Sunday, April 11, 2010
Polish president Lech Kaczynski killed in plane crash
The Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, was among 132 people killed when their plane crashed in Smolensk, west Russia. Photograph: Tomasz Gzell/EPA
The Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, and his wife were among 96 people killed when their plane crashed in thick fog on its approach to a regional airport in Russia early this morning.
The governor of the west Russian town of Smolensk confirmed there were no survivors from the Tupulov Tu-154 plane, which came down at 11am (7am GMT) about a mile (1.5km) from Smolensk airport.
"The Polish presidential plane did not make it to the runway while landing. Tentative findings indicate that it hit the treetops and fell apart. Nobody has survived the disaster," Smolensk governor Sergei Anufriev told the Russia 24 news channel.
The Polish government will hold an emergency meeting later today. Officials said the head of the Polish army, the governor of the central bank and the head of the presidential administration were also on board the plane, as well as the families of other senior officials.
"The plane caught fire after the crash," said a Polish foreign ministry spokesman in Warsaw. "Teams began attempting to pull out passengers from the badly damaged airplane."
The pilot was told Smolensk airport was closed because of thick fog, according to the news agency Interfax. He was offered a choice of landing instead at either Moscow or Minsk, the capital of Belarus, but decided to continue with the original flight plan to Smolensk.
The pilot made three unsuccessful attempts to land before the crash. On the fourth try the plane fell apart, Interfax said, citing officials at Smolensk's interior ministry.
Russia's foreign ministry confirmed the cause of the air catastrophe was bad weather. "According to provisional information the crash happened because the plane failed to land at the military airport near Smolensk in conditions of severe fog," one official said.
Kaczynski was visiting Smolensk to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, which took place in forests outside the town. The massacre of Polish officers by Russian secret police was one of the most notorious incidents of the second world war, and has long been a source of tension between Warsaw and Moscow.
On Wednesday, Poland's prime minister Donald Tusk attended a joint ceremony at Katyn with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. Kaczynski, who had poor relations with the Kremlin, was making a separate trip to the spot.
Russia's president Dmitry Medvedev said that Putin would head a special commission to investigate Kaczynski's death and the circumstances of the crash. The emergency services minister Sergei Shoigu was also rushing to the scene at Severny airport, about 275 miles west of Moscow, on Medvedev's instruction, Interfax reported.