Kaczynski crash: Pilots poorly trained

2011-07-29 18:03
Warsaw - The pilots of Poland's presidential jet made a series of errors and were poorly prepared, a damning Polish report into the 2010 crash that killed then head of state Lech Kaczynski said on Friday.

The government report admitted most of the blame for the disaster in which all 96 people on board were killed lay with Poland, but it also listed a number of shortcomings by Russia, where the plane went down in April last year.

In an indictment of the Polish armed forces, it said the badly trained crew approached too low and too fast in poor weather as they prepared to land at the western Russian town of Smolensk.

"The immediate cause of the accident was the descent below the minimum descent altitude at an excessive rate of descent in weather conditions which prevented visual contact with the ground," the report said.

"The aircraft commander, co-pilot, and navigator had been trained hastily, haphazardly, and in violation of the respective training regulations," the 328-page report drawn up by an official inquiry commission said.

Multiple shortcomings

The report describes at length how the flight, in which Kaczynski's wife and many other high-profile Poles died, was badly prepared.

The military crew had not received appropriate training, the navigator's Russian was weak, and the meteorological information was incomplete, the report said.

The report also mentions the "presence of third parties in the cockpit, lack of the crew's effective cooperation, accepting too many responsibilities by the aircraft commander, insufficient level of the crew's training".

The crew was put together the day before and only met very briefly to prepare for the flight as passengers were already boarding.

"The crew did not meet the criteria for fully trained pilots who are competent in performing the duties required on their jobs," said the report.

However there was no evidence of direct pressure on the pilot to land despite the bad weather conditions, it said.

Russia blames Poland entirely

In its list of recommendations, the report urged the air force to overhaul its training methods and apply tougher security measures.

In its own crash report released in January, Russia had put the blame squarely on the Poles for the crash, arguing that the pilots brought about the tragedy by insisting on landing in fog.

But the Polish report found some shortcomings on the Russian side too, emphasising that the lighting at Smolensk North airport was inadequate, as were instructions given by Russian air traffic controllers.

Russia’s faults

"The condition of the lighting system was incompatible with the specifications required of visual navaids," the report said.

The government commission's findings also said that the terrain immediately ahead of the runway "was overgrown with trees which were taller than the permissible height of terrain obstacles in that area”.

The Russian report had led to blame-trading between Warsaw and Moscow, with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk faulting the Russian findings.

Poland's conservative Law and Justice party - led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the late president's twin brother - has accused Tusk's centre-right government of failing to take Russia to task.

A Law and Justice-run parliamentary commission is also probing the crash.

Last month, the commission's leader, Antoni Macierewicz, blamed Russia squarely, claiming it had forged the testimony of Smolensk's air traffic controllers, who he alleged had misled the pilots.

Adding an extra layer of sensitivity to the wrangling is the fact that the delegation had been bound for a memorial ceremony in Katyn, near Smolensk, for thousands of Polish army officers slain by the Soviet secret police in 1940, a massacre denied by the Kremlin until 1990.

- SAPA
Read more on:    lech kaczynski  |  poland  |  russia  |  air travel
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