Polish President Lech Kaczyński dies as his plane crashes in Russia
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Polish President Lech Kaczyński, travelling with 95 other people, died when his plane crashed in Russia. Officials say the crash, which occurred when the plane was approaching a Russian airport on Saturday, was due to dense fog, and that there are no survivors.
The Polish Central Bank governor, Slawomir Skrzypek, and other members of the Polish government were amongst those onboard. The crash was near Smolensk airport in western Russia. Kaczyński's wife was killed along with him when the Tupolev Tu-154 went down; the trip to Russia was to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, when thousands of Polish prisoners of war and civilians were killed by the Soviets.
|According to preliminary reports, it got caught up in the tops of trees, fell to the ground and broke up into pieces. There are no survivors in that crash.|
—Sergei Antufyev, Smolensk area governor
Sergei Antufyev, the governor of the Smolensk area, said on Russian television that no one survived the crash; the claim was backed by Polish news agencies as well. "As it was preparing for landing, the Polish president's aircraft did not make it to the landing strip," he commented.
"According to preliminary reports, it got caught up in the tops of trees, fell to the ground and broke up into pieces. There are no survivors in that crash. We are clarifying how many people there were in the [Polish] delegation. According to preliminary reports, 85 members of the delegation and the crew," he added.
The exact passenger number was not known at first, with conflicting figures given by the Russian police, who said there were 132 people on board, and Polish officials. However, a full flight manifest received from the Presidential Office has been published by several news portals, giving 96 as the number of killed in the crash, including eight members of the crew. The manifest is also available on the Office's official web page.
Television footage showed the burning plane with its charred parts scattered in the forest where it crashed. The plane crashed approximately two kilometres (1.3 miles) from Smolensk airport.
"The plane caught fire after the crash. Teams began attempting to pull out passengers from the badly damaged airplane," commented a spokesman for the Polish Foreign Ministry from Warsaw. The chief of Poland's military force, Franciszek Gagor and Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer were among the victims.
A Polish television worker, Slawomir Wisniewski, said he was a witness to the crash, having seen it from hotel close by. "I saw through the fog, the aeroplane flying very low with the left wing pointing to the ground. I heard something being broken and then that thudding sound. Two flashes of fire next to each other," he said, as quoted by the BBC.
Polish Foreign Minister, Radoslaw Sikorski noted that the country "could not have conceived a more horrible, poignant, tragic occurrence than our president going to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the murder of 20,000 Polish officers at Katyn himself dying."
With the Polish president deceased, the speaker of the lower house of the parliament known as the Sejm, currently Bronislaw Komorowski, takes over as head of state, Komorowski's assistant Jerzy Smolinski told the Reuters news agency.
Kaczyński is survived by his daughter Marta and by his identical twin brother, Jarosław Kaczyński who was Prime Minister of Poland from 2006 to 2007 and is currently chairman of the Law and Justice Party he co-founded with Lech. Both brothers were child actors who starred in the 1962 film, The Two Who Stole the Moon.
The Tupolev Tu-154, which was operated by the Polish Air Force, made its debut flight in 1990. 2,725 people have died in the 66 crashes involving this type of aircraft.
According to the flight manifest, those on board included:
- Lech Kaczyński, the President of Poland
- Maria Kaczyńska, the first lady of Poland
- Ryszard Kaczorowski, the last President of the Polish government-in-exile
- Jerzy Szmajdziński, the Deputy Speaker of the Sejm
- Władysław Stasiak, Chief of Office of the President of the Republic of Poland
- Aleksander Szczygło, head of the National Security Bureau
- Paweł Wypych, Secretary of State in the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland
- Mariusz Handzlik, Undersecretary of State in the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland
- Andrzej Kremer, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs
- General Franciszek Gągor, Chief of the Polish Army General Staff
- Sławomir Skrzypek, President of the National Bank of Poland.
- Andrzej Przewoźnik, Secretary-General of Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites and several members of the Sejm.
