On April 10, 2010, the President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, is en route to Smolensk, Russia. As the Polish Air Force plane approaches the airport, the crew encounters heavy fog that would make it near-impossible to land. A trial approach is abandoned; the captain attempts to go around, but something goes horribly wrong. Moments later, the aircraft slams into a wooded hillside, killing all 96 people on board - throwing a nation into mourning and sparking theories beyond black-box evidence.
About Mayday 12
"Death of the President" is a captivating start to the new season of MAYDAY. From structural failures and design flaws, to complex computer systems that even cabin crews don't fully understand, every episode combines compelling human drama and detailed aviation science to reveal the unsettling truth that aviation safety improves one crash at a time. Featuring cockpit recorders, news footage, eyewitness accounts, survivor and family interviews, and gripping re-enactments, MAYDAY investigates aviation disasters to find out what went wrong... and why.
Season 12 starts with an investigation into the crash of Polish Air Force Tupolev TU-154M. News of President Kaczynski's death is greeted with shock and suspicion in Poland. Russia and Poland have a long history of hostility, and conspiracy theories about an assassination plot abound. At the crash site, Russian and Polish investigators work to determine what really went wrong. Both countries test the wreckage for explosive residue, but can find no evidence of a bomb.
Investigators also take careful measurements to determine exactly where the plane first hit the ground. Broken tree branches provide a troubling clue, revealling that the plane was flying at a dangerously low altitude - much lower than it should have been at this distance from the airport.
Investigators hope the flight data recorder (FDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR) will provide an explanation. The Russian-made FDR and CVR are sent to Moscow to be downloaded. When the FDR reveals no mechanical problems, investigators then turn their attention to the crew conversations captured by the CVR. They immediately notice something unusual: the captain is making the radio calls, instead of the navigator. They conclude that the captain was forced to take on the extra work because he was the only Russian-speaking crewmember.
The investigation continued, revealing visitors in the cockpit at low altitude, ignored alarm bells, manually-reset altimeters, a poorly-equipped airbase, and dense fog. That fatal combination ended 96 lives and fractured an already-strained relationship between two countries. Russian and Polish investigators both issue reports that place much of the blame on the Polish pilots. But the Polish report goes further, insisting that the Russian controllers also contributed to the crash - fuelling the ongoing controversy.