MOSCOW (Reuters) - A plane carrying Polish leader Lech Kaczynski crashed killing all on board because the crew feared that aborting the landing due to fog would anger the president, Russian aviation officials said on Wednesday.
The late president’s twin brother Jaroslaw condemned as “a joke against Poland” the Russian report on the crash, which killed many of Poland’s political and military leadership and has tested ties between Warsaw and its former communist master.
Polish government officials said it seemed one-sided and one warned of more possible trouble ahead with Moscow.
Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC), presenting its final report, played a recording of the voice of a crew member as the plane neared Smolensk where Kaczynski was to attend a memorial for Poles massacred by Soviet secret police in 1940.
“He’ll get mad,” said the crew member in Polish, according to a Russian translation provided by the IAC.
IAC head Tatiana Anodina said the decision to land despite bad weather was the direct cause of the April crash, which killed 96 people, also including Kaczynski’s wife.
“On the one hand, he (the pilot) knew the plane shouldn’t be landing in these conditions, on the other hand there was strong pressure on board to bring the plane to a landing,” she told a news briefing presenting the report.
Anodina said the presence of Kaczynski on the plane and of Polish air force chief Andrzej Blasik inside the cockpit influenced the pilot’s decision not to abort the landing and instead try to fly to an another airstrip.
“The expected negative reaction of the main passenger (to a recommendation not to land)...placed psychological pressure on crew members and influenced the decision to continue the landing,” Anodina said, referring to Kaczynski.
There was no apparent evidence in the flight recording of any direct order from Kaczynski.
Tests found Blasik had traces of alcohol in his blood, Anodina said.
Prime Minister Donald Tusk cut short a foreign skiing holiday to return for talks with officials on the report.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski dismissed the Russian suggestion that his brother may have put psychological pressure on the pilots to land. “My brother did not show suicidal tendencies,” he said.
“The report puts the entire blame on Polish pilots and Poland without any proof ... The report is a joke against Poland,” he told a news conference. His right-wing opposition Law and Justice party would urge parliament to reject it.
Polish lawyer Rafal Rogalski, representing relatives of some of the 96 killed in a crash that shook Poland, rejected the Russian report as an “absolute scandal.”
“The families want the truth ... not the presentation of just one side without considering arguments which lie also on the Russian side,” he said
Last month, Tusk criticized as “unacceptable” a preliminary version of the Russian report in comments that riled Moscow and threaten to derail a cautious rapprochement.
The crash prompted an outpouring of sympathy from the Kremlin, supporting efforts to mend deeply strained ties between Warsaw and Moscow, which dominated Soviet satellite Poland for over four decades until 1989. Investigations of the crash, however, have thrown up differences.
Poland’s Interior Minister Jerzy Miller, who is in charge of a separate Polish investigation into the crash, also said on Wednesday Warsaw has acknowledged the Polish side’s role in the crash, but added Russia was also partly to be blamed.
“We are not fighting with IAC’s accusations toward the Polish side. We would come up with similar ones, that’s obvious,” Miller told reporters.
He added, however, that Russian air traffic control as well as the state of the airport also contributed to the disaster.
A senior Polish foreign ministry official said the report could spell trouble ahead for bilateral relations: “It looks like our remarks to the report have been completely ignored,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“We still need to analyze the report thoroughly, but of course there is a chance this is the beginning of trouble.”
Additional reporting by Gareth Jones and Gabriela Baczynska in Warsaw; Writing by Alexei Anishchuk and Steve Gutterman; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Alastair Macdonald