Several other Polish government figures were in the plane as well. None of the passengers survived the crash. Poland has declared a week of national mourning after the incident.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was immediately appointed by Dmitry Medvedev, the president, as the head of the commission to investigate the crash. The latter also sent Sergei Shoigu, the Russian minister of emergency situations, to the site of the crash.
'Incredible tragedy': international reactions 
|It is definitely the most tragic event in the post-war history of Poland.|
—Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk
Prime Minister of Poland Donald Tusk remarked that "[w]e stand in the face of an incredible tragedy, one of the biggest tragic events of our nation's history. It is definitely the most tragic event in the post-war history of Poland."
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev commented that "All Russians are sharing in your grief and mourning. I promise that all the circumstances of this tragedy will be investigated most thoroughly, in closest cooperation with the Polish side. I have given exhaustive instructions to the law-enforcement agencies."
He added, "On behalf of the Russian people, I am expressing my deepest, most sincere condolences to the people of Poland, sympathy and support for the victims' families and friends." According to Medvedev, Monday the 12th will be a day of national mourning in Russia.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, meanwhile, noted, "I think the whole world will be saddened and in sorrow as a result of the tragic death in a plane crash of President Kaczynski and his wife Maria and the party that were with them."
"We know the difficulties that Poland has gone through, the sacrifices that he himself made as part of the Solidarity movement. We know the contribution he made to the independence and the freedom of Poland," he continued.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said of Kaczyński, "[He] devoted his life to his country. A tireless defender of the ideas in which he believed, he always battled with conviction for the values that founded his entry into politics: democracy, liberty and the fight against totalitarianism."
|I remember many meetings with him on European and international levels, in the end we always found a solution.|
—German Chancellor Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated, "This is a political and human tragedy for Poland, our neighbouring country. Lech Kaczyński was a real lobbyist for his country, he loved his country and he was an argumentative European."
Merkel also told of the memories she had of Kaczyński, saying: "I remember many meetings with him on European and international levels, in the end we always found a solution. I know that all of his life was dedicated to the fight for Poland's freedom and Europe's freedom. My husband and I fondly remember [his] invitation to his country house near Gdansk where we spent many, many hours talking about Polish and European history."
US President Barack Obama made statement saying, "Today, there are heavy hearts across America. The United States cherishes its deep and abiding bonds with the people of Poland. It is a testament to the strength of the Polish people that those who were lost were travelling to commemorate a devastating massacre of World War II as the leaders of a strong, vibrant, and free Poland."
Obama added, "That strength will ensure that Poland emerges from the depths of this unthinkable tragedy, and that the legacy of the leaders who died today will be a light that continues to guide Poland - and the world - in the direction of human progress."
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, "Kaczynski served his country and people with distinction and conviction, and was deservedly respected internationally. That he died en route to an event marking a new level of reconciliation between Poland and Russia is particularly poignant."
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also expressed his condolences. "The tragic death of president Kaczincki of Poland is a great loss to the people of the Polish Republic and of course to the government of the Polish Republic," he said. "This has been an extraordinary tragedy involving the loss of nearly 100 people. On behalf of the Australian Government we extend our condolences to the Polish people, to the the Polish government and our thoughts and our prayers are with them all."
- "Polish President Lech Kaczynski 'in plane crash'" — , April 10, 2010
- "Polish president killed in Russian plane crash" — , April 10, 2010
- Ellen Barry and Clifford J. Levy. "No Survivors in Crash of Flight Carrying Polish Leader" — , April 10, 2010
- "Prezydenckim Tu-154 leciały najważniejsze osoby w państwie (Polish)" — , April 10, 2010 (Polish)
- "Oni zginęli - lista (Polish)" — , April 10, 2010 (Polish)
- "Lista pasażerów rządowego samolotu (Polish)" — , April 10, 2010 (Polish)
- ""Był głuchy stuk, płomień i roztrzaskane szczątki"" — , April 10, 2010 (Polish)
- "Polish president's plane crashes in Russia: ministry" — , April 10, 2010
- "In quotes: Reaction to plane crash" — , April 10, 2010
- "Rudd sends condolences after Polish tragedy" — , April 11, 2010