Russia air control misguided doomed Polish plane: Poland

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Russian air traffic controllers misguided the Polish presidential jet which crashed in April 2010 in western Russia in fog killing president Lech Kaczynski and 95 others, a Polish official said Tuesday.

Minutes before landing when the Polish plane was in fact "too high by 130 metres and 80 metres off course (...) Russian air traffic controllers said it was on course rather than warning them to adjust their course," senior Polish investigator Robert Benedict told reporters in Warsaw.

Polish investigators on Tuesday released a recording of Russian air traffic controllers' communication with the doomed flight, alleging they failed to notify the Polish plane's crew they were well off course while landing in a thick fog which should have seen the airport shut.

Earlier the same day, a different plane narrowly succeeded in landing at the regional and rudimentary Smolensk airfield enveloped by a thick fog, Polish officials said.

"Reacting to this huge psychological pressure, the controllers made many mistakes, failing to give sufficient support to the (Polish) crew of the TU-154 aircraft during its landing in very difficult weather conditions," Grochowski said.

Before beginning the flight in Warsaw, the Polish crew also received inaccurate weather information on Smolensk airport.

Polish investigators quoted Smolensk air traffic as saying the Poles "shouldn't bother taking off" from Warsaw due to a fog at Smolensk that cut visibility to below the minimum 1,000 metres (1,093 yards) required for landing.

"It is difficult to accept that this information was not included in the final Russian report," Polish investigator Miroslaw Grochowski told reporters Tuesday.

On the heels of the Polish report, Russian investigators said Tuesday they would release a full transcript of communications between Russian air traffic controllers and the Polish presidential jet.

In their own findings issued last Wednesday in Moscow, Russian investigators blamed the disaster on the incompetence of the Polish crew and pressure from senior officials to land despite dangerous weather.

Moscow's report completely cleared local air traffic controllers and the technical condition of Smolensk airport of having been factors in the crash.

It stirred both controversy and suspicion in Poland.

Liberal Prime Minister Donald Tusk termed Moscow's report "incomplete" while Kaczynski's surviving twin and conservative opposition leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said it "made a mockery of Poland."

On Monday, the family of the late president Kaczynski said Moscow may have plotted to assassinate him.

The husband and lawyer of the late Kaczynski's only child Marta, accused Russian investigators of ignoring an attempt by the Polish pilots to regain altitude and abort the landing 22 seconds prior to the crash.

The attempt "failed because the crew was misinformed about the plane's altitude and about the position of the landing course and path," Marcin Dubieniecki charged.

"Today the hypothesis of an assassination plot against the Polish president is more plausible than ever," Dubieniecki said.

Kaczynski was known for his deep suspicion of Poland's Soviet-era master Moscow and a staunch line against Russian moves in the region.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Polish counterpart Bronislaw Komorowski vowed last Friday to continue dialogue.

Poland and Russia have had uneasy relations since the demise of communism and the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago, but Poles were struck by the level of public and official mourning in Russia following the Smolensk tragedy.

© 2011 AFP

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