I was doing some research and I came across this piece of news, which I’d missed:
A Russian court on Friday freed on amnesty two men accused of causing the death of the head of French oil giant Total in 2014 when his jet crashed on takeoff from a Moscow airport.
Christophe de Margerie was killed along with two pilots and a flight attendant when his private jet crashed into a snowplough at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport.
The principal suspect Vladimir Martynenko who was accused of driving the snowplough while drunk and engineer Vladimir Ledenev, who was in charge of the snow-clearing, pleaded guilty.
Judge Yelena Vereshchagina of the Solntsevo district court in Moscow sentenced Martynenko and Ledenev to four and three and a half years in prison respectively but freed them under a 2015 amnesty law and dropped all charges.
The Russian parliament in 2015 adopted a general amnesty to mark the 70th anniversary of Russia’s WWII victory.
It exempted from punishment several categories of people convicted for the first time on light charges as well as people sentenced to up to five years for crimes done unintentionally.
I don’t know what role the engineer Ledenev played, but at the time of the accident I felt desperately sorry for the snowplough driver Martynenko. He was 60 years old and I remember him cutting a pitiful figure on television, clearly shaken and staring down the barrel of a lengthy prison sentence. Sure, he shouldn’t have been drunk but that’s a way of life for men of his age and social standing, especially among those who go to work in overalls (I wrote about this in more detail at the time). Whatever reasons he had for driving his machine onto the runway at that moment, I’m sure it was neither deliberate nor because he had alcohol in his system. As I also said at the time:
Obviously there was a huge communication and systems failure here. A snowplough should be nowhere near a working runway, especially at night, and there should be robust controls in place to ensure this sort of accident does not occur. Most likely such controls were in place – once – but as is so common in Russia a combination of complacency, bad management, laziness, poor incentives, and general incompetence has meant the controls were circumvented and the safeguards failed. The snowplough driver said he got lost, which I can well believe is true – if the visibility was a bad as he says it is. Guaranteed the equipment he was operating would have been from the 1980s or before with no system of indicating to the control tower where it is at any time. And with the speed snowploughs move even if he got lost he should have been nowhere near a working runway.
I don’t know if the Russian authorities prosecuted the owners of the airport and the managers who presided over this mess – the airport’s CEO and deputy resigned immediately – but normally in such cases those at the top have enough connections to get the charges dropped, and some poor sod at the bottom gets blamed.
Martynenko earlier on Friday confirmed his guilty plea.
“I am guilty, I understand 100 percent it’s my fault. I ask forgiveness of all who have suffered,” he told the judge before the verdict.
Speaking to journalists later, Ledenev said his sense of guilt would remain.
“I don’t feel any relief, only guilt.”
So he’s done a couple of years inside, which he may not have deserved but then again he was driving about in a snowplough drunk. At least he’s out now and he’ll not die in jail. Perhaps justice hasn’t been done, but at least a grave injustice has been avoided. I’m glad about that.