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Highlights of the Progress Report on the Smolensk Crash

Commission for Re-investigation of the Smolensk Crash, Polish Ministry of National Defense

Published April 15, 2019

On the 9th anniversary of the Smolensk tragedy, the Commission for Re-investigation of the Smolensk Crash (“Commission”) published its annual Progress Report. Below are highlights of the Progress Report dated April 9, 2019.

In the period between April 2018 and 2019, the Commission focused on the following areas of investigation: a) 2009 overhaul of the Tu-154M aircraft in Aviacor, Samara, Russia, and preparations for the flight to Smolensk on April 10, 2010; b) interrogations of 119 witnesses; c) reconstruction and modeling of the airplane and the crash site; d) analysis of the bodies – their conditions and location on the crash site; e) analysis of data and voice recorders; f) analysis of the engines; g) numerical modeling; h) collaboration with NIAR; i) experimental explosion research; j) psychological analysis.

Traces of Explosives

The presence of explosives on the wreckage of the Tu-154M that went down in Smolensk was detected in domestic as well as foreign research centers through the application of various testing methods. Among the parts on which traces of explosives were found was a fragment of the tip of the left wing.

The Commission analyzed the research carried out in 2013 by the Central Forensic Laboratory of the Police (CLKP) and found that the results revealed traces of explosives on 107 out of 215 samples taken from Smolensk. These tests, performed by liquid chromatography, confirmed previous results from 2012. Traces of explosives were also confirmed in 2019 by the Forensic Explosives Laboratory of the British Ministry of Defense.

Black Boxes

The Commission analyzed copies of data from four flight data recorders made available to the Polish side by Russia. Digitization of charts from the Russian report with its annex and reports from Russian research performed between 2011-2012 showed a consistent shift of the presented parameters from about 0.5 to 1 second in comparison to copies available to the Polish side. Furthermore, the only copy of the KBN recorder available to the Polish side is shorter by 4 seconds from the version presented in the Russian report.

The Commission precisely determined the order of messages, alarms, and failures as well as flight parameters in the last 15 seconds of the flight. The analysis was performed on a time scale synchronized to UTC time and distance from the beginning of the runway. This method allows for a comprehensive analysis of data from many sources, including satellite images available to the Commission.

Materials described as copies of the catastrophic MARS voice recorder received from Russia were analyzed separately. The Commission analyzed three different copies of the voice recorder at its disposal: a copy dated April 12, 2010 prepared without the participation of the Polish side; a short copy dated May 31, 2010, and a copy made on June 9, 2010. It was determined that in the MARS recorder in addition to the sound recorded on three separate channels, pulses of the on-board clock are registered every half second on the fourth channel. Hence, it is possible to determine the chronology of recorded events with great accuracy.

41 fragments identical in terms of content of the statement or the command issued were extracted. A drastic difference exceeding 10 seconds in the time was found between the Russian transcription and the transcription determined by the Polish research centers.

Additional verification of the continuity of the recording was performed with the help of specialized software that allows for frequency tracking structure of registered sounds and its temporal-dynamic changes throughout the recording. The analysis of the selected characteristic harmonic frequencies allowed for the identification of discontinuities that indicate the interference in the recording. Such analysis was not carried out by any other research centers that previously examined copies of recordings from the MARS-BM recorder.

Numerical Modeling

Using the Finite Element Method, a model of the Tu-154M airplane is built in order to accurately predict and reflect the destruction of the aircraft structure as a result of the contact with the trees and the ground, and when it is destroyed by explosion at a low altitude. Numerical simulations correspond to experiments with over 95% accuracy.

Verification of the Tu-154M door hammered vertically 1-meter-deep into the ground in Smolensk was carried out. The results of the previous analyzes have been verified and confirmed through international scientific review. The final conclusion confirms that the explosion in the hull was the only force enabling the conditions necessary for driving the door of the airplane into the ground in the observed position. None of other ways to drive the door into the ground can produce the result observed in Smolensk.

Psychological Determinants

No landing at any means. The crew of Tu-154M did not try to land “at any means,” as stated in the Russian report, and the command to “go around” was issued at the safe altitude. The pilot-in-command decided to make one trial approach and depart if weather conditions would not allow for landing. The analysis of conversations between the crew and with the Director of Diplomatic Protocol contradicts the Russian findings that the pilot-in-command attempted to land “at any means” out of fear of negative reaction of the President of Poland. The evidence demonstrates that the pilots were in full control of the situation and acted with a sense of responsibility for passengers.

Allegations that the submissive personality of the pilot-in-command caused the catastrophe are totally baseless. Actions taken by the crew during the fatal flight were correct and consistent with the knowledge, experience, training and personality traits. Pilot’s decisions and actions did not cause the disaster, as the Russian side claimed immediately after the crash. This crash was caused by external factors.

Inactions and manipulations of the Polish Miller’s Commission

On April 9, 2019, the Commission filed with the Public Prosecutor’s Office a notification on a possibility of committing a crime by Jerzy Miller who served as Chairman of the first Polish Commission for Investigation of the Smolensk Crash, and against members of his Commission, pursuant to the Polish Penal Code Article 231. 1 and 2 (exceeding or neglecting official authority), Art. 239 par 1 (obstruction of justice), and Art. 271 (certifying misrepresentation of facts). A separate notification was filed against Chairman Jerzy Miller pursuant to Article 129 of the Penal Code (treason).

Recovery of the wreckage and electronics of Tu-154M from Russia

The Commission also undertook steps to obtain international support for Poland’s efforts to retrieve from Russia the wreckage of the Tu-154M airplane, all data recorders, electronic equipment, and other evidence. Thanks to close cooperation with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Commission’s conclusion presented in the Technical Report of April 9, 2018 that the aircraft was “destroyed in the air as a result of several explosions” was taken into consideration in the report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights – Doc. No. 14607, and quoted in the subsequent Resolution 2246 (2018) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Also, the request of the Polish government for the return of the wreckage of the aircraft to the rightful owner that is the Republic of Poland received strong support. The Resolution calls on Russia to “hand over the wreckage of the Polish Air Force Tu-154M to the competent Polish authorities without further delay, in close co-operation with the Polish experts, and in a manner that avoids any further deterioration of potential evidence.

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