Polish Air Force Tu-154M Crash at Smolensk, Russia


On the 10th of April 2010, a Tupolev Tu-154M aircraft of Polish Air Force crashed while attempting to land at Smolensk North Airfield, Russia in reduced visibility. All 96 people on board including Polish president Lech Kaczyński and senior members of Polish Government were killed.


Both countries the Poland and Russia agreed to conduct investigation of this accident according to ICAO Annex 13, notwithstanding to fact that the aircraft was Polish Air Force aircraft and Smolensk North Airfield was airfield used for both military and civil aviation purposes. From Russian side the Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC) and from Polish side the Committee for Investigation of National Aviation Accidents (CINAA) involved in the investigation of this accident.

Reconstruction of Accident:

Part 1 of 1

Video embedded from YouTube on 23 August 2011 (see RussiaToday (2011)1

Contributing Factors:

The IAC published the Final Report of investigation of this accident on 12 January 20112. The IAC concluded that the "immediate cause" of the accident was failure of the flight crew proceed to alternate airport, although they have informed on the actual weather conditions at Smolensk North Airfield and descent with no visual contact with ground references ignoring TAWS warning which led to Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT). Also IAC concluded that of presence of Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Air Forces in cockpit put “psychological pressure” on the Captain decision to continue descent and attempt to land.
Among contributing factors which led to this accident the IAC named:

  • A long discussion of the crew about weather conditions at destination airport and possibility of landing with Protocol Director and crew of the Polish Yak-40, which led to experience “psychological clash of motives”. The captain was realizing that the landing would be unsafe, but expecting negative reaction from the “Main Passenger” he faced strong motivation to land exactly at the destination airdrome;
  • Lack of compliance to the SOP and lack of CRM;
  • Significant break in flights in complicated weather conditions by captain and low experience in conducting non-precision approach;
  • Navigators call out of radio altitude, not considering uneven terrain;
  • Using engaged autopilot and autothrottle down to altitudes much lower than the minimum descent altitude which does not comply with the Flight Crew Operations Manual provisions;
  • Late start of final descent which led to in increased vertical speed of descent.

The CINAA published its report on 29 July 20113. The CINAA concluded that the "immediate cause" of the accident was descent below the minimum altitude with excessive rate of descent in bad weather conditions and delayed execution of the go-around procedure.
Among contributing factors which led to this accident the CINAA named:

  • “Failure to monitor altitude by means of a pressure altimeter during a non-precision approach;
  • Failure by the crew to respond to the PULL UP warning generated by the TAWS;
  • Attempt to execute the go-around maneuver under the control of ABSU (automatic go-around);
  • Approach Control confirming to the crew the correct position of the airplane in relation to the RWY threshold, glide slope, and course which might have affirmed the crew's belief that the approach was proceeding correctly although the airplane was actually outside the permissible deviation margin;
  • Failure by LZC to inform the crew about descending below the glide slope and delayed issuance of the level-out command;
  • Incorrect training of the Tu-154M flight crews in the 36 Regiment” 3.

The main difference of Polish Final Report from Russian Report was no indication of pressure of any kind was put on captain’s decision to continue descent and attempt to land.

1. RussiaToday (2011) Kaczynski plane crash explained: Full minute-by-minute reconstruction. Retrieved from YouTube on 23 August 2011.
2. Interstate Aviation Committee (2011). Final Report Tu-154M tail number 101, Republic of Poland. Retrieved from Interstate Aviation Committee on 23 August 2011.
3. Committee for Investigation of National Aviation Accidents (2011). Final Report from the examination of the aviation accident no 192/2010/11 involving the Tu-154M airplane, tail number 101, which occurred on April 10th, 2010 in the area of the SMOLENSK NORTH airfield. Retrieved from Committee for Investigation of National Aviation Accidents on 23 August 2011.

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