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Russia Blames Polish Pilot Error For Smolensk Crash.

Russia has blamed the Smolensk air crash which killed the Polish president and nearly 100 other people in April on Polish pilot error.

The Polish crew failed to heed bad weather warnings because they were afraid of displeasing President Lech Kaczynski, Russian investigators said.

The presence of Poland’s air force commander in the cockpit drove them to take “unjustified risk”, they said.

Poland’s prime minister has cut short a holiday in response to the report.

A government spokesman said Donald Tusk was returning to Poland for talks with Poland’s lead crash investigator, Jerzy Miller.

Last month, Mr Tusk sharply criticised a draft version of the Russian report.

Russia’s handling of the disaster had previously been widely commended.

President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others, spanning the country’s military and political elite, were killed when their airliner came down in heavy fog near the western Russian city of Smolensk. There were no survivors.

They had been on their way to a memorial ceremony for Poles massacred by Stalin’s secret police at Katyn during World War II.

Tatyana Anodina, head of the Inter-state Aviation Committee (Mak) in Moscow, told reporters that the final report had been handed to Polish colleagues.

The Soviet-made Tu-154 plane, she said, had been in good condition when it took off from Warsaw en route to Smolensk’s Severny airport, and it suffered no engine or flight system failures.

The jet was piloted by Captain Arkadiusz Protasiuk (left) and Major Robert Grzywna

Before impact, there was no fire, explosion or other damage in the air, she continued.

The disaster resulted directly, she said, from the crew’s failure to heed weather warnings and land at a different airport.

“During the flight, the crew were repeatedly informed of inadequate weather conditions at the destination airport,” she said.

“Despite this, the crew of the Tu-154 did not take a decision to switch to a back-up airfield. This may be considered as the start of the extreme situation aboard the plane.”

The Russian investigation found “substantial deficiencies” in the training given to Captain Arkadiusz Protasiuk and his co-pilot, Major Robert Grzywna, Ms Anodina said.

The two men had feared a “negative reaction” from President Kaczynski if they switched to the other airfield, according to the Russian investigator.

“The main passenger’s expected negative reaction… placed psychological pressure on crew members and influenced the decision to continue the landing,” she said.

The jet’s flight recorder caught one of the crew saying “He’ll get mad”, in an apparent reference to the Polish president’s determination not to alter his schedule.

Poland’s air force commander, Gen Andrzej Blasik, added to the pressure by entering the flight deck, Ms Anodina noted.

“The presence of the Polish air force commander on the flight deck up to the aircraft’s impact with the ground put psychological pressure on the crew captain to decide on continuing descent in a situation of unjustified risk, dominated by the goal of making a landing at any cost,” she said.

According to pathology tests, alcohol was found in the blood of Gen Blasik in a concentration of 0.6 grams per litre – just above the drink-driving limit for most EU states.

Investigators found that a top Polish foreign ministry official, Mariusz Kazana, had also entered the flight deck at one point.

At the news conference in Moscow, they played back the flight recorder tape of the pilots’ final minutes, including conversations with Russian air traffic controllers.

Just before the recording ends, an automatic recorded message in English from the plane’s Terrain Awareness and Warning System can be heard exhorting the crew to “pull up, pull up”.

In December, Mr Tusk described a draft of the Russian report as “unacceptable”, saying some of its conclusions were unfounded.

Without revealing details, he said it did not comply fully with the Chicago Convention which regulates international air travel.

“This negligence and mistakes, or lack of positive reaction to what Poland has been asking for, all these things allow us to say that some of the report’s conclusions are without foundation,” he added.

On Wednesday, Mak official Alexei Morozov said his investigation had amended its report with regard to technical criticisms made by Polish investigators.

But other amendments suggested by the Poles relating to responsibility for the crash were not included in the report as they were non-technical, Mr Morozov said.

These amendments would, he added, be contained in an appendix to the report.

Lech Kaczynski’s twin brother, former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, recently said he doubted that the body entombed in a Polish cathedral last year was that of his brother.

“When I saw the body that was brought back in a coffin to Poland, that person did not look like my brother,” he told reporters last month.

BBC Full Report

January 12, 2011 - Posted by | News | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments »

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