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April 10, Poland has marked the eighth anniversary of the Smolensk tragedy, the largest in terms of the number of victims of the plane crash, in which Polish political and military elite, including the presidential couple Lech and Maria Kaczynski, died.
Today Poland calls explosion the official cause of the catastrophe; the explosion took place before the collision of a plane with the earth. Russia has its own vision of what happened and puts the blame on the crew. For eight years after the tragedy, the countries have exchanged mutual accusations, and a compromise is not found yet.
We collected the main information on the Tu-154M crash, the key versions, and the latest results of the investigation.
April 10, 2010, Polish delegation, consisting of 88 people, was sent to the Russian Federation for mourning events on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the shooting of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest. Among the passengers were the president with his wife, Chancellery head of the state, the deputy minister of foreign affairs, the deputy minister of culture, the head of the National Bank, representatives of parliament, armed forces, senators, religious and public figures.
There were 96 people aboard the Tu-154M, including the crew (two pilots, navigator, flight engineer, and four flight attendants).
The plane left Warsaw at 5:27 (one hour later than planned), and had to land at the Russian airfield Smolensk-Severny. The meteorological conditions were difficult – low (about 50 m) cloudiness and visibility about 500 m. The President's plane received appropriate warnings from the Moscow dispatcher, the head of flights at the airport of destination and the Polish Yak-40 that had arrived earlier in Smolensk. The liner was offered to be landed at a spare airfield in Minsk or in Vitebsk. Also, the Tu-154 was informed that because of the difficult conditions in the Smolensk-Severnoye, the Russian Il-76 could not make a landing and returned to the departure aerodrome.
But in the event of leaving for a neighboring airfield, the Polish delegation would not have had time for official events in Katyn, so the airplane commander decided to land in Smolensk. During the approach, the plane fell slightly below the laid and the left wing touched the trees. It turned the bottom up (120 degrees), fell to the ground and caught fire. The tragedy occurred at 10:41. Firefighters eliminated the fire within 20 minutes, however, they did not manage to detect the survivors.
During these eight years, the Smolensk tragedy has acquired numerous versions - from a bomb aboard the airliner, an artificial fog in Smolensk, laser beams, a gel accelerating the fall, poisoning the passengers of the flight even before the crash.
Russian government commission, Polish Interior Ministry commission, the joint technical commission of the Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC), the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, and 25 Polish specialists immediately engaged in the investigation of the large-scale catastrophe. IAC released its report on the investigation of the accident in January 2011. According to its conclusions, Polish crew did the wrong thing, which made the wrong decision to land in difficult weather conditions and ignored the warning about it. It was also found that during the landing of the aircraft there were extraneous (high-ranking persons) in the cockpit, they exerted psychological pressure on the crew members.
The Polish side criticized the IAC report for a "one-sided approach" and in July 2011 presented its own report. The Poles did not deny the crew's guilt and psychological pressure, but they also accused the Russian dispatch service, which failed to prevent the catastrophe.
The key discrepancy in the reports was the definition of the nature of the flight: the IAC regarded it as a civilian, Poland – as a military one. In civil aviation, the decision to land is taken by the first pilot, and in the military – by the head of the flights at the aerodrome.
The Supreme Chamber of Control of Poland also published a report according to which the Smolensk-Severny airport was not included in the Polish register of operating airfields, and Kaczynski's plane should not have landed there at all.
In 2016, the Smolensk disaster was called a "terrorist act" by the Polish Ministry of Defense with a view to "depriving Poland of those people who led the country to independence." There was an opinion that the plane crash was an attempt to eliminate the country's leadership – internal (then prime minister Donald Tusk), external (Russian leadership and Vladimir Putin personally) political opponents or by collusion of both sides.
The criminal proceeding started by the Polish prosecutor's office was closed in November 2014. The government sub-commission to investigate the causes of the Smolensk disaster, established under the Ministry of Defense of Poland, resumed the investigation in the spring of 2016. Polish prosecutor's office began a second investigation in late November of the same year, claiming the exhumation of the bodies of 83 victims.
