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UPDATED: 'If we don't land, they'll kill me' said captain of doomed presidential plane

14th July 2010
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Was the captain of the president's Tu-154 pressured to land?

Courtesy of Bartosz Staszewski/PRS

Poland's TVN24 news station claims to have obtained unofficial information on new fragments of conversation from the black boxes retrieved from the Tu-154 plane that crashed near Smolensk, Russia on April 10, killing Polish President Lech Kaczyński and 95 others.

The most dramatic of the revelations is that the captain of the plane apparently said, "If we [or I] don't land, they'll [or he'll] kill me."

The indiscrepancy in the pronouns comes from the difficulty in hearing exactly what the captain said. It is unclear in what context he made the claim.

After the crash, it was widely suspected that the president had put pressure on the pilots to land. In 2008, President Kaczyński had pressured a pilot to land in Georgia under gunfire. The pilot refused, after which the president called the pilot a "coward."

Context needed

According to Captain Robert Zawada, a Sejm aviation expert, President Lech Kaczyński or, more likely, Air Force Commander general Andrzej Błasik could have influenced the pilot's actions.

“If [the fragment] is confirmed, we can see how determined the pilot was. The fact that he didn't make the decision to make another circle means that he was scared of the consequences of not landing,” Mr Zawada said.

“Obviously, there is always pressure to land because important persons wish everything to go their way,” military expert and pilot Major Michał Fiszer told TVN24. “But if the pilot had already made a decision to land, then whatever were to happen, nothing would influence him.”

According to the major, the pilot's words were directed to the flight crew and it is unlikely anyone else on board heard them.

Mr Fiszer also said that flight data analysis would be key in the investigation. Both he and Mr Zawada said the fragment would be of particularly little value without its context.

“Only then will we be able to judge how serious the words were and how much they were said in jest,” Mr Zawada said.

Officials silent

Justice Minister Krzysztof Kwiatkowski told Gazeta Wyborcza that officially he does not know the content of the transcripts and would not comment on the subject. He did say, however, that the public would be informed of progress in the investigation.

Just last week, government spokesperson Paweł Graś said that Polish experts were able to decipher more of the transcripts than Russian investigators. At that time, he said that once all information was known, Minister of the Interior and Administration Jerzy Miller, who represents government supervision of the investigation, would inform the public.

So far, Minister Miller has remained silent.

The Polish military's prosecutor's office, which is also investigating the accident, has also declined to comment.

From Warsaw Business Journal by Andrew Kureth

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