MOSCOW: Investigators blamed pilot error Thursday for a crash that killed Poland's president, as harrowing details emerged of how the crew knew they were doomed after hitting trees while trying to land in Russia.
The first analysis of black boxes from the Polish plane that crashed in Russia killing President Lech Kaczynski and 96 others confirmed that pilot error was a cause of the tragedy, a report said Thursday.
"An analysis of the evidence, including the first results from the decoding of the black boxes, shows that an error in piloting led to the disaster," Russia's Interfax news agency quoted a source close to the investigation as saying.
As Poland's national unity fractured over plans to bury president Lech Kaczynski in a castle alongside kings and heroes, officials in Warsaw and Moscow released the first results from analysis of the plane's black box flight recorders. "The crew was aware of the inevitability of the coming catastrophe, if only due to the plane shaking after the wings hit the trees which we are certain happened," Poland's chief prosecutor Andrzej Seremet told commercial radio.
Colonel Zbigniew Rzepa, a Polish military prosecutor, said the pilots were aware of the imminent crash as the last seconds of the voice recordings "were dramatic", but did not elaborate. The Polish presidential Tupolev Tu-154 crashed in thick fog Saturday near the western Russian city of Smolensk while taking a delegation to a memorial service for a World War II massacre.
All 96 people on board were killed. Poland remains deep in mourning after its worst peacetime catastrophe and world leaders including US President Barack Obama plus royals from around the world are set to attend Kaczynski's state funeral on Sunday.
"An analysis of the evidence, including the first results from the decoding of the black boxes, shows that an error in piloting led to the disaster," the Interfax news agency quoted a source close to the investigation as saying.
The official said it appeared that on its final attempt, the plane tried to land by leveling out its oblique descent approach to a horizontal angle in a bid to compensate for the bad weather.
But the source said a "particularity of the plane is that if its speed of descent is more that 6 metres per second, when the plane equalized and goes into a horizontal flight it loses altitude," the source said. Russian officials have already ruled out fire or explosion, and air traffic controllers have said the crew repeatedly refused suggestions to divert because of the weather.
Kaczynski's delegation was headed to a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, when thousands of Polish officers were slaughtered by the Soviet secret police in 1940. An early presidential election is expected on June 20.
The crash also robbed Poland of leading figures, including Ryszard Kaczorowski, 90, a leader in exile who kept the dream of freedom alive during communism, whose body returned home Thursday.