Presidential Tu-154 crew pressured to attempt fatal approach

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Pilots of the governmental Tupolev Tu-154 which crashed in Russia killing Polish president Lech Kaczynski were mentally pressured by the presence of senior officials into attempting the fatal landing, Russian investigators have concluded.

The crew tried to land the aircraft in weather conditions below minima at Smolensk despite having alternate airports available.

Russia's Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK), in its final report into the 10 April 2010 accident, says that the failure to divert to a safer airport was the "beginning of the chain of events" which led to the crash.

But MAK also discloses that the pilots faced "psychological pressure" from the Polish air force's commander-in-chief, who was in the cockpit without authorisation, and says the crew also expected a "negative reaction" from Kaczynski if they made the decision to divert.

In its report the Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK) highlights key comments within the cockpit as evidence that the captain expected an aborted approach to result in anger and repercussions from the president.

"On final the [captain] experienced psychological clash of motives," says the report.

"On the one hand he understood that the landing in the actual conditions was unsafe, and on the other hand there was strong motivation to land exactly at the destination aerodrome."

The report states that the presence of the commander-in-chief - who was found to have 0.6% alcohol content in his blood - "affected the [captain's] decision" to continue the approach and descend lower than the minimum descent altitude without establishing visual contact with the ground.

As the aircraft descended towards Smolensk it dropped below the minimum descent height. Despite several warnings from terrain-awareness systems, the approach was not arrested and the Tu-154 struck trees, rolled over and disintegrated killing everyone on board.