Polish investigators have begun examining one of three black boxes from the plane crash that killed the president and 95 other people, after Russian officials said their study of the boxes suggested pilot error was to blame.
The black boxes, recovered from the wreckage of the Tu—154 that crashed last Saturday while approaching the airport in Smolensk, Russia, will be examined for more clues as to why the crash happened, but investigators from Russia and Poland have said human error was the likely cause.
According to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, the Interstate Aviation Committee said the preliminary investigation had found the plane hit some trees about 1,050 meters (yards) from the paved runway.
“After 200 meters, the left wing of the plane struck a tree, as a consequence of which the plane sharply heeled and turned over to the left,” the report said. “The main mass of fragments of the airliner are about 300—3550 meters from the runway and about 150 meters to the left of it.”
Meanwhile, Polish officials are watching a spreading cloud of volcanic ash emanating from Iceland, which could threaten the arrival of many world leaders for Sunday’s state funeral of President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, Maria, in the southern city of Krakow.
The volcanic ash has disrupted European air travel and it was unclear if state leaders planning to attend the funerals would make it.
Among those who said they would come are President Barack Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedv and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Poland closed most of its airspace on Friday.
Late Thursday, the White House said Mr. Obama still planned to fly to Poland on Saturday for the funeral.
Deputy White House Press Secretary Bill Burton said, “It’s something that we’re keeping an eye on. Right now, our schedule is still on.”
Jacek Sasisn, a spokesman for the Presidential Palace, told RMF FM radio that while no decision has yet been made about delaying Sunday’s funeral, officials are taking into account all concerns. He added any delay would be an “absolute last resort.”
Poland is preparing a tradition-laden funeral for Kaczynski and his wife, who were among the 96 people killed when their plane clipped a birch tree on approach to Smolensk. They were headed to the airport for a commemoration of the systematic execution of thousands of World War II Polish army officers by the forerunner of the Soviet secret police in 1940.
The investigation into the crash is moving fairly quickly, aviation experts said, but some Poles have complained about a lack of public information, including the transcript of conversation in the cockpit before the accident.
Jerzy Artymiak, spokesman for Polish military prosecutors, said the other two boxes are still being examined in Russia.
Investigators had hoped to disclose contents of the flight recordings on Thursday, but Mr. Artymiak said they now plan to wait until after the weekend memorial ceremonies.
Last weekend, the pilot of the Tupolev 154 carrying Kaczynski and the others had been warned of bad weather in Smolensk and advised by air traffic controllers to land elsewhere - which would have delayed the Katyn observances. Some in Poland have speculated that the pilots ignored the risks in order to keep President Kaczynski on schedule for a memorial for Polish officers executed by Soviet secret police in the Katyn forest in 1940.