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'They'll kill me if I don't land' -- pilot

THE Polish pilot who was at the controls of the presidential jet that crashed in April appears to have been under pressure to land in foggy, dangerous conditions.

"If I don't land, they'll kill me," Arkadiusz Protasiuk reportedly said minutes before the Tu154 went down near Smolensk airport in western Russia, according a newly deciphered conversation.

President Lech Kaczynski, his wife, and 94 crew and passengers, including the top brass of the army, air force and special forces, its central bank governor, senators and members of the Polish parliament, were on their way on April 10 to pay tribute to Polish victims of the massacre by Soviet troops in Katyn forest in 1940.

Since then the inquiry appears to have slowed, and different layers of mystery remain. One question is why the experienced pilot tried to land in dismal weather. The Polish Justice Minister, said that some of the original cockpit conversations had been reconstructed.

The cockpit conversations -- originally deemed unintelligible -- now have to be put into the context of the whole black-box transcripts and the records from the Smolensk control tower.

There were two visitors to the cockpit in the last 40 minutes of the flight from Warsaw.

The first was a foreign ministry official, Mariusz Kazana, the chief of presidential protocol. He was told: "Sir, the fog is increasing. At the moment, under these conditions, we will not manage to land."

Kazana replies: "Well, then we have a problem" -- meaning that the presidential party would not be able to make the Katyn ceremonies in time.


A few minutes before impact, the head of the Polish air force, Andrzej Blasik, entered the cabin. There is no indication yet what he said.

The data so far suggests that the Russians gave imprecise flight parameters. All four previous landings on that day had veered across to the left, far away from their intended position. This could indicate faulty equipment.