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Russian Probe Blames Polish Crew In Kaczynski Plane Crash

  • RFE/RL

The flight recorders from the plane of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, which crashed last April

The flight recorders from the plane of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, which crashed last April

Russian investigators have blamed the Polish crew for last year's airplane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and dozens of other prominent Poles.

As part of the final results of the probe into the crash presented today, they say pilots flying the plane were under pressure to land in bad weather from a Polish Air Force commander.

Kaczynski, his wife, and 94 others died in April 2010 when the presidential jet crashed while trying to land in Smolensk in thick fog.

Kaczynski and his delegation were on their way to attend a ceremony commemorating the victims of the 1940 Katyn massacre, in which 20,000 Polish officers and other prisoners of war were killed by the Soviet secret police.

Speaking at a news conference in the Russian capital, the head of the Moscow-based Intergovernmental Aviation Committee, Tatyana Anodina, said the Polish crew had made a series of mistakes.

"There were substantial deficiencies in the organization of this very important flight, particularly in the composition and training of the crew, flight preparedness, and the choice of backup airfields," Anodina said.

Russian investigators found no fault with Russian air-traffic controllers, who they say advised the Polish pilots to land at a substitute airfield and did not give the jet final authorization to land.

Tatyana Anodina, head of the Moscow-based aviation commission that investigated the April 2010 crash
Anodina said that the presence of high-ranking Polish officials, including Poland's air-force commander General Andrzej Blasik, in the cockpit also pressured the pilots to land despite poor visibility.

"The presence of the Polish Air Force commander in the cockpit until impact with the ground put psychological pressure on the commander's decision to continue lowering the plane's altitude under conditions of unjustified risk with the dominant goal of landing at any cost," Anodina said.

Anodina added that the commander had a high blood-alcohol level.

She also said Kaczynski's presence put additional pressure on the crew. At one stage in the flight, one of the plane's crew members said Kaczynski would "get mad" if the flight was diverted, according to a flight recording excerpt aired at the press conference.

But the head of the committee's technical commission, Aleksei Morozov, told reporters that said there had been no "concrete command" from Kaczynski to land in Smolensk.

Polish Response

Kaczynski and his delegation were on their way to attend a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the World War II Katyn massacre, in which 20,000 Polish officers and other prisoners of war were killed by the Soviet secret police.

The visit was a highly symbolic step for the two states. Katyn had long strained relations, with Moscow until 1990 blaming the killings on Nazi Germany.

Russian aviation officials today handed over their report on the crash to Poland, where it has already come under fierce criticism.

Kaczynski's twin brother, former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, blamed the report for putting the entire blame on the Polish pilots and branded it "a joke against Poland."

He told a news conference that his right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) would call on the Polish parliament to reject Russia's findings.

"Today we have the consequences in the shape of a report which, first of all, blames Polish pilots and Poland in general for this catastrophe in an entirely one-sided manner and without any proof," Jaroslaw Kaczynski said.

The site, in Smolensk, of the crash that killed President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others in April 2010
Pawel Kowal, a Polish member of the European Parliament who served as a close adviser to the late Polish president, told RFE/RL that the report aimed at whitewashing Russia.

"It does not focus on explaining all of the reasons or following all of the threads, it focuses exclusively on defending the reputation of Russia's raison d'etre," Kowal said.

A lawyer for Kaczynski and other relatives of the victims, Rafal Rogalski, told Reuters that Russia's findings were one-sided and "an absolute scandal."

Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said most of the Russian commission's findings were accurate, but noted that the report gave only a partial account of events.

Polish officials had criticized a preliminary Russian report released in December, with Prime Minister Donald Tusk saying the findings were unacceptable and riddled with errors.

Tusk has reportedly cut short his holiday and is due to deliver a special address on the report on January 13.

based on RFE/RL and agency reports
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