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April 12, 2010

Polish President Publicly Ridiculed Pilot Following 2008 Flight Diversion

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Wreckage of Polish Air Force Tu-154M 101 in Smolensk, Russia
Wreckage of Polish Air Force Tu-154M 101 in Smolensk, Russia

Wreckage of Polish Air Force Tu-154M (101) in Smolensk, Russia.

The crew of the doomed Polish Air Force jet that crashed on Saturday—killing the President and other top Polish officials—may have felt pressured to land despite warnings of low visibility and recommendations to divert to safer airports, according to a NY Times report.

During a Presidential trip to the Georgian capital during that nation’s brief 2008 war with Russia, President Lech Kaczynski publicly ridiculed the pilot of his Tupolev Tu-154M VIP transport after the airman refused the President’s orders to land in Tblisi due to dangerous conditions.

After diverting to nearby Azerbijan instead, Polish media reported that Kaczynski threatened to discipline the pilot, saying at the time “If someone decides to become a pilot, he cannot be fearful,” and “After returning to the country, we shall deal with this matter.”

The pilot, who was not flying Saturday’s doomed flight, was never formally disciplined, but reportedly suffered from depression following the incident.

So did President Kaczynski contribute to his own death? Possibly. Not only had he shamed one of his pilots, but it sounds as if the atmosphere onboard Polish presidential flights as essentially “pilot-by-committee.” Poland’s former President Lech Walesa said in the article, “If there were any doubts, the leaders were always approached and asked for their decision, and only on this basis were further steps taken.”



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Wreckage of Polish Air Force Tu-154M 101 in Smolensk, Russia

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