Monday, 12 April 2010

Human error blamed for crash

Analysts have concluded that human error - rather than the state of Poland's presidential jet - was the cause of the devastating crash in Smolensk.

The Polish Board N1, Russian made Tu-154M was recently repaired and had plenty of flying time left, Alexiei Gusev, "Aviakor-Aviation" factory director, who was in charge of the Polish airplane maintenance.

The plane was manufactured in 1990 and within last 20 years it has been used by previous Polish presidents, including Wojciech Jaruzelski, Lech Walesa and Aleksander Kwasniewski. In December 2009, the liner went through a major overhaul.

"From the moment it entered service, the plane had had 5,004 flight hours and 1,823 landings, which, for an aircraft of this class, is not a lot," said Gusev.

Russian Air Force Chief of Staff Alexander Alyoshin said the pilots were recommended to divert to another airport due to heavy fog for the first time when the plane was at a distance of about 50 km from the airport Smolensk-North, but they did not follow the recommendations. "The second warning was made 1.5 km from the airport, and the plane kept descending. Then the flight director again gave several commands to divert to an alternative airfield, but the aircraft continued to descend," said Alyoshin at a briefing.

Some aviation experts speculated that President Kaczynski or his entourage might have ordered the pilot to land despite bad weather conditions and warnings from Russian air traffic control, calling it a "VIP-passenger syndrome".

A business aviation pilot with 40 years experience and aviation safety lecturer from Australia, who preferred not to be identified by name, said that there are several cases in history, when high ranking passengers try to influence flight captains.

"It's widely known that commissars in the communist era or modern-day influential VIP passengers try to command captains," he said.

The Polish web resource "" quoted the former Polish president Lech Walesa, who said the pilot may have come under pressure. Walesa mentioned a case of two years ago when Lech Kaczynski tried to force a pilot of the presidential plane to land in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi during the war in South Ossetia.

And Kaczynski's apparent recklessness has a long historical pedigree, dating back to the 1930 R-101 airship disaster caused by the impetuousness of then UK aviation minister Lord Thomson. He insisted on a take off from Karachi despite warnings that the craft was not ready and the weather was not suitable for take off at that time.

Meanwhile the Interstate Aviation Committee (MAC) in its official statement said that the flight data recorders ("black boxes") of the crashed Tu-154M aircraft were delivered to a special laboratory, where the experts of the committee in the presence of Polish officials and officers of Investigation Committee of Prosecutor's Office started inspection of the containers with recorders. MAC Deputy Chairman Oleg Yermolov told The Moscow News that MAC will only comment on the state of the crashed airplane only after completion of the investigation.

Russia's Transport Minister Igor Levitin said the main reason for the crash was the decision to ignore the dangerously poor visibility. "The visibility at the time of the accident was 400 metres, although the standards require 1,000 metres as a minimum," said Levitin.

Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor's Office said they examined verbal recordings of radio contact between the pilot and the airport services and found out that the pilot did not follow the flight director's instructions to divert to another airport.

Maxim Pyatushkin, an expert from the "Aviation Review" magazine said that if the airport does not declare itself closed, the final decision to land is up to the captain."

Pyatushkin said that the technical condition of the Tu-154M airplane should be investigated as a cause of the crash only after all others.

"Twenty years for an aircraft is not a significant age if it's treated properly. The airplanes of country leaders are being repaired and checked very carefully and Polish pilots know this machine very well," said Pyatushkin.

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