Leaked recordings reveal chaos in the cockpit of the Polish presidential plane that crashed in 2010

The tragedy has been surrounded by conspiracy theories from the very beginning.
The tragedy has been surrounded by conspiracy theories from the very beginning.
Image: AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel, file
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On April 10, 2010, Poland was shaken by the news of a plane crash in western Russia that killed 96 people, including the country’s president, Lech Kaczyński, his wife, and dozens of politicians and military leaders.

A few days before the fifth anniversary of the crash, newly recovered audio appear to offer a glimpse of the final moments in the plane’s cockpit, indicating that a senior military leader pressured the crew to land in thick fog. Unlike the recent Germanwings flight, where a sole pilot apparently took over the cockpit and deliberately crashed the aircraft, the Polish plane, operated by the military, seemed overcrowded and chaotic.

A transcript of the recordings, reportedly commissioned by the military prosecutor’s office in Warsaw and then leaked, was released by the Polish radio station and news service RMF FM. The experts used a higher frequency to retrieve 30% more audio than in previous attempts, RMF FM reports.

A spokesman for the military prosecutor’s office, which is investigating the crash, told Reuters that the transcript is inaccurate in several places, but he did not elaborate on which parts. Still, since RMF FM posted the complete transcripts online (link in Polish), the report has been covered extensively in the Polish and international press. Military investigators have said they are now looking into the leak. Quartz has reached out to the Polish embassy in Washington DC for comment, and will update this post with any response.

The transcripts bolster earlier theories that officials were pressuring the crew to land so that the president could make a scheduled appearance, though the crew was worried about the weather conditions at the airport. The delegation was on its way to a ceremony to commemorate the victims of the Katyń massacre, where World War II Soviet secret police executed 22,000 Polish officers.

The recordings also seem to show that people were drinking beer either in the cockpit or close by, though it is unclear who was drinking. The pilots appear distracted by other people, with seven instances where someone in the cockpit was asked to keep quiet or leave. Just two minutes before the crash, someone says: “Fuck, can you all stop, please.”

In addition to the two pilots, a third person, identified as air force commander Andrzej Blasik, who was on the flight as a passenger, was in the cockpit throughout the descent. It is most likely Blasik, experts say, who is heard saying ”You will fit, easily” when the plane was at the low altitude of 300 meters.

A particularly chilling moment in the transcripts comes at their conclusion, where amid frantic calls from the airports ground crew to “pull up” someone in the cockpit is saying, in Polish, “Oh Jesus!”, followed by the final exclamation: “Fuck!”

For the five years after the crash, conspiracy theories have swirled, including one that it was a coup orchestrated by the Russians, a notion popular in the country’s right-wing circles. That notion was fueled by the Russians’ refusal to hand over the wreckage of the plane to Polish investigators.

Another theory, championed by the killed president’s identical twin brother, conservative Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, blames the Polish government and Russian air traffic controllers for the crash. The latest news seems to undermine this explanation, and could complicate the party’s political ambitions, including the presidential election next month.