The accident has been investigated with unprecedented scrupulosity by the Polish military commission (KBWLLP), as well as by the Russian aircraft accident investigation board MAK. Experts from Poland came to Smolensk right on the day of the disaster and spent several days examining the accident site and wreckage, documenting their findings on nearly 1500 photographs. They also went to Moscow, accompanying Russian specialists to analyse the contents of “black boxes” retrieved on the debris field.
Although it took some 15 months until the Polish final report was published, some evident facts allowed to reconstruct the final moments of flight from the very first days after the crash.
First, a swath of broken trees, beginning over one kilometre from the runway threshold, marked the flight path much lower than required. In the middle of this line was a thick (over 40 cm in diameter) birch tree broken in half, with twisted metal parts embedded in the trunk. Then the swath of broken trees marked increasing left bank that soon exceeded 90 degrees and continued to grow.
Second, the readout of the Cockpit Voice Recorder (one of “black boxes”) revealed that the crew noticed no anomalies during the flight, however in the last few seconds the navigator reported very fast descent measured by the radio-altimeter – 90, 80, 70, 60, 50, 40, 30, 20 metres in some 5 seconds; in fact the plane flew over the rising terrain – followed by a very loud noise, expletives, screams and a very brief sound of crash. Calculations of time, height, speed and distance exactly match the terrain shape, broken trees and the crash site. It’s worth to note, that the frantic height readouts were preceded by numerous automatic TAWS (Terrain Awareness Warning System) messages – “TERRAIN AHEAD”, “PULL UP, PULL UP!”, that the crew apparently ignored. They should have stopped descent at the first warning!
Third, analysis of the second “black box”, Flight Data Recorder (in fact there were three copies on board, made by a crash-protected tape recorder MLP, a Russian casette-tape quick access recorder KBN and a Polish solid-state digital QAR). Parameters recorded by the FDR system, such as flight speed and height, bank, yaw and various data related to aircraft health were fully consistent with the flight path derived from evidence on the ground (broken trees) and confirmed that upon the collision with the large birch tree the aircraft correctly responded to all actions of the crew. Noteworthy, the height recorded by the radio-altimeter near the fatal birch tree, which ripped off over 5 metres of plane’s left wing rendering it completely uncontrollable, was just 6,2 metres!
All this leads to a conclusion that the disaster was a typical CFIT (Controlled Flight Into Terrain) accident, happening when pilots inadvertently allow a perfectly good aeroplane to descend too low, leading to contact with obstacles. This is what the TAWS has been designed to prevent, but unfortunately such accidents still happen due to various reasons.
Regarding Russian and Polish final reports on the causes of the Smolensk crash, while both point to similar pilot errors (Russian – untimely decision to go around, Polish – descent below the Minimum Descent Height at too high vertical speed without seeing the ground etc.), they are by no means identical. The Polish report, published about half a year after the Russian one, shows also deficiencies in performance of Russian flight controllers in Smolensk and poor condition of the Smolensk airfield. The Polish report also thoroughly examines situation in the 36th Special Transport Squadron of the Polish Air Force that allowed poorly trained personnel to carry the Polish VIPs.
Now, coming to Mr. Taylor’s assumptions, there’s no physical evidence of any explosion aboard the Tu-154M No. 101 on April 10, 2010.
First, photos of the external part of the left wing that has been torn off in a collision with the birch tree show no effects of explosion, such as buckling of the skin caused by internal pressure or charring by hot gases. Conversely, the skin is deformed consistently with other examples of aeroplane wings severed by collisions with obstacles such as a tree or a pole.
Second, an explosion destroying a wing would eject lots of metal fragments. But there was just one fragment, measuring some 16x18 cm, found before the fatal birch tree, and already after collisions with smaller trees some 10 cm in diameter, enough to tear 1-2 mm aluminium sheet the wing skin is made of.
Third – the left side cabin door mentioned by Mr. Taylor. A “massive internal pressure” would push the door sideways, but the 2L door was found buried in ground exactly at the end of the first ground scar left by the left cabin wall just at the beginning of the debris field, immediately after the first point of contact of the fuselage with ground.
And the last part: the ground scars, marking the point of crash (there were three, made by remains of the left wing, the vertical stabiliser and the fuselage) begin exactly at coordinates registered in the Flight Management System computer’s GPS input buffers, decoded at the manufacturer’s (Universal Avionics) facility in the USA. This means that until this point the fuselage was intact, otherwise the systems would lose power. Here also end the “black box” recordings.
Could the evidence have been manipulated? In theory, perhaps. Yes, the left horizontal stabiliser was moved on 11.04.2010 during the search and rescue operation. But it remained in the same zone, before the main debris field, which didn’t affect conclusions. Broken trees? They have been documented on hundreds of photographs, taken by bystanders and published on the net. “Black boxes”? The original Cockpit Voice Recorder tape has been thoroughly investigated by Polish experts from the Sehn Forensic Institute in Cracow. They not only photographed every inch of the tape, but even scanned it with a special magnetic domain scanner and concluded: the recording is original. Flight parameters? The Polish QAR had to be analysed in Warsaw due to the special compression algorithm used; the data could be only decoded by the manufacturer, ATM Avionics. TAWS and FMS computers have been brought to Universal Avionics in Redmond, USA, where they needed repair in the manufacturer’s laboratory to read and decode their memory – damage caused by the crash prevented their operation, so manipulation as well. And finally, experts from the forensic laboratory of the Polish police spent a whole year (8500 work-hours) checking hundreds of samples of plane’s wreckage for traces of explosives. The result was negative. Wrapping up, the evidence is solid. Mr. Taylor is wrong.
An anonymous family member of a Smolensk crash victim speaking to SkyNews reporter calls for an international investigation. Why not? It will end the political exploitation of this enormous tragedy by cynical “Law and Justice” members. And will leave Mr. Taylor in shame.