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Non-crew in cockpit of doomed Kaczynski plane, says official

The Tupolev-154 plane that crashed in April with the late Polish President Lech Kaczynski on board had non-crew members in the cockpit, an investigation official said Wednesday. The voice of one of them was identified, but no details were provided.


AFP - Non-crew members were present in the cockpit of the plane of Polish president Lech Kaczynski before its fatal crash in Russia in April, aviation officials said on Wednesday.

Adding to questions about the Poland's worst post-World War II tragedy, the committee investigating the crash revealed the jet's crew had been repeatedly warned that weather conditions were not suitable for landing.

More than five weeks after the tragedy, investigators still did not offer concrete conclusions about its cause. However they said an act of terror, technical failure or an explosion have all been ruled out.

"It has been established that in the cockpit there were individuals who were not members of the crew," said Tatyana Anodina, head of the inter-state air committee which investigates crashes in the former Soviet Union.

"The voice of one of them has been identified exactly, the voice of the other, or the others, will require additional information from the Polish side," she added.

She did not offer further details over the identities of the individuals in the cockpit.

Ninety-six people including Kaczynski, his wife and scores of senior Polish officials were killed in the crash on April 10 outside the western Russian city of Smolensk.

The crash of the Russian-made Tu-154 took place in heavy fog and investigators confirmed officially for the first time that the crew had ignored warnings from air traffic control not to land.

"The air traffic controller at Smolensk Severny airport... twice warned the crew that there was fog at the airport, visibility was 400 metres (440 yards) and the conditions were not present to receive the plane," said Alexei Morozov, head of the committee's technical commission.

He said that 16 minutes before the crash, the crew of the Tu-154 also received information from a crew of a Polish air force Yak-40 which landed successfully earlier in the day that visibility was 400 metres.

Then, "Four minutes before the crash, the crew of the Yak-40 informed the crew of the Tu-154 that they evaluated the visibility at 200 metres," Morozov said.

Anodina said the technical commission had established that the crash was not the result of an act of terror or technical failure.

"There was not an act of terror, an explosion, a fire on board or a failure of aviation equipment. The engines worked until the collision with the earth," she said.

Kaczynski and the presidential delegation were killed as they were heading to a memorial service at Katyn, near Smolensk, for 22,000 Polish officers and troops killed by Soviet forces 70 years ago.

The Katyn atrocity -- which Moscow for years falsely blamed on Nazi troops and was subsequently reluctant to discuss -- had for years poisoned relations between the two countries.

But the crash saw a huge outpouring of grief in Russia and signs of a reconciliation between the two former Communist neighbours.

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