Polish Defense Minister Resigns After Presidential Plane Crash Report
July 29, 2011
Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich has resigned after a government report found serious errors by the crew of the plane that crashed in Russia last year while carrying Poland's president.
Prime Minister Donald Tusk made the announcement in Warsaw on July 29, saying he accepted Klich's resignation.
The resignation came as a Polish government commission said Russia was partly to blame for the plane crash last year that killed Poland's president and 95 others.
The commission's report said that pilot error was the main reason for the crash, but that faulty equipment and poor communication by Russian ground staff at Smolensk airport in western Russia were also partly responsible.
Interior Minister Jerzy Miller unveiled the report at a press conference in Warsaw, saying the disaster had multiple causes.
"Operating a flight in such atmospheric conditions requires the flawless cooperation of two partners, of the crew, of the state of the weather and the air traffic controllers at the airport -- in this case, Smolensk North," he said.
The government of Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk ordered the report six months ago after criticizing the official Russian investigation into the crash as "incomplete" for failing to investigate the role of air-traffic controllers. Moscow's report placed the entire blame on the shoulders of the Polish pilots.
Pilots 'Were Not Kamikazes'
Miller told journalists that the pilots had intended to attempt a second landing when the crash occurred, contradicting the Russian report, which found that the pilots had insisted on trying to land despite requests from ground control that they abort:
"The crew took the decision to attempt a second landing," he said. "I underscore this, as some analyses have stated that the crew was determined to land, irrespective of the weather conditions. No, they were not kamikazes."
Miller emphasized that the pilots had been poorly trained for landing the Tupolev-154 in such difficult weather conditions at such poorly equipped airports. The report says lighting at the Smolensk airport was "defective and incomplete."
The plane crashed outside Smolensk, Russia, on April 10, 2010, as Kaczynski and a high-level Polish delegation attempted to land in heavy fog to attend a commemoration ceremony to honor victims of a 1940 massacre of Polish military officers in Katyn Forest.
Report Could Be Used For Political Advantage
Kaczynski's wife, the head of the Polish Central Bank, and several senior Polish military commanders were among those who died in the disaster.
Although Warsaw's relations with Moscow improved noticeably after the disaster and Moscow was widely praised for its handling of the incident, the issue became a bone of contention following the Russian report on the crash.
Poland will hold legislative elections this year, and the conservative opposition is attempting to use the report to its advantage.
At a press conference earlier this week, Antoni Macierewicz of the Law and Justice party, denounced the Polish report as merely "confirming Russian propaganda."
The Law and Justice party is headed by Kaczynski's twin brother, former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
Polish television reported that investigators collected 248 volumes of evidence in the case and spoke to 900 witnesses.
compiled from agency reports
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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