Russia blames Polish crew in Kaczynski air crash

Last Updated: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - 18:08

Moscow: Russian officials investigating
the plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski
placed the blame squarely on the Poles today, saying the crew
was pressured to land in bad weather by an air force commander
who had been drinking.

Kaczynski and 95 others, including his wife, died in
April 2010 when their plane crashed while trying to land in
Smolensk, Russia. There were no survivors.

Officials of the Interstate Aviation Committee, which
investigates crashes in much of the former Soviet Union, said
Wednesday that the pilots were pressured to land by Poland`s
air force commander, Gen Andrzej Blasik, who was in the
cockpit. They said he had a blood-alcohol level of about 0.06
percent, enough to impair reasoning.

Blasik`s presence in the cockpit "had a psychological
influence on the commander`s decision to rake an unjustified
risk by continuing the descent with the predominant goal of
landing against the odds," committee chairwoman Tatiana
Anodina told a news conference announcing the final results of
the investigation. The report found no fault with Russian air
traffic controllers.

That is likely to anger Polish officials, who have
complained that previous drafts of Russia`s report should have
questioned whether controllers should have allowed the plane
to land in poor visibility. In December, Polish Prime Minister
Donald Tusk accused the Russian investigators of negligence
and mistakes.

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.

Efforts to cover up responsibility for the massacre
have long been a significant irritant in relations between
Poland and Russia. But in recent years Russia has attempted to
overcome the tensions by releasing thick dossiers of documents
and saying the killings were ordered by dictator Josef Stalin.

The symbolic importance of Kaczynski`s planned visit
apparently increased the pressure to land the aircraft despite
the poor conditions. But the head of the committee`s technical
commission, Alexei Morozov, said there was no "concrete
command" from Kaczynski to land.


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First Published: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - 18:08

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