The analysis of the black boxes from the Polish presidential plane that crashed 10 April near Smolensk, Russia, reveals that human error may have led to the accident in heavy fog.
According to the Russian Interstate Aviation Committee, which is investigating the crash, the aircraft hit the top of a tree just one kilometer before the runway at the military airport near Smolensk. The delegation aboard the plane was en route to a memorial ceremony of a World War II massacre of Polish prisoners of war at the nearby Katyń Forest.
After ignoring Smolensk air traffic controllers’ warnings to land at an alternative airport, the pilots apparently started to land. It was their first attempt. However, they chose to abort the landing shortly thereafter as the plane wasn’t aligned with the runway by about 40 to 45 meters. The pilot tried to gain altitude but apparently made a mistake and turned the airplane to the right over a forested area. It was about one kilometer in front of the runway but flying too low when it seems to have hit the top of a tree with the left wing. After 200 meters, the plane hit a second tree with the left wing and lost a part of wing. Aviation experts are saying that at that point the flight crew had no chance to prevent the catastrophe. Out of control, the Tu-154M banked heavily to the left, turned upside down and crashed about 300 meters short of the runway.
According to Russian sources, there was no indication that the flight crew was under pressure to take any risks, particularly by any VIPs on board. The investigation is ongoing, however, and final conclusions remain to be determined.
Eighty-eight dignitaries, including President Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria, lost their lives in the crash. The Kaczyńskis are to be interred on Krakow’s Wawel Hill on Sunday in a funeral attended by many world leaders.