Polish leader, 95 others dead in Russia jet crash
Sat Apr 10 20:50:52 EST 2010
Sat Apr 10 10:50:52 UTC 2010
MOSCOW, April 10 Agencies - Polish President Lech Kaczynski and some of the country's highest military and civilian leaders died when the presidential plane crashed while landing in thick fog in western Russia on Saturday, killing 96, officials said.
Russian and Polish officials said there were no survivors on the Soviet-era Tupolev, which was taking the president, his wife and staff to events marking the 70th anniversary of the massacre of thousands of Polish officers by Soviet secret police.
The Army chief of staff, General Franciszek Gagor, National Bank president Slawomir Skrzypek and Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer were also on board, the Polish foreign ministry said.
Russia's Emergency Ministry said there were 96 dead, 88 part of a Polish state delegation
Poland's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Piotr Paszkowski, said there were 89 people on the passenger list but one person had not shown up.
"We still cannot fully understand the scope of this tragedy and what it means for us in the future. Nothing like this has ever happened in Poland," Paszkowski said.
"We can assume with great certainty that all persons on board have been killed."
The governor of the Smolensk region, where the crash took place about 11am (1700 AEST), also said no one survived.
State news channel Rossiya-24 showed footage from the crash site, with pieces of the plane scattered widely amid leafless trees and small fires burning in woods shrouded with fog.
A tail fin with the Polish red and white colours stuck up from the debris.
"The Polish presidential plane did not make it to the runway while landing. Tentative findings indicate that it hit the treetops and fell apart," regional governor Sergei Anufriev said on Rossiya-24.
"Nobody has survived the disaster."
Russian news agencies reported that pilot error was suspected as a cause in the crash.
"The cause of the plane crash was apparently an error by the crew during the approach to landing," Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted an unnamed official from Smolensk as saying.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev offered condolences to Poland and vowed a thorough probe of the crash, news agencies reported.
Medvedev immediately appointed Putin as the head of a commission to investigate the crash and sent Russia's emergency situations minister, Sergei Shoigu, to the site.
The aircraft crashed a few hundred metres short of the runway at the Severny airport outside Smolensk, ITAR-TASS news agency reported, quoting rescuers at the site.
The flight data recorders of the plane had not yet been located but experts were on the scene and the search for them was under way, ITAR-TASS said.
Kaczynski was on his way to attend commemorative ceremonies for the Katyn massacre, which decimated Poland's military and intellectual elite 70 years ago.
The crash of his plane occurred three days after Putin and his Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk, together attended a memorial for the victims of the massacre at Katyn.
The Putin-Tusk meeting there was seen as a huge symbolic advance in Russia's often thorny relations with Poland.
In Warsaw, Tusk called an emergency meeting of his cabinet and the national flag was lowered to half-mast at the presidential palace, where people gathered to lay flowers and light candles.
Black ribbons appeared in some windows in the Polish capital.
Kaczynski, 60, became president in December 2005 after defeating Tusk in that year's presidential vote.
Poland's president is commander-in-chief of its armed forces but the position's domestic duties are chiefly symbolic.
Kaczynski, the identical twin brother of former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, had said he would seek a second term in presidential elections later this year.
He was expected to face an uphill struggle against Parliament speaker Bronislaw Komorowski, the candidate of Tusk's governing Civic Platform party.
According to the constitution, Komorowski would take over presidential duties.
Kaczynski's wife, Maria, was an economist. They had a daughter, Marta, and two granddaughters.