Saturday, July 30, 2011

Poland Says Russians Partly To Blame For Plane Crash That Killed President

 Free Internet Press

A Polish report into the 2010 plane crash in Russia that killed President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others says Russian air traffic controllers gave pilots incorrect and confusing landing instructions, a finding that could test already strained ties between the two countries.

It challenges a Russian aviation commission report that put sole blame for the disaster on Polish officials – and struck Poles as an attempt to avoid any responsibility for the plane crash in heavy fog near Smolensk.

Poles have eagerly awaited their government's findings, hoping for a more balanced picture of the crash. The accident on 10 April 2010, killed the president, first lady and dozens of senior officials, in the worst Polish air disaster since the second world war.

The Polish report does not shy away from putting much of the blame on Polish officials and procedures, saying the pilots had had insufficient training to fly the plane, a Tupolev 154. It also blames a lack of co-operation among the crew and a slow reaction to an automatic terrain warning system that warned pilots they were flying too low.

The main pilot was inexperienced and, as the only crew member who spoke much Russian, he was overwhelmed by the difficult conditions, said the report.

But it insisted Russian air traffic controllers were also to blame. Polish investigators found that the Polish plane was flying about 60 meters (200 feet) lower than the pilots believed in the moments before it clipped a tree and crashed. The Polish commission said the Russian air traffic controllers led the pilots to believe they were on course. It said the Russian airstrip had insufficient lighting, contributing to a lack of visibility that morning.

Russian investigators said in January that the Polish pilots faced undue pressure from political officials to try to land in thick fog – a sensitive issue. They said a Polish air force general who had alcohol in his blood entered the cockpit and pressured the pilots to risk a dangerous landing.

But the Polish commission says it did not find evidence of such pressure and that the pilots were not actually trying to land when they clipped the tree. They had abandoned one landing attempt and were circling the area to try to determine whether they should make another attempt, it says.

Kaczynski and his delegation were on their way to honor some 22,000 Polish officers killed during the war by Stalin's secret police in the Katyn forest massacres.

At first it seemed the accident had helped Poland and Russia heal some of their historic differences. An outpouring of Russian sympathy was met with much gratitude.

But the Russian report again strained relations. Poles remain bitter about the Katyn massacres, the Soviet Union's occupation of Poland's eastern half during the war and Moscow's domination of Poland during the cold war.

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