Moscow insists 'Polish crash pilots pressured'

2nd August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Moscow-based investigators on Tuesday insisted Poland's air force chief pressured the pilots of president Lech Kaczynski's plane into landing when it crashed in Russia last year with the loss of all on board.

The Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK) angered Poland earlier this year by saying Polish air force chief Andrzej Blasik put pressure on the pilots to land in dangerous weather in the doomed April 10 flight to Smolensk.

The long awaited report by an official Polish inquiry commission on Friday acknowledged that errors by the crew were the main causes of the crash but vehemently ruled out the claims that pressure on pilots was a reason.

But the MAK -- which investigates air accidents in the former Soviet Union and was mandated by the Russian government to probe the Kaczynski crash -- responded that Blasik's presence in the cockpit was a factor.

"The commander-in-chief of the air force (Blasik) appeared in the cockpit and gave guidance to the pilot by giving orders about the flight altitude and giving information about the flight altitude," the head of the MAK's technical commission Alexei Morozov told reporters.

"This can all be definitely seen as psychological pressure on the crew," he added, saying that Blasik had no right to be in the cockpit.

"We have just said things as they were. If the chief is standing behind, how should the crew feel?"

He said that the black box recordings had shown that the aim of the pressure was "to land come what may" and Blasik had entered the cockpit after the pilots told the head of protocol Mariusz Kazana that landing in Smolensk was in doubt due to the weather conditions.

The MAK's initial report infuriated Poland as it implied Blasik and Kazana entered the cockpit to pressure pilots to land as they did not want to annoy Kaczynski by diverting.

Morozov said the direct cause of the crash was the failure of the crew to take a decision to use a substitute airport after learning of the poor weather conditions at Smolensk.

But he also listed the "presence of the air force chief in the cockpit" as a factor behind the tragedy.

Kaczynski died with 95 others when his presidential jet crashed as it attempted to land in fog near the city.

The Russian-made Tupolev-154 was carrying Kaczynski to a ceremony at Katyn forest commemorating the 70th anniversary of a World War II massacre of Polish officers by the Soviet secret police.

© 2011 AFP

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