Sun, Apr 11, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Polish leader, 95 others dead in Russia jet crash

TRAGEDYRussian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will oversee an investigation into the air crash that killed Poland’s president, his wife and other top officials

AP , MOSCOW

Polish President Lech Kaczynski and some of the country’s highest military and civilian leaders died yesterday when the presidential plane crashed as it came in for a landing in thick fog in western Russia, killing 96, officials said.

Russian and Polish officials said there were no survivors on the ­Soviet-era Tupolev, which was taking the president, his wife and staff to events marking the 70th anniversary of the massacre of thousands of Polish officers by Soviet secret police.

On board were the army chief of staff, national bank president, deputy foreign minister, army chaplain, head of the National Security Office, deputy parliament speaker, civil rights commissioner and at least two presidential aides and three lawmakers, the Polish foreign ministry said.

Russia’s Emergency Ministry said there were 96 dead, 88 part of a Polish state delegation. Poland’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Piotr Paszkowski, said there were 89 people on the passenger list but one person had not shown up for the flight from Warsaw’s main airport.

“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,” he said. “We can assume with great certainty that all persons on board have been killed.”

State news channel Rossiya-24 showed footage from the crash site, with pieces of the plane scattered widely amid leafless trees and small fires burning in woods shrouded with fog.

The presidential Tu-154 was at least 20 years old. Polish officials have long discussed replacing the planes that carry the country’s leaders, but said they lacked the funds. According to the Aviation Safety Network, there have been 66 crashes involving Tu-154s, including six in the past five years. The Russian carrier Aeroflot recently withdrew its Tu-154 fleet from service.

Polish-Russian relations had been improving of late after being poisoned for decades over the Katyn massacre.

Russian Prime Minsiter Vladimir Putin has been put in charge of a commission investigating the crash, the Kremlin said.

In Warsaw, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk called an extraordinary meeting of his Cabinet and the national flag was lowered to half-staff at the presidential palace, where people gathered to lay flowers and light candles.

Poland’s president is commander in chief of its armed forces, but the position’s domestic duties are chiefly symbolic.

Kaczynski, 60, became president in December 2005 after defeating Tusk in the presidential vote.

The nationalist conservative was the twin brother of Poland’s opposition leader, former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

In Taiwan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Deputy Spokesman James Chang (章計平) said Taiwan’s representative office in Poland has sent Taiwan’s condolences from President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to Poland’s acting president Bronislaw Komorowski.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHIH HSIU-CHUAN

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