Russia Points to Human Error in Deadly Polish Plane Crash

Transportation DisastersDeathWarsaw (Poland)RussiaSocial IssuesWorld War II (1939-1945)Moscow (Russia)

WARSAW, Poland -- Russian investigators suggested human error may have been to blame in the plane crash that killed the Polish president and 95 others, saying Monday that were no technical problems with the Soviet-made plane.

The Tu-154 went down while trying to land Saturday in dense fognear Smolensk airport in western Russia. All aboard were killed,including President Lech Kaczynski and dozens of Polish political,military and religious leaders.

They had been traveling in the Polish government-owned plane toattend a memorial at nearby Katyn forest honoring thousands ofPolish military officers who were executed 70 years ago by JosefStalin's secret police.

The pilot had been warned of bad weather in Smolensk, and wasadvised by traffic controllers to land elsewhere - which would havedelayed the Katyn observances.

The pilot was identified as Capt. Arkadiusz Protasiuk, 36, andthe co-pilot as Maj. Robert Grzywna, 36. Also on the cockpit crewwere Ensign Andrzej Michalak, 36, and Lt. Artur Zietek, 31.

In Warsaw, there was concern that the pilots may have been askedby someone in the plane to land at Smolensk instead of diverting toMinsk or Moscow, in part to avoid missing the commemorationceremonies.

In Warsaw, Polish Prosecutor General Andrzej Seremet said Polishinvestigators talked to the flight controller and flight supervisorand "concluded that there were no conditions for landing."

"The tower was advising against the landing," Seremet said.

Polish investigators have not yet listened to the cockpitconversations recorded on the black boxes, but will, to see ifthere were "any suggestions made to the pilots" from other peopleaboard the plane.

Polish media reported in August 2008 that pilots flyingKaczynski to Tbilisi refused the president's order to land therebecause of the country's military conflict with Russia, divertinginstead to Azerbaijan.

In remarks shown on Russian television, Deputy Prime MinisterSergei Ivanov told a government meeting including President DmitryMedvedev that the data recorders on the plane were found to havebeen completely functional, which will allow a detailed analysis.

"It is reliably confirmed that warning of the unfavorableweather conditions at the North airport and recommendations to goto a reserve airport were not only transmitted but received by thecrew of the plane," he said.

Russian investigators have almost finished reading the flightrecorders, said Alexander Bastrykin, Russia's chief investigator.

"The readings confirm that there were no problems with theplane, and that the pilot was informed about the difficult weatherconditions, but nevertheless decided to land," Bastrykin saidduring a briefing with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin inSmolensk.

Bastrykin said the readings would be double checked, accordingto footage of the meeting broadcast Monday on Poland's TVN24.

The wreckage, meanwhile, will remain on site through midweek tohelp speed the investigation, Russian Deputy Transport MinisterIgor Levitin said.

Both Russia and Ukraine declared a day of mourning Monday, asPoles struggled to come to terms with the national tragedy thateliminated so many of their government and military leaders.

Tens of thousands watched as Kaczynski's body, returned Sundayto Warsaw, was carried in a coffin by a hearse to the presidentialpalace, including his twin brother Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the formerprime minister.

An annual Holocaust memorial event at Auschwitz-Birkenau onMonday was honoring Kaczynski and the other victims. Organizers ofthe March of the Living - with some 10,000 Jewish youth marchingover a mile (1.6 kilometers) between the two parts of the formerNazi death camp - said those marching would also remember Poland'selite killed in Saturday's crash.

Forensics experts from Poland and Russia were working to IDother bodies, including first lady Maria Kaczynska, using DNAtesting in many cases.

Jacek Sasin, a spokesman for the Presidential Palace, saidKaczynska's body would be sent to Warsaw, probably Tuesday.

He said the bodies of the first couple would lie in state at thepalace from Tuesday, their coffins closed, and the public would bepermitted to view them.

"We want every Pole who wants to pay tribute to the president,to be able to come and stand by the coffin," he said.

Sasin that officials are now planning the funeral for Saturdaybut a final decision depends on when the bodies of all 96 victimsare returned home.

Medvedev has said he wants to attend, according to PolishForeign Minister Radek Sikorski.

Sasin said nothing has been changed in the living quarters ofthe president and his wife since they were last there for breakfaston Saturday.

"I don't think there is anyone who would want to changeanything there. We still cannot believe what has happened," hesaid. "We all saw them as very warm people, the kind of peoplethat you want to be with, talk to. It is hard to believe that it isover."

Also aboard the Tupolev were the national bank president, thedeputy foreign minister, the army chaplain, the head of theNational Security Office, the deputy parliament speaker, theOlympic Committee head and at least two presidential aides and 17lawmakers.

Acting President Bronislaw Komorowski said he was moving to fillthe seats in parliament left empty because of the crash.

Meanwhile the Polish zloty was stable on Monday, with littlechange in its value against the dollar and euro compared to Friday,the day before the plane crash killed the central bank headSlawomir Skrzypek among the dozens of others.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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