Smolensk air crash: Poland sacks top military officers

Czeslaw Piatas, the deputy defence minister who has been fired
Image caption Deputy Defence Minister Czeslaw Piatas once served as army chief of staff

Thirteen top Polish military officers have been fired, and a deputy defence minister has resigned, over last year's air disaster in western Russia.

The government announced the dismissals after a report identifying mistakes by poorly trained pilots as the main cause of the crash.

Then-President Lech Kaczynski, his wife and 94 senior officials died when the jet tried to land in heavy fog.

The air force regiment responsible for VIP flights was also disbanded.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said he was determined to quickly implement the report's recommendations, which heavily criticised the 36th Special Air Transport Regiment.

It had lacked training facilities and instructors and its pilots were continually overworked and had been trained in a hasty and haphazard manner, the report said.

'Earthquake'

Three air force generals were dismissed along with 10 other military officers.

Czeslaw Piatas, the deputy defence minister who resigned, is an army general.

"For some people this will be an earthquake, for others it will be the end of their careers," AP news agency quoted Mr Tusk as saying.

The Tupolev Tu-154 airliner crashed just short of the runway in Russia's Smolensk region after it hit trees in heavy fog.

Those on board included officials spanning the country's military and political elite.

They had been on their way to a memorial for the victims of Katyn, where thousands of Polish officers were massacred by Soviet forces in 1940.

The report said the pilots had been flying too low and too fast and had ignored repeated automated warnings to "pull up".

Air controllers and poor lighting at Smolensk were also at fault, it said.

Immediately after the report's publication, Bogdan Klich resigned as Poland's defence minister.

Pilots and other personnel from the disbanded regiment will be transferred to other air force units.

Poland's civilian national carrier, Lot, will now be responsible for VIP flights, Mr Tusk said.

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