Saturday, April 10, 2010

Polish president, along with top political and military leaders, dies in plane crash

"This is a time of great national tragedy," [acting Polish President] Bronislaw Komorowski said. "At this time there are no political differences, left or right. This is a time of national mourning."

All 97 people aboard a Polish flight to Smolensk, in Russia, including President Lech Kaczynski, died today when the plane crashed on its approach:

A plane carrying the Polish president and dozens of the country's top political and military leaders to the site of the Soviet massacre of Polish officers in World War II crashed in western Russia on Saturday, killing everyone on board.

President Lech Kaczynski's plane tried to land in a thick fog, missing the runway and snagging treetops about half a mile from the airport in Smolensk, scattering chunks of flaming fuselage across a bare forest.

The crash came as a stunning blow to Poland, wiping out a large portion of the country's leadership in one fiery explosion.

It's still too early to know, but it seems that pilot error may have been to blame, with reports suggesting that the pilot ignored air-traffic-control advice to divert the plane to Moscow or Minsk because of the heavy fog around Smolensk.


Prime Minister Donald Tusk described the crash as "the most tragic event of the country's post-war history." In addition to the president, those who died include:

Aleksander Szczyglo, the head of the National Security Office; Jerzy Szmajdzinski, the deputy parliament speaker; Andrzej Kremer, the deputy foreign minister; and Gen. Franciszek Gagor, the army chief of staff, according to the party. The party also said that Slawomir Skrzypek, head of the National Bank of Poland, was killed.

"The entire top military brass, including the chief of defense and all the services, were on the plane," said Tomas Valasek, of the Center for European Reform.

"If that is true, then you're looking at a situation, in effect, of the decapitation of the military services."

On board were also the president's wife, historians, and, according to Wikipedia, "the deputy foreign minister and dignitaries in the government, vice-speakers and members of the upper and lower houses of the parliament, senior members of clergy of various denominations, and others. They were on their way to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre," the Russian murder of 20,000 Polish prisoners of war.

Many of those on board were senior members of the conservative Law and Justice Party, Kaczynski's party, currently the country's main opposition party, second in terms of seats in both the Sejm and the Senate to Tusk's Komorowski's centrist Civic Platform.
"The political consequences will be long term and possibly will change the entire future landscape of Polish politics," said Jacek Wasilewski, professor at the Higher School of Social Psychology in Warsaw.

"The Polish state must function and will function," Tusk said. It will, yes, but today is certainly one of the very worst days in Poland's long history, and, politics aside, the country must take its time to mourn this tragic loss.


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