the pilot replies. "What are the weather conditions?"

The ATC officer spells out the visibility in English, then gives temperature and pressure readings, adding, at 1024: "There are no conditions for taking you."

"Thank you," the pilot replies, "but if possible we will try to approach, but if the weather is bad we will circle around."

The last message from the Polish plane, at 1040 as it tries to come in to land, is that it has switched its lights on.

It strikes tree-tops just before 1041, crashing about five seconds later.

The Russian ATC transcripts show controllers swearing obscenities in between desperate attempts to contact the pilot.
If what the transcripts say is what actually transpired... swearing obscenities is an entirely reasonable response.

This simply isn't going to be resolved until a full investigation by a third-party with access to original recordings happens.

Russia should invite one.

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