Saturday, April 10, 2010

Refections of a fatal crash


Assume that Malcolm has made all the usual, conventional posthumous noises about Poland's President Lech Kaczynski and his entourage.

Accept that he is not totally without feeling: he admits to quavering moments at take-off and landing. They started back in the days when flights from Dublin to regional UK airports involved small high-wing piston-engined aircraft, and the mechanic (in Malcom's full view) finished off closing the engine casing with a rubber hammer.

Bear in mind he still winces from the kangaroo landing a Virgin Atlantic flight man-man-managed at LAX. Particularly when the voice of the chief stewardess came on the PA to say, "Any landing you walk away from is a good one".

Reflect on the ineptness of the lady-pilot's inappropriate announcement, while Malcolm's flight awaited the technician at Boston for the flight back to La Guardia: "Isn't it a bummer when the equipment goes down?"

Now, can we move on?

Last time round, it was 1943 and General Sikorski, Polish Prime Minister in exile, was flying from Gibraltar to London, after reviewing Polish soldiers in the Middle East. The converted Liberator bomber crashed into the harbour on take-off (right), killing all except the Czech pilot.

Time passed

By the later 1960s, the historico-revisionist, David Irving, sank his teeth into some apparent inconsistencies in the original story. He expanded these into Accident. The Death of General Sikorski.

Then Rolf Hochhuth wrote a play, Soldaten, Nekrolog auf Genf (1966) which was translated as Soldiers (1967). This implied that Churchill machinated the crash which killed Sikorsky. The motive was supposedly Sikorski playing footsie with Stalin.

When some (though perhaps, as Irving indicates, not all) documents had became available under the 30-years rule, there was renewed interest. At intervals thereafter, the whole thing has undergone review. Sixty years on, Harry de Quetteville wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph which was more specific still:
A British inquiry in 1943 found that the crash was caused by the plane's controls jamming. But rumours persist of a plot to kill Gen Sikorski, whose defence of the Polish national cause threatened to derail Britain's relationship with the Soviet Union.

Now Poland's president, Lech Kaczynski, and his prime minister, Donald Tusk, have demanded that Gen Sikorski's body be exhumed from its tomb in Wawel Cathedral in Krakow, the traditional burial place of Polish heroes. "The tragic circumstances of the death of General Sikorski should be explained," said the president.

Moves to exhume Sikorski's body follow a long campaign by Polish historians, who claim that it was not examined properly before burial. They claim that he might have been killed before the crash, in which his daughter also died, and only the pilot survived. In particular, they want an examination of his skull to see whether he was shot.
de Quetteville goes further, taking the heat off Churchill, by joining some disconnected dots:

... the most insistent rumours suggest that his death was ordered by the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, incensed by Gen Sikorski's demand for an investigation into the Katyn massacre of Polish officers by Soviet troops.

Stalin's accusers claim that Gen Sikorski's plane was left unguarded on the runway at Gibraltar, and could easily have been sabotaged. They also point out that on the day of the crash, July 4, 1943, a plane carrying the Soviet ambassador Ivan Maisky and a small retinue of Soviet troops parked next to the doomed Polish leader's aircraft.

Allegations of a plot by the Soviet Union, determined not to let Polish nationalism get in the way of communist expansion after the war, have been further fuelled by the presence on Gibraltar of Kim Philby.

The notorious spy was in charge of British intelligence operations in the territory from 1941 to 1944. The crash occurred 20 years before he defected to Russia, but he is thought to have been a double agent from the start of the war.
Katyn again

Today's reports of this crash involving Lech Kaczynski and his party state:
Polish and Russian officials said no-one survived after the plane apparently hit trees as it approached Smolensk airport in thick fog...

The Polish delegation was flying in from Warsaw to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre of thousands of Poles by Soviet forces during WWII. (right)
This one appears a tragic accident, compounded by poor weather and a dodgy aircraft. The Tupolev 154 design dates from the 1960s. It is not a lucky aircraft:
There have been 64 serious flight incidents with Tu-154s, including 36 hull-losses with human fatalities.
Even so, it seems not to be inherently a poor machine:
Statistically, the Tu-154 has one of the poorest safety records. However, Tupolev 154's chequered safety record owes more to errors than technical problems. For individuals used to Boeing or Airbus airliners, the cabin of the Tu-154 can seem cramped. The impression is of an oval interior with a lower ceiling than is common on western airliners.
Even so -- and Malcolm has been beaten to the punch-line:
Conspiracy theories in 3...2....1....
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1 comment:

Norfolk Blogger said...

Again, wonderful and informative.

Your blog remains a treasure trove of interesting things.

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