Air Marshal Ashok K. Goel (Retd.)
PVSM AVSM VM
11 Silver Estate,
“AS I Saw It”
Air Crash in Russia on 10 April
A big disaster and lesson for Aviation/Aviators
The Polish-AF-One crashed on 10 April near moscow. This was one of the biggest air disasters of this year. The “Polish Air Force One” was coming with Polish President and many cabinet ministers, top civilian officers, top military commanders for an official ceremony of the victory of 2nd world war.
The weather was bad and deteriorating. Pilot made four approaches and crashed killing all on board. 95 people were killed. Poland was in grief and turmoil nearly all top people were killed in one go.
From aviation point of view there are few serious flaws.
Firstly- A large no of important people should never be carried in a single aircraft. In the IAF strict norms are laid down. And similarly norms are laid down for VIP/VVIP flights and substantiated in the Blue Book for VVIP flights.
Secondly- A pilot making four approaches and insisting on landing is inviting disaster. ATC has also assisted and corroborated the end of several valuable lives. It is a well known fact that after two missed approaches pilots’ performance deteriorates. This is medically substantiated. This happens due to anxiety, fatigue and tension levels rising. Norms exist; a pilot is not to make more than two attempts. ATC is to direct the aircraft to divert.
Thirdly- Black Box analysis through media reports is revealing. 25 minutes before landing the weather had deteriorated. ATC advised captain of Polish Air Force-One weather is not advisable to land. A Russian Air Craft after having made two attempts is diverted to another Airport. In the mean time diplomatic head of protocol Mr. Kazana walked into the cockpit (against all professional ethics of the aviation.) Pilot intimated that very poor weather conditions exist, and suggested to circle around for 30 min and wait, weather would improve the chief of protocol walkout. In the mean time the head of the Polish Air Force also walked into the cockpit”. It is presumed that there was extra ordinary pressure on the pilot to make another attempt and the result was the Poland lost there top leadership in a matter of few minutes
The Lessons Learned
A large no. of important people should never be carried on one aircraft. The norms should be laid down and strictly followed.
International norms suggest that not more than two approaches should be made. ATC should not only play an advisory role, should instruct to divert and ensure the instructions are executed in the interest of flight safety.
The decision making during flight is only the pilot’s decision. It is not repeat not based on rank structure. Nobody regardless of his position or rank should walk into the cockpit to influence or pressurize the pilot. It would only lead to disaster.
To substantiate the about I narrate life experiences of flying:
We were on a trip to erstwhile USSR in Jan 1980. We were flying Antonov-12 Aircraft. Our flight was from Moscow to Odessa (A port city on Black Sea) now part of Ukraine. Actual weather forecasted at Odessa was low clouds and poor visibility conditions (500 Mtr cloud base and visibility 750 Mtrs.) It was also forecasted that weather will further deteriorate. Flying time from Mascow to Odessa was 3:30 hours. On arrival the ATC positioned the aircraft for an ILS approach on the main runway. However we came down to MDA (Minimum Descent Altitude) and couldn’t site the runway. We overshot; the ATC again made us try and position for the 2nd approach on the ILS. However due to poor visibility and low cloud base, we could not site the runway. ATC directed the aircraft to divert to “Simperofol”. Heading distance to diversion, flying time and the alternate to the diversion also was communicated by the ATC. Just imagine the relief in the cockpit. We set course to “Simperofol” and safely landed. One week stay, awaiting diplomatic clearances, was most memorable. In my 40 years of aviation with in India never heard such a confidence inspiring instructions from any ATC, whether civil or air force.
Having flown 13 types of aircraft in the IAF and ARC, had experience to fly as young and senior captain. Never there was an occasion when any senior officers (AOC in C, or the CAS) ever walked into the cockpit and pass instructions to influence the judgment or decision making of the captain of the aircraft.
I have always impressed the transport aircraft accident weather military or civil aviation or caused due to human error. When would we learn?
Air Marshal Ashok Goel served the IAF for 40 years and has more than 10,000 hrs of flying on 13 types of aircraft. His observations are all based on his personal experiences. His last appointment in the IAF was Director General Flight Safety and Inspection.