World News

Polish president killed in Russian plane crash

SMOLENSK, Russia (Reuters) - Polish President Lech Kaczynski was killed when a plane carrying 132 people crashed in thick fog on its approach to a Russian airport Saturday, killing everyone on board, officials said.

Central bank governor Slawomir Skrzypek and several senior government officials were also among those on board the Tupolev Tu-154 plane, which came down as it neared Smolensk airport in western Russia.

Smolensk regional governor Sergei Antufyev, speaking on Russian television, said there were no survivors. Polish state news agency PAP also reported that there were no survivors.

Television pictures showed the burning fuselage and fragments of the plane scattered in a forest. The crash occurred about 2 km (1.3 miles) from Smolensk airport.

“The plane caught fire after the crash. Teams began attempting to pull out passengers from the badly damaged airplane,” said a Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman in Warsaw.

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Kaczynski’s wife Maria was also on board, along with several high-ranking government officials. They included the chief of Poland’s military Franciszek Gagor and Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer.

In the case of a president’s death, the speaker of the lower chamber of parliament, Bronislaw Komorowski, takes over as head of state, Komorowski’s assistant Jerzy Smolinski, told Reuters.

Kaczynski had been flying to Katyn, near Smolensk, to commemorate Russian and Polish victims of Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

Thousands of Polish prisoners of war and intellectuals were murdered at Katyn by Soviet forces in spring 1940 in an enduring symbol for Poles of their suffering under Soviet rule.

Families of those killed at Katyn were also on board the plane, the Polish government official at the airport said.

Additional reporting by Robin Paxton and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow and Gabriela Baczynska and Chris Borowski in Warsaw; writing by Robin Paxton; editing by Andrew Roche