Transcripts of last moments of Polish plane released

Polish authorities have published the final conversations in the cockpit of the Tupelov Tu-154 that crashed near Smolensk in April killing Polish President Lech Kaczynski and many other Polish government officials. The evidence proved what many already suspected—that the pilots knowingly began their descent in dangerous weather conditions.

The decision to make these conversations public was coordinated with Russian officials. The 41-page transcript in Russian and Polish was posted on the websites of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs and of the Polish Administration after a meeting of the National Security Council. It confirmed earlier reports made to journalists by the Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK) and by Edmund Klikh, head of the Polish Commission to investigate air accidents.

The transcript begins with a remark by someone who was not a member of the crew. There were several non-crew individuals in the cockpit at the time. Most of their remarks are indecipherable. As MAK explained to Gazeta.Ru, they were standing too far from the microphone. It is now known that Polish General Andjei Blasik, commander of the Air Force, was in the cockpit, as was, according to Poland’s TVN, Mariusz Kazana, the director of diplomatic protocol. The morning of April 10 at 10:04 Moscow time one of them said to the pilots: “It will be very difficult. You won’t be able to see anything.” At 10:10, the co-pilot reported that the plane still had 10 tons of fuel on board, enough to reroute to another airport. “No, the ground is visible, I can see something. Maybe it won’t be that terrible,” he said a minute later. At 10:17 the captain, Arkadiusz Protasiuk, reported: “It’s bad, there’s fog, I don’t know if we’ll be able to land.”

At 10:23, one of the noncrew persons in the cockpit—the author of the notes following the transcript supposes that it may have been Kazana—said to the captain: “Captain, when will you land, may I ask you?” To which the captain replied: “Of course.” Then the navigator called out: “3,600 meters.” While preparing for the descent, the crew contacted the control tower. At 10:24, the dispatcher asked: “What is your back-up airport?” “Vitebsk, Minsk,” was the reply. The captain asked for the weather conditions, the control tower reported that visibility was 400 meters.

“We welcome you with all our heart,” the captain of a Yak-40 broke in at 10:25. The Yak-40 had landed at Smolensk earlier that morning. “You know, here it’s a complete [expletive]. You can see about 400 meters, and the ceiling is lower than the edge of clouds, much less than 50 meters.”

“Are you landing?” asked one of the noncrew persons, identified in the transcript as 2P (presumably General Blasik). “We were lucky to be able to land at the last minute,” the captain of the Yak-40 went on. “Honestly, you can try of course. There are two APMs [landing floodlights]. So you can try, but if you don’t make it the second time, then I suggest you go to Moscow or somewhere else.”

During this dialogue, the Tu-154 continued to ask the dispatcher for information about weather conditions. “Temperature plus 2 [Centigrade], pressure 745, conditions for landing do not exist.”

But after that the dispatcher still allowed the landing, convinced that the plane had enough fuel to go on to another airport in the event of an unsuccessful pass.

“Allow further descent, please,” the captain requested at 10:25. The answer was: “1-0-1, with a course of 40 degrees, descent 1,500.” The captain descended, but then changed his mind at 10:26 and told the crew as well as “Mr. Director” [Kazana] that “in the present conditions we cannot land.”

The crew asked several more times for data on weather conditions, including from the pilot of the Yak-40. The pilots discussed which airport they should divert to: Minsk or Vitebsk. The Yak-40 reported that “Russians [a Russian Il-76] made two passes then flew away.” At 10:30 a voice, presumably that of Kazana, announced that “at the moment there is no decision from the president about what to do next.” The plane continued its descent.

At 10:35 the dispatcher asked: “Have you ever landed at a military airbase?” “Yes, of course,” the captain replied. Then the dispatcher began guiding the plane to the landing, the crew reported its actions. At 10:36 a noncrew person in the cockpit is heard repeating something over and over, but it’s unintelligible. “Now you can see 200,” — at 10:37 the pilot of the Yak-4o cut in again, addressing Captain Protasiuk. Presumably he was referring to the visibility, now 200 instead of 400, as initially reported. “He’ll be furious, if again…” — the voice of a noncrew person, presumably Kazana, at 10:40.

Just then the terrain awareness warning system (TAWS) went off, delivering the English command: “Terrain ahead!”

This was followed by the command: “Pull up!” But the plane continued to descend. At 10:41 came the “sound of an impact with a forest mass,” according to the transcript. The dispatcher’s voice is heard screaming through the noise: “Go back for a second pass!” A second later one of the “unidentified persons” in the cockpit screams: “Kurwa!” That is the last word on the transcript.

The decision to “immediately publish” the transcript from the ill-fated Tu-154 was made by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. The transcript is also posted on his site. The original plan was to post the actual recordings, but it will take time and considerable expense to erase all the background noise. Whether this will be done or not is not yet known.

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