“Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” The words of Isaac Newton, which are worth remembering in an age when so many leaders seem not so much economical with the truth as downright parsimonious. For them why the simple truth when perceived political advantage is to be found in the multiplicity and confusion of things? And this week in Poland, the truth is that the government does not accept the truth of the official report into the crash on 10th April, 2010, in Smolensk, western Russia, of the Polish aeroplane carrying the then President Lech Kaczyński, his wife, and 94 others, killing everyone on board.
Speaking on Monday at commemorations to mark the seventh anniversary of the disaster, Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the Law and Justice (PiS) party, said that there is a “very high degree of certainty” that an explosion destroyed the aeroplane. He also said that Russian control tower staff were likely at fault in how they “without a doubt deliberately” guided in the aircraft. “Up to now there were various theories and we often approached the truth but there was not this degree of credibility,” he added. That much is true.
These comments came after, and echoed, the preliminary conclusions of a report on Monday by a new government sub-commission set up by minister of defence Antoni Macierewicz after PiS came to power in October 2015. PiS did not accept the earlier commission set up by the previous Civic Platform-led government which blamed mistakes by the Polish pilots and Russian air traffic controllers for the crash (please see Crash).
“The last phase of the tragedy was caused by an explosion which took place in the hull, and which destroyed the plane, breaking it up into fragments and tens of thousands of shards, at the same time killing the passengers,” said a commentary accompanying a video presentation which outlined the work of the sub-commission so far. “As a result of experiments, we can say that the most likely cause of the explosion was a thermobaric charge initiating a strong shockwave, which destroyed obstacles encountered, ruptured the hull of the aircraft, threw out seats and the bodies of the victims, and ripped off their clothes. Is this what happened in Smolensk on 10 April, 2010?”
Speaking to the public TVP broadcaster on Monday, Wacław Berczyński, who heads the sub-commission, said that evidence shows that the plane fell apart while it was still in the air. “The plane began to fall apart in the air and began to lose parts which fell to the ground before the birch tree [which] had no impact on the crash,” Berczyński said. Theories in the weeks following the crash had suggested that on its approach to the runway, the aeroplane’s wings had clipped a birch tree, which caused it to crash. Revealingly, Berczyński said that the sub-commission does not yet know the exact reason for the crash. He also said that his team would like to visit the crash site, which it has not yet done.
This new truth has not convinced eveybody. A member of the previous official commission to investigate the Smolensk crash, Maciej Lasek, dismissed the findings published on Monday as “illusions presented by people who had never investigated air crashes before.” “This is propaganda aimed at strengthening the faith … in hypothetical causes of this accident,” Lasek told private broadcaster TVN24. And Flight International was even more scathing: “That the Polish government publicly buys into this codswallop just underlines the observation that it is a government in denial, one which shamefully refuses to acknowledge and accept the plethora of solid evidence pinning the crash firmly on dreadful airmanship from its own personnel. Quite whom it thinks it is fooling, other than itself, is anyone’s guess. But its gross attempt to shirk responsibility, no less disgraceful and unconvincing as Russia’s own pathetic deflective wittering over the downing of flight MH17, amounts to cowardice on a monumental level which does nothing, in the least, for the cause of air safety.”
Perhaps the degree of certainty as to this new theory as to the cause of the crash is not so high after all. Absent compelling evidence to the contrary, perhaps the simplicity of pilot error is to be preferred to the multiplicity and confusion of explosions and Russian conspiracies. Holy Week is better spent honouring the memory of dead than politicising their deaths.