At his latest press conference, President Leonid Kuchma, commenting on alleged assassination threats against Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko, surprised the journalists with a statement that his life has repeatedly been jeopardized. However, the head of state chose not to make public this information, since “there is no need for publicity in such cases.” In particular, President Kuchma said that his trips are always accompanied with some telephone warnings. He also told the journalists that recently, when his plane was taking off at the Rabat airport (Morocco), the plane’s front wheel had fallen off at the speed of 250-300 km per hour. It seems that the President had to live through a few stressful moments in connection with this accident, as “some electric bulbs and switches fell off” during the landing. Speaking about his feelings at that moment, President Kuchma said, “If you were there with me, I’d feel pity for you.”
The president also said that “some equipment was replaced” on his plane on the eve of his flight to the United States, which appeared “uncertified.” During the stay at the Shannon Airport (Ireland) the refueling device failed to operate.
Deputy General Director of the Ukrayina State Enterprise, Crew Captain Oleksandr Tarasenko, who copiloted the President’s Boryspil- Brazil flight, told The Day about the accident in Morocco: “When taking off from the Rabat International Airport after a stop for refueling, the plane’s front strut started vibrating at the speed of 290-295 km per hour. After taking off we [the crew — Auth.] discussed the situation: was it just vibration caused by moist runway or some damage. We took necessary measures and worked out a way to ensure a safe landing in Brazil. The crew successfully fulfilled the task. We approached the runway at minimum speed and with minimum overload, landing on the rear wheels without pulling down the front one, since we suspected that it was damaged. We pulled down the front leg at a low speed and started braking. Vibration appeared again, opening the latches on decorative panels in the salon, and some bulbs fell out of their sockets. After parking we found out the reason that caused the vibration: the left front wheel was flat (the cover was in its place and the tire damaged, which caused depressurization).” According to Mr. Tarasenko, there was nothing unusual about this breakdown, “It can happen, as, according to Murphy’s Law, if something can possibly break, it will break.” It is in fact impossible to foresee the probability of such incidents with wheels during flight preparations, though the Ukrayina Enterprise planes carrying the country’s leadership are inspected especially carefully. However, in the pilot’s view, “the crew handled the situation adequately. All options for possible actions and their consequences were considered. Luckily, we had enough time for this, since the flight lasted for nine hours.” Mr. Tarasenko referred to the landing program used by the crew as optimum. Incidentally, it was the first time in thirty years of his flight career that Oleksandr Podorozhnikov, who was piloting the plane, has seen such breakage and executed such a landing feat.
Commenting on the President’s statement that planes he had to fly on are physically and morally outdated, Ukrayina Enterprise Deputy General Director for Technical Maintenance Ihor Sheveliov said that the Il-62, onboard which the President had this unpleasant experience was issued in 1981. “Naturally, any equipment gets outdated. However, our planes meet all necessary technical requirements. The US, France, and Great Britain use older planes for their passenger flights.” Oleksandr Tarasenko also defended the Ukrayina Enterprise planes: “For example, Boeings are no younger than our planes. If you look up the statistics, our planes break less frequently, and there were no serious accidents in the whole period of the Ukrayina Enterprise existence.” In his view, the reason why the President received such information is “political motives and another company’s striving to obtain the right to fly high officials.”