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The Picture of the Polish Flight Crew as Expert-Flyers Emerges: The Crew Cleared of Any Wrongdoing.

The crew of the Polish TU-154M that crashed under mysterious circumstances on April 10, 2010 near Smolensk, Russia, cleared of any wrongdoing.

Not a single member of the Special 36th Aviation Transportation Regiment who testified before the Poland’s Military Prosecutor’s office said anything disparaging about the crew of the TU-154 or General Andrzej Błasik. To the contrary, the sworn testimonies of the deposed airmen praised the late Air Force commander and the crew for their professionalism.

“He was a great pilot - clear-thinking, on his feet, methodical in the cabin, and never contributing to stress in the cockpit. We flew in very difficult conditions, and he never landed in violation of the required minimum safety conditions” . This is how on July 2, 2010 the Staff Officer Cadet Miroslaw Iwon, testified about the late Maj. Arkadiusz Protasiuk to the investigators.

The co-pilot, Lt. Colonel Robert Grzywna, was remembered in a similar way - as a man who was full of life, and a pilot par excellence. “He was also a great pilot; demanding, but not cantankerous, who cared for the safe conduct of the flight. He didn’t have any tendency to take any unnecessary risks, and didn’t violate the minimum safety landing conditions” , Iwon testified further.

Experience And Common Sense

"Professional in every respect" - The crew of the Polish Air Force TU-154M, Flight PLF 101 with General Andrzej Blasik, Commander of the Polish Air Force.  

Both Polish and Russian investigators repeatedly questioned the witnesses about the alleged problems that the crew of the Tu-154M wasn’t able to contend with in the cockpit. Everyone who knew them intimately, however, testified to the contrary. "I know of no personal or professional problems that he [Maj. Arkadiusz Protasiuk] may have had" , testified Major Pilot Grzegorz Pietruczuk who was deposed on June 30, 2010.  He emphasized that Protasiuk never broke any regulations concerning flight safety, and there wasn’t a single incident where he had ever endangered the safety of the flight. “I rate him as an experienced pilot who makes calm and methodical decisions during a flight” , testified Pietruczuk.

Pietruczuk also concentrated on the crew’s training.  As a result of his testimony, a picture of the pilots as expert-flyers emerges.  “I view him as being highly-trained. 

"Professional in every respect" - The crew of the Polish Air Force TU-154M, Flight PLF 101, with General Andrzej Blasik, Commander of the Polish Air Force.  

I never noticed that he would succumb to a routine.  He was always well prepared for the flight: earlier as a navigator, and later as a 2nd Pilot.   He had no predisposition to violate any rules.  I am unaware of him having any problems” ,  is how he described the Co-Pilot, Lt. Col. Grzywna.

His opinion about Capt. Artur Zietek and Sec. Lt. Andrzej Michalak was similar.  He first flew with Petruczuk on the TU-154.  “He didn’t make any mistakes that would adversely affect flight safety.  When he wasn’t sure about something, he would simply ask.  We weren’t close friends, and because of this, I am unable to say much about his personal life”, the pilot continued.  “I also flew with Officer Cadet  Michalak.  I rate him as an excellent Flight Engineer.  I never had any issues with him” , Pietruczuk added.

Fishing Expedition For Incidents That Weren’t

Lt. Col. Miroslaw Szabela, who is a member of the Incident Investigation Committee in the 36th Special Air Transport Regiment, testified to the prosecution that he hasn’t seen any adverse reports about the Tupolev’s crewmembers, and in particular, the flight captain Major Arkadiusz Protasiuk. Others interviewed by the investigators who knew these men didn’t escape similar questions.

“As a pilot he was methodical, precise, didn’t create a stressful environment during flights; I felt safe flying with him at the helm. Practically, each and every flight with Major Grzywna ended with a safe landing [by the book] according to the [flight] instrumentation, and for these reasons there were no incidents of any type. I didn’t have a personal relationship with either Major Grzywna or Capt. Protasiuk, and don’t know much about their private lives”, testified Lt. Bogdan Sucharski, who was deposed on June 30, 2010 . What did he have to say about Captain Zietek? “While carrying out his duties he was conscientious, inquiring, and consistent. He was very familiar with flight procedures. He had an excellent reputation as second pilot and navigator. He had a wife, two daughters, and I don’t know anything about any family problems that he may have had”, he continued.

Similarly, Captain Grzegorz Woltański, senior engineer in the Technical Aeronautics Section SPLT, who was deposed on May 18, 2010, testified that he doesn’t know anything about “possible incidents involving Maj. Protasiuk or Lt. Col. Grzywna”.

“I had no objections to the above-mentioned officers, or their expertise in commanding the aircraft (either TU [Tupolev TU-154], or Yak [Yakovlev])”, testified Woltański.

A similarly high-opinion about the crew was conveyed by Monika Kasprzak, a flight attendant with the 36th SPLT [Pol. Abr. Specjalny Pulk Lotnictwa Transportowego – Special Aviation Transportation Regiment], who was deposed on August 11, 2010. She emphasized, that in addition to their professionalism and experience, the pilots were known for their calmness and for being methodical. “Arek [short for Arkadiusz] was a very calm, and methodical man, and my colleagues and I spoke of him as someone with calm nerves. For as long as I have served [with this regiment], I cannot recall even a single incident that something threw him off. Everyone, and not only we, the flight attendants, but the entire Regiment, knew that he was an exceptional pilot. I never heard of anyone having anything bad to say about him”, Kasprzak testified. “I had full confidence in both Arek Protasiuk and Robert Grzywna as pilots, and was never afraid to fly with them”, she added.

