The crew had feared a “negative reaction” from President Kaczynski if they switched to the other airfield, investigators say.
MOSCOW – 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, BBC informs. The presence of Poland’s air force commander in the cockpit drove them to take “unjustified risk”, they said.
Polish officials criticised a draft version of the report last month. 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. 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 crew, she added, had feared a “negative reaction” from President Kaczynski if they switched to the other airfield. “The main passenger’s expected negative reaction… placed psychological pressure on crew members and influenced the decision to continue the landing,” she said.
Poland’s air force commander, Gen Andrzej Blasik, added to the pressure by entering the flight deck, Ms Anodina said.
“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.
At the news conference in Moscow, the Russian investigators played back a 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”.