A new Polish commission re-investigating the 2010 plane crash that killed President Lech Kaczyński and 95 others has accused its predecessors of doctoring evidence and manipulating facts.
The crash near Smolensk airport in Russia was one of Poland’s worst tragedies since the second world war. Among the dead were military commanders, state officials and public figures. It further strained relations with Moscow.
The previous investigation team was appointed by Donald Tusk, then Poland’s prime minister and now the head of the European council. In 2011, that team declared the crash a result of Polish pilot error, poor guidance by Russian controllers in dense fog, and poor visibility at the rudimentary military airport.
A separate report by Russian experts blamed the Polish crew and the alleged presence of a Polish air force commander in the cockpit, suggesting he might have pressed for a landing in spite of bad weather conditions.
The passengers were travelling to ceremonies to honour Polish officers killed by Soviet secret security during the war.
The new inquiry was sought by the current nationalist ruling Law and Justice party led by Kaczyński’s twin brother, Jarosław Kaczyński, who has blamed the crash on Tusk and Russia.
The team, appointed by the Polish defence minister, Antoni Macierewicz, announced preliminary findings on Thursday, and said the 2011 Polish report was the result of “falsifying, manipulating, avoiding, and hiding” the truth.
“Some of the elements were tampered with,” the commission head, Wacław Berczyński, said.
His colleague Kazimierz Nowaczyk alleged that three seconds had been cut from one of the black-box recordings, while five seconds were deleted from the other.
As evidence they showed secret footage in which the previous commission’s head, then interior minister Jerzy Miller, appeared to suggest to his team that their report should be in line with the Russian one to avoid any questions about inconsistencies and “conspiracy theories”.
Berczyński said some of the evidence provided by Russia was manipulated. The commission pointed to the fact that Russia delayed handing over the flight recorders.
Russia also has refused to return the wreckage, saying it still needs the evidence for its own criminal investigation.
But the new investigation’s findings have been dismissed by an expert who worked on the original report.
“These are just words,” Maciej Lasek, head of the committee for investigation of national aviation accidents, told Polish channel TVN24. He also told the Russian news agency Tass that no one deleted anything from the black-box recordings.
The accusations of rigging results are due to “an absolute lack of understanding of the principles of the black boxes and the synchronisation of data”. he said.
“The main problem of this group is none of its members have ever investigated air accidents,” Lasek said, noting that “none of the new investigators visited the accident site” in Smolensk.