Polish plane told not to land in fog: Russian transcripts

19th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia Wednesday published dramatic transcripts showing air traffic control warned the Polish plane of president Lech Kaczynski not to land before it crashed in heavy fog with the loss of all on board.

Kaczynski died with 95 others when his Russian-made jet crashed on April 10, 2010 as it attempted to land in fog near the city of Smolensk in northwestern Russia.

The Russian Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK) last week issued a final report in which it blamed errors by the Polish crew and their decision to land in bad weather, which it said was under pressure from top officials on board. Poland has hotly disputed the findings and accuses Russian air traffic controllers of failing to notify the Polish plane's crew that they were well off course while landing.

The panicked and expletive-ridden transcripts published on MAK's website show Russian air traffic controllers were initially confused about the Polish jet's plans but warned it against landing in fog.

They cover telephone and radio communication between Russian controllers and the crew of the Polish plane.

A controller at the Smolensk airport tells central air traffic control that the Polish plane is heading their way but has not checked with the airport.

"I have information that the Polish Tu-154 is flying to us. Shit. They are not requesting clearance from us, we need to tell them we are covered-up," the controller said by telephone, adding that the fog had not been forecast.

Russian controllers do not speak to the Poles until more than 40 minutes later, however, when they say visibility is only 400 metres and "we do not have the conditions to take you."

The transcripts reveal tension as the Russian controllers seek to persuade the Polish jet against landing. Russian officials have insisted that as it was an international flight, the Russian side could not ban the plane from landing.

-- Controller: The airport has fog. Visibility is 400 metres. Four-zero-zero metres.

-- Pilot: Give me the temperature and pressure please.

-- Controller: Temperature plus two, pressure 7-4-5, 7-4-5. We do not have the conditions to take you.

-- Pilot: Thanks, but if possible we will try to approach. If the weather is not good enough, we will execute a turn-around.

Later a controller comments that it is not up to the Russian side whether the plane lands and makes an apparent reference to Kaczynski, saying that decision is made by "number one, he is there himself."

With the atmosphere in the control tower approaching panic as the seriousness of the situation and breakdown in communication becomes clear, the controllers agree to tell the Polish pilot to abort the landing.

--Controller: It's got even worse, look Pasha. He won't get in. The main thing is, you tell him to go-around, then it's him who took the decision, let him decide.

The last message from the Polish plane says that it has switched its lights on, then the controllers lose contact, releasing a torrent of obscenities.

-- Controller: Go-around. Shit, where is he?

-- Controller Two: Fuck knows, where is he?

They fail to make contact and realise the plane has crashed.

-- Controller Three: It started to go-around. Then it disappeared.

-- Controller One: Fuck!

The release of the transcripts appears an attempt by the Russian authorities to prove the transparency of their probe after the virulent criticism from the Polish side which risks endangering a fragile improvement of ties.

© 2011 AFP

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