Polish plane crash
Mail Foreign Service
Last updated at 8:09 AM on 13th April 2010
The Russian government prevented the Polish president's plane from landing four times to divert him from a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, according to an MP.
Artur Gorski said the Russians 'came up with some dubious reasons' that the aircraft couldn't land because they feared President Leck Kaczynski's presence would overshadow a similar event hosted by the Russian prime minister a few days before.
And their alleged plan ended in disaster when the Polish pilots made one final and disastrous attempt to land, killing Mr Kaczynski, his wife, and 94 others on board the plane.
Memorial: The coffin of Polish president Lech Kaczynski is laid out at the Presidential Palace chapel in Warsaw, Poland
'One version of events says that the plane approached the airport four times, because every time the Russians refused it permission to land - they wanted to send the plane with the president to an airport in Moscow or Minsk,' Mr Gorski claimed in an interview published in the newspaper Nasz Dziennik.
'They came up with some dubious reasons: that there was fog over the airport, and that the navigation system didn't work as it was under renovation, and that airport had a short landing strip.'
Scene: This satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe shows the site, lower right, of a Tu-154 plane crash outside of Smolensk, Russia
The pilot: Captain Arkadiusz Protasiuk was flying the Polish presidential plane that crashed near Smolensk airport
The claims were made as shocking new details emerged of the final minutes of the flight before it crashed into a Russian forest on Saturday morning.
One of the Russian air traffic controllers involved in the tragedy said he
believes the Polish air force pilot Arkadiusz Protasiuk, 36, was under severe
pressure 'to land at any cost' so that the president would not miss the
commemoration of the death of 22,000 Poles slaughtered by Stalin.
But he claims there were also serious language problems between the control tower at the military airport near Smolensk and the crew as the aircraft began its descent, and final approach, 'without our permission'.
The crew failed to report to the ground their altitude readings, said Colonel Anatoly Muraviev, a former pilot.
He believes the captain 'was desperate to land because of the high ranking passengers he was carrying. It killed both the crew and the passengers.'
Mark of respect: NATO members' state flags fly at half-mast during an extraordinary meeting in Brussels to express its condolences to Poland
It was known that Mr Kaczynski once fired a flight crew when they refused to land at Tbilisi - and flew to another airport, he said.
'Now try to imagine yourself in chief pilot's shoes. Fear, false shame, thinking that going to another airport is a disgrace - all this led to the fact that the crew died and killed all the others. I am a former pilot myself, I understand all this very well.'
The tapes of the conversations with the flight crew have not been released - so it is unclear if there is specific evidence of an order to the captain from either the president or the military top brass on board.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown adds his name to the book of condolence, accompanied by his wife Sarah
Polish investigators said they will probe whether there were 'any suggestions made to the pilots' from other people aboard the plane.
Colonel Muraviev claimed there were a number of specific causes of the crash - 'weather conditions, maybe a mistake of the pilot who did not watch his altitude, and also the pilot's wish to land at any cost'.
He said the controllers and flight crew stumbled in Russian and broken English to understand each other in the final decisive seconds of the flight.
Col Muraviev claimed that the fog 'was worsening' as the Polish president's plane came into land. One flight had landed earlier but another had been redirected to Moscow.
Poignant: A minute's silence is observed during the NATO meeting for the 96 killed in the plane crash
Of Kaczynski's flight, he said: 'At first it was descending OK, according to the rules, no problems. Soon our air traffic controllers began to worry. The head of our group three times ordered the pilots to stop this attempt to land, and try one more time, while also preparing to fly to another airport because of bad visibility.
'The crew did not listen to him. So the traffic control warned them about bad visibility and the necessity to fly to another airport.
'The crew did not obey, so the controllers had only one thing to do - to carry on leading in the plane and see what happens. There was only one attempt to land and the plane crashed.'
Because it was a civilian flight, they did not have the authority to order them to another airport, he said.
He said 'mainly we spoke Russian to the crew, partly bad English. Understanding was hard.'
The Polish pilots 'began to land without our permission' and 'did not report to us with their altitude data', he added.
Another controller Pavel Plyusnin confirmed the understanding was '50-50' as the plane approached its tragic end.
'It was hard to guess here if the pilot understood us properly,' said Col Muraviev. 'The language barrier did not help of course. I think it could have affected the result of this flight along with other circumstances.'
The Polish air force yesterday defended father-of-two Captain Protasiuk, saying he 'often flew with the president and other VIPs'.
A spokesman said it was 'ruled out' that the president could have forced the pilot to land at Smolensk.
The body of Poland's first lady Maria Kaczynska was identified yesterday by her wedding ring - with her husband's name inscribed on the inside - and the colour of her finger nails. Many of the bodies are so badly mangled they will require DNA matching.