I've been busy flying the last couple of days but have an evening off right now, and the opportunity to read about and interject some comments on the recent tragedy in Smolensk. On April 10th a Tupolev jet carrying 96 people, including Polish President Lech Kaczynski, crashed on approach to the Smolensk Airport in Russia, killing all aboard, the political, cultural and military elite of Poland. News reports indicate that the pilot made multiple missed approaches to to the fog-bound airport, and continued the final approach despite an altitude warning from air traffic control.
More disturbingly, the same story relates an earlier incident where President Kaczynski threatened a pilot with "consequences" when he diverted to Azerbaijan instead of landing in unsuitable conditions. That's a factor of company culture that a good investigation may have to address during the investigation. I don't have a problem with the pilot of an aircraft consulting the passengers regarding their wishes after a missed approach. Would they prefer to land as near as possible and seek ground transport to the original destination or to return home? Would they prefer to try another approach and then have to land elsewhere to refuel before returning home, or to return home in one shot? Sometimes passengers mistake this input for having the final decision, but as former president Lech Walesa recalled, "Sometimes the plane captain would make the decision himself, even against the recommendations." The captain should always be making the decision, considering passenger recommendations only after safety is assured. The fact that a Russian-built airplane crashed in Russia, to be investigated by the Russians, brings out the Polish conspiracy theorists, but while I'd totally read that espionage novel, I don't believe it is more than fiction. As Walesa also said, "We do not yet know what happened, so let’s leave the explaining to the experts."
It's not only an aviation tragedy, but a national tragedy. Poland is an ancient country with a long history of strong leadership and culture, but no country can easily absorb the sudden simultaneous loss of its leaders in multiple fields of endeavour. The terrible irony of the situation is that those on board were on their way to a memorial service for a previous generation of Polish leaders and intellectuals who were massacred by the Soviets in Katyn Forest. Approximately twenty-two thousand Poles, such as military officers, professors, lawyers, public servants, priests and other officials were executed there. It's similar to the purges Stalin carried out within the Soviet Union itself; if you remove the intelligentsia--the people capable of understanding, caring about and communicating what is wrong with your regime--then it is much easier to lead the remaining citizenry. Anyone who would otherwise interfere with your power is either dead, imprisoned or terrified.
My condolences to the families and countrymen of all those involved. I trust that Poland will find talented people to take up the reins and continue its national journey. Poland has not yet succumbed.