Reports: VIPs May Have Pressured Flight Crew In Russian Crash

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Investigators so far have found no mechanical problems with the Tupolev 154 that crashed on Saturday, killing the president of Poland and 95 others, but they are now looking into reports that various VIPs, either on the airplane or elsewhere, may have put pressure on the flight crew to attempt a landing despite the weather. The airplane was attempting to land in thick fog at a military airfield at Smolensk, in western Russia, when it crashed, although air traffic controllers had warned the crew about the airport conditions and advised them to land elsewhere. The passengers were en route to a memorial service to honor Polish soldiers who had been executed by Soviet secret police in 1940. If the flight had diverted, the service would have been delayed, according to CTV News. Many of those on board were high-ranking Polish officials. The airplane was operated by the ministry of national defense of the Republic of Poland, according to Pravda, specifically for the transportation of top officials.

Pravda also said the military airfield uses a different instrument landing system than civil airfields, and the fight crew may have been more accustomed to the civil procedures. A Yak-40 with journalists on board landed safely at Smolensk just before the Tu-154; however, a military Il-76 diverted to a Moscow airport, Pravda said. "It is worthy of note that the Il-76 was piloted by a very experienced pilot who was very familiar with the area," according to Pravda. Although the airplane doesn't appear to have been a factor, fatal crashes in Tu-154s have occurred at least nine times in the last 10 years, according to the Associated Press. The airplane was built during the Soviet era, said Viktor Baranets, a military journalist quoted by Pravda. "More than half of the civil planes in Poland were made in the USSR," Baranets said. "Many of them had to have their engines replaced several times already. ... Tu-154 planes crashed in Poland twice. Both crashes were caused because of poor repairs."