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Investigators examine causes of presidential plane crash

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-04-11

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (pictured) is heading the official investigation into the air crash that killed Poland's President Lech Kaczynski.

Polish and Russian investigators on Sunday were combing through evidence from the flight recorders recovered from the Tupolev Tu-154 that crashed in western Russia Saturday with Polish President Lech Kaczynski and several senior Polish officials on board.

Besides the evidence from the plane’s voice and data recorders, investigators were also examining fragments of the Russian-made plane as well as recordings from the air traffic control office.

"The voice and data recorders are at a special laboratory where, in the presence of Polish officials, including representatives of the Polish state prosecutor... work has begun on analysing them," Interfax quoted a Russian transport ministry spokesman as saying.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has appointed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to head the official joint investigation into the crash. Russian officials have already said the Polish pilots ignored air traffic control warnings that they were flying too low.

"The recordings that we have confirm that there were no technical problems with the plane," chief investigator Alexander Bastrykin said during a meeting with Putin at the site of the crash.
Fragments of the fuselage, air traffic control recordings and the plane's "black boxes" are being studied, Russia's investigative committee said in a statement.

Russian media eye pilot error as possible cause

The Russian-made Tupolev 154 crashed as it approached the Severny military airport near the western Russian town of Smolensk at 10.56am Moscow time Saturday after taking off from the Polish capital of Warsaw. The plane was landing in foggy conditions when it got caught in trees and broke into several pieces.

A day after the crash, Russian news reports have focused on pilot error as a likely cause of the crash.

The Russian Interfax news agency on Sunday quoted Alexander Alyoshin, the first deputy chief of the Russian air force's general staff, as saying the plane's pilot repeatedly ignored instructions from air traffic controllers.

FRANCE 24's correspondent in Moscow reports on the crash investigation

"The head of the air traffic control group gave a command to the crew to put the aircraft into the horizontal position and when the crew did not implement this order, several times gave orders to divert to an alternative airport," Alyoshin told Interfax. “Despite this, the crew continued the descent. Unfortunately this ended in tragedy."

Reporting from Moscow, FRANCE 24’s Dmitry Medvedenko said there were also questions about why the pilot disregarded instructions from air traffic controllers. “Some say the pilot landed because he was pressurised, probably by the president himself, to land because the president really wanted to attend the Katyn commemoration,” said Medvedenko.

Doubts over the presidential plane

According to FRANCE 24’s Poland correspondent, Gulliver Cragg, there were doubts about the presidential plane before Kaczynski made his fatal trip to Russia.

In late 2008, Kaczynski was on board the Tupolev Tu-154 when problems with the aircraft's steering mechanism delayed his departure from Mongolia.

Following the 2008 incident, the presidential plane underwent a major overhaul, according to Polish press reports. In an interview with a Polish TV station, Aleksey Gusev, the head of the maintenance plant that overhauled the presidential plane said that shortly before the flight to Russia, "The plane was flying quite well and there were no complaints.”

Date created : 2010-04-11


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