MOSCOW — A plane carrying the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, and dozens of the country’s top political and military leaders crashed in a heavy fog in western Russia on Saturday morning, killing everyone aboard.
Television showed chunks of flaming fuselage scattered in a bare forest near Smolensk, where the president was arriving for a ceremony commemorating the murder of more than 20,000 Polish officers by the Soviet secret police after the Red Army invaded Poland.
The governor of Smolensk region, Sergei Antufiyev, said the plane did not reach the runway but instead hit the treetops and broke apart. His spokesman later said that air traffic controllers had recommended the president’s jet land at another airport because of bad visibility, but that the crew decided to land anyway. The crash came as a staggering blow to Poland, wiping out a large swath of the country’s leadership, including the commanders of all four branches of the military, the head of the central bank, the president and many of his top advisors. In the numb hours after the crash, leaders in Warsaw evoked the horror of the massacre at Katyn, which stood for decades as a symbol of Russian domination.
“It is a damned place,” former president Aleksander Kwasniewski told TVN24. “It sends shivers down my spine. First the flower of the Second Polish Republic is murdered in the forests around Smolensk, now the intellectual elite of the Third Polish Republic die in this tragic plane crash when approaching Smolensk airport.”
“This is a wound which will be very difficult to heal,” he said.