Polish President Lech Kaczynski was killed early Saturday along with his wife, several top military officials, and the head of the national bank when their plane crashed at a western Russian airport, officials said.
“There are no survivors,” said Sergey Antufyev, the governor of Smolensk, where the plane was trying to land when it crashed.
The president, 60, had been traveling with the Polish delegation to Russia for the 70th anniversary of the massacre of Polish prisoners of war in the village of Katyn. Some 20,000 Polish officers were executed there during World War II.
The Polish military plane originated in Warsaw, the Polish Defense Ministry said. It was approaching the airport at Smolensk — just a few miles east of Katyn — and probably hit some trees at the end of the runway, Paszkowski said.
The Investigation Committee of the Russian prosecutor’s office said the plane, a Tupolev-154, was trying to land in heavy fog.
Kaczynski’s Law and Justice Party released a list of some of those it said were killed in the crash. They included 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 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.”
Pictures from the scene showed parts of the airplane charred and strewn through a wooded area. Some pieces, including one of the wheel wells, were upside down.
The crash happened around 10:50 a.m. (2:50 a.m. ET) on the outskirts of the town of Pechorsk, just outside of Smolensk, the Investigation Committee said.
“This is a time of great national tragedy,” Komorowski told reporters. “At this time there are no political differences, left or right. This is a time of national mourning.”
Kaczynski had been president since December 2005 after he defeated rival Donald Tusk in the second round of voting. Tusk is currently prime minister.
Crowds gathered at the presidential palace in Warsaw to lay flowers and light candles for the president, whose death raises questions for Poland’s government.
“Everything has changed today,” said Jan Mikruta, a reporter for TV Polsat.
“There is going to be a huge gap in public life in Poland,” said resident Magdalena Hendrysiak. “The most important people are dead.”
I am deeply shocked and saddened by this terrible crash which happened this morning. :( :( :( :( :( Still can’t really believe it… :( RIP