Polish leader, dozens dead in Russia jet crash
MOSCOW – Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife and some of the country’s most prominent military and civilian leaders died Saturday along with dozens of others when the presidential plane crashed as it came in for a landing in thick fog in western Russia.
Russian and Polish officials offered conflicting death tolls but agreed 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, Gen. Franciszek Gagor, National Bank President Slawomir Skrzypek and Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer were also on board, the Polish foreign ministry said.
The head of Russia’s top investigative body, Sergei Markin, said there were a total of 132 people on the Tu-154. 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.”
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 colors 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,” Sergei Anufriev said on state news channel Rossiya-24. “Nobody has survived the disaster.”
The presidential Tu-154 was at least 20 years old. Polish officials have long discussed replacing the planes that carry the country’s leaders but said they lacked the funds. According to the Aviation Safety Network, there have been 66 crashes involving Tu-154s, including six in the past five years. The Russian carrier Aeroflot recently withdrew its Tu-154 fleet from service.
The crash is likely to be a setback in Polish-Russian relations which had been improving of late after being poisoned for decades over the Katyn massacre.
Russia never has formally apologized for the murders of some 22,000 Polish officers, but Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s decision to attend a memorial ceremony earlier this week in the forest near Katyn was seen as a gesture of goodwill toward reconciliation. Rossiya-24 showed hundreds of people around the Katyn monument, many were holding Polish flags, some of them were weeping.
In Warsaw, Prime Minister Donald Tusk called an extraordinary meeting of his Cabinet and the national flag was lowered to half-staff at the presidential palace
Poland’s president is commander-in-chief of its armed forces but the position’s domestic duties are chiefly symbolic. Kaczynski, 60, became president in December 2005 after defeating Tusk in that year’s presidential vote.
Leave a comment
No comments yet.