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Polish president's plane had 97 people on board - emergencies ministry

RIA Novosti

10/04/201017:52

MOSCOW, April 10 (RIA Novosti) - A total of 97 people died when a plane carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife, and a delegation of senior officials crashed in west Russia on Saturday, Russia's Emergencies Ministry said.

The ministry spokesperson also said that 8 of the dead were crew members.

In earlier reports, it was said that some 132 people were on board the plane.

Kaczynski was on his way to a ceremony in nearby Katyn to commemorate the memory of some 20,000 Polish officers killed by Soviet secret police during World War Two. The Soviet-made Tu-154 hit trees as it approached Smolensk airport in thick fog.

Russia's Rossiya-24 television aired footage of the crash scene, showing wreckage of the plane scattered across a field with the plane's wing sticking up.

The delegation also included the chief of the armed forces general staff and central bank head.

Investigation

The Russian Prosecutor General's investigations committee has opened an investigation into the crash.

"The investigation is looking into various theories...including unfavorable weather, human error, and technical malfunctions," it said in a statement.

Polish Foreign Ministry press secretary Petr Paszkowski said the plane crashed some 300-400 meters from the runway after catching the tops of surrounding trees. A Russian security source told RIA Novosti that "a mistake by the crew during landing maneuvers" is thought to have caused the crash.

However, Polish media said that air traffic controllers had advised the pilot not to attempt to land at the airport, suggesting that he turn around and head for Minsk, the capital of neighboring Belarus, as the military aerodrome lacked the necessary navigational equipment to receive planes in heavy fog.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to head a commission looking into the crash. Putin is currently on his way to the site of the disaster.

In Poland

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk is also on his way to Smolensk.

In line with the constitution, parliamentary speaker Bronislaw Komorowski has become the acting president. He is expected to announce the date of fresh elections in 14 days.

Poland will observe seven days of national mourning, Komorowski said.

"We must all come together in the face of this massive national tragedy," he added. "Today, there is no left wing and no right wing - there is no difference. We all feel for the families of the dead," he said.

In Russia

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin have called the crash "a terrible tragedy."

Medvedev has also called for the Russian and Polish people to come together.

"In these difficult days a consolidation of peoples is very important to jointly to overcome the consequences of this terrible tragedy," a Kremlin statement quoted Medvedev as saying.

Russia will observe a day of national mourning over the crash on April 12.

Putin said that bodies of the crash victims would be transported for identification to the Russian capital.

He also called Tusk to express "his condolences to him personally and the entire Polish nation in regard to the tragic airplane crash near Smolensk," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Katyn claims more victims

"Katyn is claiming new victims," the head of the foreign relations committee in the Russian parliament's lower house, Konstantin Kosachyov, told RIA Novosti.

The 1940 massacre by the Soviet secret police of Polish officers taken prisoner by the Red Army when it invaded the country in the first days of World War Two is possibly the most painful page in relations between the two Slavic nations.

Earlier this month, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk jointly paid homage to the dead in the Katyn forest near Smolensk, the scene of the killings.



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