Polish President Kaczynski killed in air crash
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A plane carrying Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski along with his wife, Maria, and several senior government officials crashed near a Russian airport on Saturday. There were no survivors, according to Russian officials.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski was killed when his plane crashed while attempting to land at a Russian airport on Saturday, according to Russian and Polish officials. There were no survivors on board the plane, which was carrying Kaczynski’s wife, Maria, and several senior Polish officials.
The Russian-made Tupolev 154 crashed as it approached the Severny military airport near the western Russian town of Smolensk at 10.56am Moscow time after taking off from the Polish capital of Warsaw.
Reporting from Moscow, FRANCE 24’s Dmitry Medevedenko said that according to Polish news reports, the plane was landing in foggy conditions when it got caught in trees and broke into several pieces.
The passenger list included Kaczynski’s wife, Maria, Polish Central Bank Governor Slawomir Skrzypek, the army's chief of staff and Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer, according to a Polish Foreign Ministry spokesperson.
News of the tragedy was received with shock across Poland as the country reeled from the loss of several top officials.
According to a Polish government spokesman, the country will now hold early presidential elections. Meanwhile, the speaker of the Polish lower house, Bronislaw Komorowski, has assumed presidential duties in line with the constitution, Komorowski’s office announced.
Polish Ambassador to France Tomasz Orlowski told FRANCE 24 shortly after the news of the crash broke that he could not believe the “reality” of the situation. “All the people on board the plane are dead. It was not only the president. It was the first lady. It was very important people from parliament, from government, the armed forces, veterans…It’s terrible for Poland.”
A trip to mark Katyn massacre
Reporting from Warsaw, FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg said that before the president’s trip to Russia, “Doubts were raised as to the wisdom of transporting so many people on the plane”.
Kaczynski was due to visit Smolensk to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, when Soviet troops killed thousands of Poles.
His planned visit came days after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk, paid tribute to Russian and Polish victims of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin at a ceremony in the Katyn forest in western Russia.
Cragg also reports that the crashed plane was carrying relatives of the victims of the Katyn massacre. “I was at the Katyn families’ office in Warsaw when people were queuing up to be able to go on this trip. It was a very important trip for them,” said Cragg. “It’s really tragic.”
Putin appointed head of investigation commission
Television footage from the crash site showed fire fighters hosing down still simmering sections of the plane wreckage in a fog-blanketed forest.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has appointed Putin as the head of a commission to investigate the crash. The Russian prime minister is set to visit the accident site.
One of the flight recorders of the crashed Tupolev 154 has been recovered, according to the Russian Interfax news agency.
Russian news agencies also said that investigators were examining if pilot error was a possible cause of the crash. Reports have subsequently emerged that the plane tried to land four times before crashing.