The crash of Polish Air Force Tu-154M transporting the Polish State delegation, on 10 April 2010 on the Russian Federation's territory
- Parliamentary Assembly
debate on 12 October 2018 (36th Sitting) (see Doc. 14607, report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human
Rights, rapporteur: Mr Pieter Omtzigt). Text
adopted by the Assembly on 12 October 2018 (36th Sitting).
1 On 10 April 2010, a Tupolev Tu-154M
aircraft was carrying the Polish State delegation, led by President Lech
Kaczyński, from Warsaw to Smolensk, in the Russian Federation, to
attend a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Katyń massacre.
The plane crashed at Smolensk Severny Airport, killing all 96 persons
on board (eight crew members and 88 passengers). The victims included
President Lech Kaczyński, his wife Maria and many dignitaries and
high-ranking Polish officials, including military chiefs of staff
(army, air force and navy) and the president of the National Bank
2 The Parliamentary Assembly notes that investigations were
commenced immediately after the crash in order to determine the
factors that led to this tragic event. Although Poland would have
been entitled to lead the investigation, the Polish Government agreed
with its Russian counterpart that the air safety investigation into
the causes of the crash would be carried out by the Russian Interstate
Aviation Committee (as the competent authority in the State where
the crash took place), with the participation of Polish experts.
Both States agreed that the main technical investigation would be
conducted according to the international standards and recommended
practices specified in Annex 13 of the Convention on International
Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention), which normally apply to civil
aviation, despite the fact that the Polish Air Force Tu-154M was
registered as a State aircraft and the fateful flight served State
3 The report of the investigation team of the Russian Interstate
Aviation Committee published on 12 January 2011 concluded that “[t]he
immediate cause of the accident was the failure of the crew to take
a timely decision to proceed to an alternate aerodrome although
they were [numerous times] timely informed on the actual weather
conditions at Smolensk ‘Severny’ Airdrome that were significantly
lower than the established airdrome minima; descent without visual
contact with ground references to an altitude much lower than minimum
descent altitude for go-around (100 m) in order to establish visual
flight as well as no reaction to the numerous TAWS warnings [Terrain
Awareness and Warning System] which led to controlled flight into
terrain, aircraft destruction and death of the crew and passengers”.
4 The Polish authorities’ comments on the draft of the Russian
Interstate Aviation Committee report were not taken into account
in the final version of the report. The Polish Committee for Investigation
of National Aviation Accidents subsequently issued its own report,
on 29 July 2011. This report stipulates that “[t]he immediate cause
of the accident was the descent below the minimum descent altitude
at an excessive rate of descent in weather conditions which prevented
visual contact with the ground, as well as a delayed execution of
the go-around procedure. Those circumstances led to an impact on
a terrain obstacle resulting in separation of a part of the left
wing with aileron and consequently to the loss of aircraft control
and eventual ground impact”.
5 While both reports agree on the basic nature of the tragedy
as an accident, the Russian report places all responsibility on
the aircraft’s crew members; the Polish investigators concluded
that Russian air traffic control also played a part in the accident
by transmitting incorrect information to the crew regarding the aircraft’s
position, and that deficiencies of Smolensk Airport contributed
to the crash. The Polish side has also put into doubt the independence
and neutrality of the Russian Interstate Aviation Committee.
6 On 11 April 2018, the Committee for Re-Investigation of the
Crash of Tu-154M in Smolensk, Russia, appointed by the Polish Government,
published a new preliminary report in which it concluded that the
aircraft was “destroyed in the air as a result of several explosions”.
7 Now, over eight years after the accident, the Russian Federation
still maintains possession of the plane wreckage, the black boxes
with original flight data recordings and other evidentiary material.
Although copies of flight data recordings and some material evidence
have been transmitted to the Polish authorities, Poland has strongly
insisted for years that the wreckage and all original materials
be returned. In both countries, criminal investigations relating
to the crash are still open.
8 The Assembly recalls that under Annex 13 of the Chicago Convention,
the State of occurrence is required to return the wreckage and other
evidentiary material to the State of registration of the aircraft
as soon as the technical air safety investigation is completed,
which was the case in January 2011. The continuing refusal of the
Russian authorities to return the wreckage and other evidence constitutes
an abuse of rights and has fuelled speculation on the Polish side
that Russia has something to hide.
9 The Assembly therefore calls on the governments of the Russian
Federation and the Republic of Poland to engage in international
mediation on how to implement the conclusions in paragraph 10.1,
and to report back to the Assembly on the results within twelve
months of the adoption of this resolution.
Given that the technical air safety investigation by the Russian
Interstate Aviation Committee was completed and its final report
published in 2011, the Assembly further calls on the Russian Federation
10.1 hand over the wreckage
of the Polish Air Force Tu-154M to the competent Polish authorities without
further delay, in close co-operation with the Polish experts, and
in a manner that avoids any further deterioration of potential evidence;
10.2 meanwhile, adequately protect the wreckage in a manner
agreed with Polish experts;
10.3 refrain from carrying out any more activities at the site
of the crash that could be seen as desecrating this location, which
has a powerful emotional significance for many Poles.
11 The Assembly further calls on the law-enforcement authorities
of both States to fully co-operate in establishing any possible
criminal responsibilities related to the crash, including by swiftly
making any evidence available on the request of the other State.
12 Finally, the Assembly solemnly recalls the purpose of the
fateful flight: transporting the most senior representatives of
the Polish State to a memorial ceremony at Katyń, the site of the
massacre of thousands of Polish patriots by Stalin’s secret police
in the spring of 1940. The Soviet Union had long refused to accept
its responsibility for this crime, but it finally recognised the
facts in 1990. The process of reconciliation between Poles and Russians,
which must continue on the basis of historical truth, should not
be put at risk by any abusive or provocative behaviour relating
to the tragic events in Smolensk.