THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

2 passengers in cockpit, Polish plane crash investigation shows

Report draws no conclusions about cause

By David Nowak
Associated Press / May 20, 2010

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MOSCOW — At least two passengers visited the cockpit of Polish President Lech Kaczynski’s plane before it crashed last month, and others may have chatted on cellphones, possibly affecting navigation as the crew battled heavy fog over challenging terrain.

Those were among the details revealed yesterday by Russian and Polish officials investigating the April 10 crash that killed Kaczynski, his wife, and 94 other people outside the Russian city of Smolensk. The preliminary report drew no conclusions about what caused the crash.

Russia and Poland have had troubled relations, and releasing an incomplete report may have been intended by both sides to show their determination to be candid and cooperative.

Alexei Morozov, head of the technical commission of Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee, told reporters that among the questions that need further investigation is whether the rolling terrain around the Smolensk military airport distorted instrument readings.

The plane went down in a ravine 50 feet below the level of the runway, a kilometer away.

“The presence of this ravine can have a natural influence on the readings of the radio altimeter,’’ Morozov said. “This is one of the subjects the technical commission is working on.’’

He also said the commission was investigating whether the use of cellphones aboard the Tu-154 affected its navigation.

The most intriguing detail was that two voices not belonging to crew members showed up on the cockpit flight recorders. Officials said it was not clear to whom one of the voices belonged, declined to identify the other person, and didn’t report what either person said.

The information could feed speculation in Poland that Kaczynski or someone in his entourage pressured the crew to land despite visibility that had shrunk to about 660 feet. The plane was carrying senior political figures to a memorial ceremony for Polish officers who were killed by Soviet secret police in 1940.

Edmund Klich, Poland’s envoy to the investigation, said only that “certain suggestions’’ were made by the passengers that he believed had no influence on the plane’s fate, though he acknowledged he had not heard the recordings. The voices were heard no later than 16 minutes before the crash.

Poland’s PAP agency said it learned from a source in Moscow that one of the two voices in the cockpit that did not belong to a crew member was that of the Air Force Commander, General Andrzej Blasik.

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