The Man With Calm Nerves

These are only but a few of similar, and countless descriptions [of the crew], and we could quote them ad nauseam. But, it would be beneficial perhaps, to quote a short excerpt form the deposition of Cpt. Piotr Kulisz who said that Major Protasiuk "gave the impression of someone who is always in charge, and he really was [in charge]. I never saw him agitated."

Lesław Powierża, who is a flight mechanic, a Reserves’ Staff Officer Cadet, and Protasiuk’s neighbor, also had much to say about him. They build their condo together. “We became friends while working together. We often flew together, and regularly teamed-up together both in and outside of work. Arek Protasiuk was a calm, witty, and at the same time, calm man. He was incredibly talented, and capable of independently making difficult decisions. He often said that he loved to fly Tupolevs. He knew this aircraft very well”, Powierża testified.

He emphasized that above all, Major Protasiuk cared about both flight safety and safe landings. “He wasn’t some sort of man of undue bravado, but rather a responsible man. He knew how to fly this aircraft, and when flying, took under consideration the consequences of incorrect piloting. He was a top-notch pilot. He knew how to handle difficult weather conditions and problems with the aircraft in the air”. He added that Protasiuk never unduly risked either his own life or the lives of his passengers, because “he had a family for whom he wanted to live”.

Virtual Pressures In the Cockpit

Because the Russian MAK falsely accused the late Air Force Commander Gen. Andrzej Błasik of not only being a drunk, but also a madman who exerted pressure on the pilots to land ‘at all costs’. The Polish prosecutors followed this trail as well.

The 36th Special Regiment’s pilots who knew both Major Protasiuk and Gen. Błasik testified that they don’t believe in any theory of pressure being put on the pilots by the late general, because nothing like that had ever happened before. Furthermore, Protasiuk was not the sort of man to succumb to such pressures. For example, it is corroborated by the testimony of Major Artur Dobraczyński, who was deposed on August 11, 2010.

“I never heard that Arek Protasiuk succumbed to any undue pressure [from anyone], and as far as I knew him, he was unlikely to succumb to such pressures to begin with” , emphasized Dobraczyński. The testimonies of the deposed witnesses who, like the crew members, flew with General Błasik, destroy any credibility to the reports of today’s prevailing “theory of pressure on the crew in the cockpit”.

“I swear that I was a crew member during the flights with Gen. Błasik on board. We conducted about 10 training flights together. Gen. Błasik was training to become second pilot on a Yak-40 [aircraft]. As a pilot, Gen. Błasik didn’t exhibit any tendency to carry out any dangerous maneuvers, and [always] acted like a professional”, testified Staff Officer Cadet Mirosław Iwon. He stated that he also conducted one or two training flights [with the General] during which “Gen. Blasik never forced […] the crew captain to conduct a flight or to land under prohibited weather conditions”.

“I swear that at the end of March 2010, we were conducting a training flight to Poznan with Gen. Błasik. This flight was commanded by Lt. Kulisz. The descent to the landing took place during a light snowfall, on instruments, and with the use of the ILS. After touchdown, the concluding phase of the landing procedure,took place amidst a snowstorm, from about the middle of the landing strip. The approach and the landing itself, took place under permissible weather conditions”. Captain Kulisz corroborated these testimonies as well. This, and other testimonies contradict the baseless accusations against the late General Andrzej Błasik, who was alleged to have forced the Yak-40 pilot to land below the minimum permissible conditions; this was reported in February 2011 by the news service, Polsat News, on information furnished by Lt. Col. Zbigniew Zawada, former Senior Safety Inspector at the Poznan-Krzesiny airport.

Among those conducting flights with Gen. Błasik was also the Staff Officer Cadet Wojciech Mućka, who was deposed on July 2, 2010. He conducted some 30 training flights with the General when he was training to become 2nd Pilot on a Yak-40 aircraft.

“As a pilot, Gen. Błasik didn’t have any predisposition to making any dangerous maneuvers. I conducted two or three training flights with the General. During these flights, there were no instances of any pressure exerted by General Błasik on the flight captain to either conduct a flight or to land under dangerous weather conditions”, Mućka testified.

Ewa Błasik, the widow of the late Air Force Commander, who was killed near Smolensk, says that for two years we were all subjected to a perfidious persecution of the TU-154 crew, and her husband. The testimonies of the airmen of the 36th Special Air Transport Regiment put an end to these absurd lies. They clearly depict the General and the Tupolev’s crew as top-notch professionals.

“My husband was a guarantee of breaking ties with the former [Communist political] system where men were treated as mere subjects and where arbitrary decisions were made at the top. He taught his pilots not to be afraid to speak the truth, and to calmly and prudently make wise decisions on their own”, emphasized Ewa Błasik.

“My husband was a passenger on that plane, just like all other passengers, and wasn’t responsible for any organizational matters. He neither knew that aircraft, nor would he ever contemplate entering the cockpit. Because it was his first flight on board with the Polish President, he was certainly observing if his instructions to conduct a HEAD-type flight was carried out by the crew in accordance with the book”, his widow added.

“No one can convince me that, uninvited by the crew, my husband would barge into the cockpit only because he was a pilot himself. It is such a fundamentally faulty reasoning. The only people whose honor was forever stripped away by [this crash] were those who wanted to batten on the death of my husband”, she concluded.

Written by Peter Czartoryski-Sziler for "Nasz Dziennik" ("Bez zastrzeżeń do załogi" Czwartek, 19 lipca 2012, Nr 167 (4402))

Translated by Jola D. with futher editing by Jan C.

Recommended Further Reading:

Polish President's Plane Crash in Russia Two Years Later: "The Russians had the means, motive, and opportunity" to assassinate the staunchly pro-Western president of Poland, Lech Kaczynski. An interview with Eugene Poteat, retired Central Intelligence Agency(CIA) Senior Scientific Intelligence Officer.




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