Two passengers were in the cockpit of the Polish plane that crashed last month in western Russia, killing President Lech Kaczynski and dozens of other senior government officials.
Two voices other than those of the flight crew were captured on the cockpit recorder, said Tatyana Anodina, the Russian official leading the investigation. One voice has been identified, but the individual’s name can’t be made public until the criminal investigation of the crash is completed, she said today on state television.
General Andrzej Blasik, the commander of Poland’s air force, was one of the passengers whose voices were recorded, the Polish newswire PAP reported today, citing an unidentified person in Moscow who is familiar with the probe. Investigators determined that the cockpit door was open at the time of the crash, Anodina said.
Preliminary findings show that the pilots shouldn’t have attempted to land in Smolensk on April 10 because visibility was too low due to heavy fog, Anodina said. Technical failure, explosion and terrorism were all ruled out as possible causes, she said.
Kaczynski was en route to Smolensk to honor the 22,000 Polish prisoners of war killed by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s secret police in the Katyn forest in 1940. All 96 people on board died in the crash, including central bank Governor Slawomir Skrzypek and the country’s top four military leaders.
The left wing of the Russian-built Tupolev Tu-154 clipped a birch tree as it descended, and the airplane disintegrated in five or six seconds, said Alexei Morozov, one of the members of the investigation panel.
According to the findings of an Interstate Aviation Committee, traffic controllers in Minsk and Smolensk repeatedly told the pilot that visibility at the airport was insufficient for landing. Four minutes before the crash visibility was reported as 200 meters, whereas the minimum at Smolensk is 1,000 meters, the committee said.
Russian air-traffic officials said at the time that the military pilot of the plane ignored warnings to divert to another city, leading to speculation that Kaczynski, as commander in chief, ordered the plane to land.
In August 2008, the pilot flying Kaczynski to Georgia refused an order to land in Tbilisi because of the country’s war with Russia, diverting instead to Azerbaijan. Kaczynski later criticized the action, saying that someone who decides to be an officer “cannot be timid,” the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper reported at the time.
Edmund Klih, the Polish envoy to the investigating committee, said the crew realized that diverting to another airport would make Kaczynski late for the important event at Katyn. “Haste can never justify a catastrophe,” he said in televised comments.
Psychologists will analyze the crew’s stress level during the landing and try to determine why they didn’t divert to a back-up airport, Klih said.