Russia: Kaczynski's pilot ignored ground command

MOSCOW Sat Apr 10, 2010 11:44pm IST

Image from video footage shows part of the tail of a Polish government Tupolev Tu-154 aircraft after it crashed near Smolensk airport in western Russia April 10, 2010. REUTERS/TVP via Reuters TV

Image from video footage shows part of the tail of a Polish government Tupolev Tu-154 aircraft after it crashed near Smolensk airport in western Russia April 10, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/TVP via Reuters TV

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - The pilot of the plane which crashed on Saturday, killing Polish President Lech Kaczynski, ignored several orders not to land from air traffic control, a Russian military official was quoted as saying.

Kaczynski, his wife and at least 95 others were killed when the aged Tupolev Tu-154 they were travelling in crashed in a forest while trying to land near the Russian city of Smolensk.

"At a distance of 2.5 km (1.5 miles) the head of air traffic control ascertained that the crew had increased the speed of the descent," the first deputy chief of the Russian Air Force's general staff, Alexander Alyoshin, was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

"The head of the air traffic control group gave a command to the crew to put the aircraft into the horizontal position and when the crew did not implement this order, several times gave orders to divert to an alternative airport," he said.

"Despite this, the crew continued the descent. Unfortunately this ended in tragedy," he said.

Kaczynski, a frequent critic of Moscow also known for his intransigence, was on his way to Katyn in western Russia to commemorate 22,000 Polish prisoners of war killed by the Soviet secret police in 1940.

Back in 2008, when Georgia and Russia fought their brief war, Kaczynski was on his way to Tbilisi to support Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, in what he saw as fight with the Kremlin's "new imperialism".

Air traffic control told the pilot of Kaczynski's plane to turn back because it was too dangerous to land in Tbilisi, but the president -- who also is commander in chief under Poland's law -- ordered the pilot to land anyway.

(Reporting by Dmitry Sergeyev in Moscow and Gabriela Baczynska in Warsaw, editing by Tim Pearce)

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