In April 2017, the Polish prosecutor's office accused two Smolensk dispatchers of provoking the disaster, claiming that there was a third unknown person in the control tower at the time of the tragedy. The Polish side appealed to Russia with a request for legal support.
In August 2017, the Smolensk subcommittee confirmed that the destruction of the left wing of the presidential aircraft has signs of an explosion, and the disintegration began before the collision with the birch.
The new commission conducted the exhumation of the bodies of victims of the tragedy and analyzed thousands of volumes of materials. At first, remains of President Kaczynski and his wife were recovered, after the examination they were reburied on November 18, 2016, in the Wawel Castle.
Funeral of Lech and Maria Kaczynski at the Wawel Cathedral
In January 2018, members of the commission reported that the number of explosions in the wing, slot, and center plane of the aircraft were the cause of the disaster.
The former head of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister Tomasz Arabsky and four other officials (two from the Office of the Prime Minister and two from the Embassy of Poland in Moscow) are accused of the failure to organize the visit of President Lech Kaczynski to Katyn. The defendants do not plead guilty. They face up to three years in prison.
April 23, 2018, ex-Prime Minister of Poland, the head of the European Council, Donald Tusk would testify in the case in the District Court in Warsaw. The Prosecutor's Office of Poland extended the investigation into the case of the Tu-154 crash until December 31, 2018.
At the same time, the technical report on the causes of the disaster would be published in several weeks. It is expected that the new report would answer the question what actually led to the tragedy.
At the same time, former Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz stressed that clarifying the causes of the plane crash might last for years.
April 10, 2018, the Polish Prosecutor's Office reported that during the exhumation and forensic examinations of 77 victims of the Smolensk disaster, 69 fragments of 26 people were found that were in the coffins of the other people. Also, the replacement of two bodies was revealed (the replacement of six other bodies was discovered earlier by the district military prosecutor's office). In addition, many strange objects were found in the coffins and bodies of the deceased: rubber gloves, bags, bottles, etc.
It is noted that in 90% of the cases, Moscow’s forensic experts documentation contains gross errors (for example, the Russians described the internal organs of the deceased, which they did not have during their lifetime). In addition, forensic experts for 30% of the victims were not conducted in Moscow.
Exhumation of seven more victims of the disaster should be held until mid-May 2018.
In August 2017, the Investigative Committee of Russia stated that no signs of an impact on the aircraft of explosives were found. In December, Russian President Vladimir Putin, during a big press conference, called bluffing and nonsense statements about the explosions on board President Lech Kaczynski's plane. Putin also noted that the plane was flying from Warsaw, which means that the reasons and executors of possible explosions must be sought in the Polish capital.
In February 2018, the Russian ambassador to Warsaw, Sergei Andreev, noted that the Russian Federation did not return the wreckage of the Tu-154M to Poland because the Polish investigation has not been completed. According to the Russian diplomat, the Polish investigators had access to both the wreckage of the plane and the black boxes. He noted that "the fueled craze is just one of the means of pressure against Russia."
Polish Foreign Ministry says that they have repeatedly appealed to the Russian side on the return of the wreckage. However, the Russians respond with a refusal, explaining it by continuing the Russian investigation into the causes of the Smolensk disaster (Russia has prolonged the investigation at least 16 times).
In December 2017 it became known that the Polish Foreign Ministry had prepared a draft complaint to the International Court of Justice regarding the wreckage of the Tu-154M.
Warsaw is confident that Russia is hiding key witnesses of the Smolensk disaster, and holding the fragments of the Tu-154M, hides the true causes of the tragedy.
April 10, 2018, Polish President Andrzej Duda announced that he was still counting on clarifying the causes of the tragedy. He stressed that the most important evidence in this matter, namely the core of the Tu-154, is still in the Russian Federation.
"The Russian authorities do not want to give it back to us. In my opinion, it is illegal, since the wreckage of the plane is the property of Poland," he said.
Also, according to Duda, the Smolensk disaster is one of the reasons for the complicated relations between Poland and Russia.
Considering that the version of the presidential airplane explosion is currently being considered in Warsaw as the key one, the Russian Federation might continue dragging on with the transfer of the crashed aircraft and black boxes (so that this thesis cannot be confirmed).
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