Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife and senior government officials were killed on Saturday when their plane crashed in thick fog in western Russia. An investigation is underway.
Poland's President Lech Kaczynski and many of the country's political elite were among the 97 people killed Saturday when their plane crashed outside the city of Smolensk, in western Russia.
Russian officials said the plane hit trees as it came down in thick fog on its approach to the airport, about 275 miles (440 kilometers) southwest of Moscow. Television images showed the burning fuselage and fragments of the plane scattered in a forest.
"The Polish presidential plane did not make it to the runway while landing. Tentative findings indicate that it hit the treetops and fell apart," said Sergei Antufyev, regional governor of Smolensk, on state news channel Rossiya-24. "Nobody has survived the disaster."
According to a spokesman from the Polish Foreign Ministry in Warsaw, the plane caught fire after the crash as rescue teams tried to pull passengers from the wreckage.
Black box recovered
One of the plane's flight recorders has been found, and investigations into the crash of the Russian-built Tupolev TU-154 are underway. Polish Justice Minister Krzysztof Kwiatkowski said he would order a special inquiry into the crash, while Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has set up a special commission to investigate the crash, to be headed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
The plane was one of two such jets in the Polish government fleet. Both were about 20 years old, though the downed jet had reportedly been fully repaired and refurbished in December, according to the plane's manufacturer.
Sergei Razygrayev of the Russian air force told the Itar-Tass news agency that the pilot had made four attempts to land in bad visibility and had refused an offer to land at another airport.
"The pilot was advised to fly to Moscow or Minsk because of heavy fog, but he still decided to land. No one should have been landing in that fog," a Russian mission control official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Kaczynski was traveling to Russia to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, the murder of thousands of prisoners of war under Soviet leader Josef Stalin during World War II. He was to visit Katyn, near Smolensk, to commemorate both Russian and Polish victims.
Initial reports suggested that as many as 132 people had been on board, but that number has since been revised to 96. Passengers included Kaczynski's wife Maria, leading historians and several of Poland's high-ranking officials, among them the chief of Poland's military Franciszek Gagor, Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer and Central Bank Governor Slawomir Skrzypek.
"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," said Piotr Paszkowski, spokesman for Poland's Foreign Ministry.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk called the crash Poland's "most tragic event in post-war history." Tusk will travel to the crash site where he will meet Prime Minister Putin.
The speaker of the lower house of parliament, Bronislaw Komorowski, has been named acting president. A presidential election was scheduled for October but will now be held within two months.
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