Polish President Lech Kaczynski plane crash likely caused by pilot error
The plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 96 others was probably caused by pilot error, according to the preliminary findings of a joint Russian-Polish probe.
Unauthorized people were in the cockpit and passengers were chatting on cellphones – which can interfere with navigation equipment – as the plane carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski careened into its disastrous final approach to a Smolensk airfield in heavy fog last month, investigators say.Skip to next paragraph
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Preliminary findings of a joint Polish and Russian probe, released Wednesday, suggest that pilot error and irregularities aboard the doomed Tupolev Tu-154 were probably to blame for the crash that killed Mr. Kaczynski, his wife, and 95 others, including dozens of top Polish officials.
Though investigators did not offer final conclusions, they insisted that the aircraft was not brought down by technical failure or "terrorism," which may help to quell some of the Internet speculation that the tragedy might have been a KGB-style assassination of Kaczynski, who was not regarded as a friend of Russia during his time in office.
"It's very important that this investigation be seen to be transparent and impartial," says Alexei Mukhin, director of the independent Center for Political Information in Moscow. "Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered that it be done with full openness and cooperation with the Polish authorities, because it's very important that there be no suggestion of any coverup. Putin made it clear that if any blame should be found on the Russian side, there will be punishment."
Relations between Russia and Poland, who are traditional enemies, have improved since the tragic crash, in part because both nations have come together in grief and common purpose to find the truth, says Tatiana Parkhalina, director of the independent Center for European Security in Moscow.
"It's very important that the Polish side does not have a substantially different version of the reasons for the accident" from that of Russian investigators, she says. "The probe is still going on, so we should not jump to conclusions. But at this point it looks like this terrible catastrophe has had the effect of helping Russia and Poland to turn over a new leaf in our relations."