TOP Polish officials in the cockpit of the plane of president Lech Kaczynski that crashed last year in Russia put pressure on the crew to land.
The crash killed all 96 on board after the plane attempted to land in dangerous weather conditions.
The final report of Russia’s Interstate Aviation Commission into last year’s crash, released last night, found no fault with Russian air traffic controllers.
That is likely to anger Polish officials, who have complained that the report’s previous drafts should have questioned whether controllers should have allowed the plane to land in poor visibility.
Kaczynski died with 95 others when his jet crashed last April 10 as it attempted to land in fog near the city of Smolensk in northwestern Russia in Poland’s worst post-war tragedy.
In a damning report listing Polish shortcomings leading to the crash, the Russian probe hinted that the plane was ordered to land as Kaczynski would have been unhappy if it were diverted.
Tatyana Anodina, head of the Moscow-based commission, confirmed that top Polish officials had been in the cockpit of the Tu-154 but also revealed they had pressured the crew.
“The presence in the cockpit of high-ranking officials — Poland’s air force chief and head of protocol — and the expected negative reaction from the main passenger put psychological pressure on crew members and affected decision-making regarding the continuation of landing under any conditions,” she said.
She did not identify the “main passenger”, but it appears she was referring to Kaczynski.
She said it was the captain of the plane who was expecting the negative reaction.
“Psycho-emotional tension” and a “conflict of motives” were among key factors contributing to the crash, said Ms Anodina.
“And let me stress — under conditions unsafe for landing, under conditions of unjustified risk.
“There was a strong motivation to perform the landing precisely at the airport of destination.”
In course of the flight, the crew “repeatedly received information about the absence of adequate weather conditions” from the Severny airport in Smolensk and a crew of a Yak-40 plane that had landed there earlier.
“Despite this, the Tu-154 crew did not make a decision to land at a substitute airport. This fact can be considered the start of a critical situation during the flight,” she said.
Ms Anodina said experts also found alcohol in the blood of the Polish air force chief, Andrzej Blasik, who was present in the cockpit of the plane.
General Blasik, whose presence put psychological pressure on the pilot to complete the landing despite the poor weather conditions, had a blood alcohol level of 0.06.
The pilots operating the plane had “substantial deficiencies” in their training, Ms Anodina said.
The Russian-made Tupolev-154 was carrying Kaczynski as he prepared to attend a ceremony at Katyn forest commemorating the 70th anniversary of a World War II massacre of about 22,000 captured Polish officers 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 Stalin.
The symbolic importance of Kaczynski’s apparently increased the pressure to land despite the poor conditions.
After initially praising Moscow’s co-operation in the probe, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk changed tack, calling the draft findings of the Russian investigation unacceptable and riddled with errors.
To further add to tensions, Kaczynski’s twin brother and ex-prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said he doubted that a body entombed in a Polish cathedral was that of his brother.