Pilots blamed as warning not to land in fog ignored
Investigators rule out technical faults as cause of crash that killed president
Published 12/04/2010 | 05:00
Russian investigators appeared yesterday to blame the Polish pilots for the airline crash that killed 96 people, including Poland's president, as they ruled out technical faults as a cause of the tragedy.
The crew of President Lech Kaczynski's plane, who were all members of the Polish air force, were said by investigators to have ignored repeated warnings not to land in thick fog. Investigators are studying black box recordings to try to work out why the pilot did not divert to another airport.
Speaking yesterday at a meeting with the prime minister, Vladimir Putin, who is in charge of the investigation, Alexander Bastrykin, Russia's chief investigator, said: "The recordings that we have confirm that there were no technical problems with the plane. The pilot was informed about complex weather conditions but nevertheless made a decision to land."
Teams continued to sift through the wreckage of the plane at Smolensk, where Mr Kaczynski and those on board, including Poland's army chief, the navy chief commander, and the governor of the Polish central bank, were heading to honour 22,000 Polish officers killed at Katyn by the Soviet secret police in 1940.
The news came as a shocked Poland welcomed home the body of its president. Hundreds of thousands lined the streets of Warsaw to pay their respects as Mr Kaczynski's cavalcade wound its way through the capital to the presidential palace.
At midday, air-raid sirens wailed in Warsaw and across the country church bells tolled as Poles observed two minutes of silence as a precursor to a week of official mourning.
Investigators in Russia, who have been joined by Polish teams, have said that Captain Arkadiusz Protasiuk (36), the flight's first officer, had made three abortive attempts to land, and had been advised to fly to another airport, before deciding to make one last attempt.
Both Captain Protasiuk and his second officer, Robert Grzywna, were experienced pilots with more than 5,000 hours of flying experience between them.
Questions were being asked last night about why a roll-call of Poland's influential politicians and military chiefs were allowed to travel on the same Tu-154 plane.
But Gregorz Holdanowicz, a Polish military aviation expert, said the only rule was that the president, the prime minister and the speaker could not travel on the same plane.
Russia withdrew its Tu-154 fleet from service because the planes are costly to fly and do not meet international noise restrictions. Despite 66 crashes involving the planes in the past four decades, Poland has not retired the Tu-154 for financial reasons. The presidential plane was overhauled in December.
While Polish-Russian relations had been improving recently, there has been enmity between the two dating back to the Katyn slayings.
President Kaczynski had angered the Kremlin with his staunch defence of the Ukraine and Georgia against what he called Russia's "new imperialism".
There were mounting conspiracy theories about Russian involvement in the crash appearing on the internet.
Fyodor Lukyanov, a political analyst, said: "Kaczynski was, to put it lightly, not a friend of Russia. Even if it is confirmed that pilot error caused the crash, there will inevitably be those who say it was the KGB that killed Kaczynski." (© Daily Telegraph, London)