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Polish plane crash mystery deepens

The cockpit recording shows pilots knew about poor visibility. So why did they keep descending?

Although the recording does not give proof of direct pressure being exerted on the crew, it does show that the president and his people were aware of and concerned about the possibility of not landing on time.

Protasiuk informed the delegation that there may not be a landing about 15 minutes before the crash. “Well, we have a problem,” responded Mariusz Kazana, a foreign ministry official. Ten minutes before the crash, Kazana came back into the cockpit to say: “For the moment there is no decision from the president on what to do.”

As the plane circled above the airport, with the crew straining unsuccessfully to see anything on the ground and visibility down to 200 meters, an unidentified voice says: “He'll be really upset if ...” with the rest of the sentence garbled. Gen. Andrzej Blasik, the commander in chief of the Polish air force, was also in the cabin, although the only decipherable comments from him are of a technical nature.

Just one minute later, with the plane dropping to 400 meters, the airliner's terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS) gives its first alert, with a recorded voice saying: “Terrain Ahead!”

The crew continues to prepare for landing as the Tu-154 drops below the 120 meter altitude that air traffic control set as the height at which a decision to land should be made based on whether the runway below is visible.

As the navigator continues to read down the meters, “100,” “90,” “80,” “70,” “60,” warnings fill the cockpit with alarms and cautions. Every few seconds the TAWS says: “Pull up! Pull Up!” but the crew does not react.

At 50 meters the air traffic controller says: “Horizon!” calling on the airliner to level out its flight, but the rapid descent continues.

At 20 meters, with the TAWS again calling on the airplane to pull up, there is a sound of the Tu-154 hitting a tree followed by a curse from co-pilot Robert Grzywna. The last sound is a drawn out curse before the recording cuts off at 10:41.05 local time, the time of the crash.