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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » January 30, 2008
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20 Die in Military Plane Crash
January 30, 2008 By W.Ż.    
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Twenty people died when a transport plane carrying a group of senior air force officers crashed near Mirosławiec airfield in northwest Poland Jan. 23, in the country's worst military aviation accident since World War II.

The CASA C-295 plane came down at around 7:05 p.m. The aircraft, which was approaching to land, plunged suddenly and crashed in a forest around 3 kilometers from the runway. It immediately burst into flames. The wreckage of the plane was scattered over a large area. The only thing those taking part in the rescue operation could do was put out the fire and secure the wreckage. According to rescuers and experts, there was no chance of saving anyone aboard the plane. It appears they all died when the plane hit the ground.

The fatalities were four crew members and 16 passengers-high-ranking air force officers, who had taken part in a conference on flight safety in Warsaw and were returning to their military units and homes. On its way to Mirosławiec, the CASA had stopped at military airfields in Powidz and Poznań-Krzesiny. Half of the 40 passengers who had boarded the plane in Warsaw got off at these two airfields. After a stop in Mirosławiec, the plane was supposed to fly to ¦widnik and then on to Cracow.

An investigation into the crash is being conducted by a special commission for air crashes. The flight recorder, which registers flight parameters and action taken by the crew, was found during the rescue operation. As in most such cases, there are three possible causes of the crash: technical failure, human error or a sudden change in weather conditions.

According to the airfield staff in Mirosławiec, the plane had to approach to land twice because at first the pilot failed to report he could see the runway. In a standard procedure, the pilot nosed the plane up and made a second attempt to land. He then reported he could see the runway. Weather conditions were difficult because of low cloud cover and other factors. According to Defense Minister Bogdan Klich, the weather could have been the most important cause of the tragic course of events. However, the cause of the crash will only be known after the commission has completed the investigation.

Lieutenant-Colonel Wiesław Grzegorzewski, a spokesman for the Polish air force, said the Instrument Landing System (ISL) had not been functioning at the Mirosławiec airfield. The system provides precision guidance to an aircraft approaching a runway to enable safe landing in difficult weather conditions. But according to Grzegorzewski, the failure of the system-bought from the Americans and installed in Mirosławiec six years ago-was irrelevant because the crew was very experienced and could fly in more difficult conditions.

Polish President Lech Kaczyński declared a two-day period of national mourning. "This is a day of deep mourning for the Polish air force, the Polish army and all Poles," the president and his wife Maria wrote in a book of condolence displayed at the presidential palace in Warsaw.

The tragedy in Mirosławiec is the first crash involving a CASA plane. The planes have been used by the Polish army since 2003. Until the crash the Polish air force had 10 such planes. Another two are to be delivered this year. The plane that went down was one of two delivered last year. Of all types of aircraft that are in service in the Polish army, CASA planes spend the longest hours in the air and are used in missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Until the crash, they had been highly respected by both pilots and ground staff, who said they were easy to fly and highly reliable.

After the accident, Gen. Andrzej Błasik, commander of the Polish air force, suspended all CASA flights. The ban, which also affects Polish planes currently outside the country, is to last at least until it becomes clear whether or not the crash was caused by technical failure. There are six CASA planes stationed in Poland. The remaining three are in Afghanistan, Lebanon and Spain.

The CASA C-295 is the latest model of the aircraft manufactured by the Spanish CASA company, which is part of the European EADS group. So far 50 such planes have been delivered to Spain, Poland, Jordan, Algeria, Finland and Brazil.
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