Polish president dies in plane crash

Military and civilian leaders also among dozens killed in Russia plane crash.

Kaczynski poland plane crash 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Kaczynski poland plane crash 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Polish President Lech Kaczynski and some of the country's highest military and civilian leaders died on Saturday when the presidential plane crashed as it came in for a landing in thick fog in western Russia, killing about 100 people.
Russia's Emergency Ministry said there were about 130 dead. 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 roughly 1½-hour flight from Warsaw's main airport, and along with staff 96 were aboard.
The governor of the Smolensk region, where the crash took place about 11 a.m. (0700 GMT), also said no one survived.
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. A tail fin with the red and white national colors of Poland stuck up from the debris.
"The Polish presidential plane did not make it to the runway while landing. Tentative findings indicate that it hit the treetops and fell apart," regional governor Sergei Anufriev said on Rossiya-24. "Nobody has survived the disaster."
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.
The presidential plane was fully overhauled in December in Russia, the general director of the Aviakor plant in Samara told Rossiya-24. The plant repaired the plane's three engines, retrofitted electronic and navigation equipment and updated the interior, Alexei Gusev said. He said there could be no doubts that the plane was flightworthy.
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 that year's presidential vote.
The nationalist conservative was the twin brother of Poland'sopposition leader, former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski.Kaczynski's wife, Maria, was an economist. They had a daughter, Marta,and two granddaughters.
Kaczynski had said he would seek a second term in presidentialelections this fall. He was expected to face an uphill struggle againstParliament speaker Bronislaw Komorowski, the candidate of Tusk'sgoverning Civic Platform party.
According to the constitution, Komorowski would take over presidential duties.
Poland, a nation of 38 million people, is by far the largest of the 10formerly communist countries that have joined the European Union inrecent years.
Last year, Poland was the only EU nation to avoid recession and posted economic growth of 1.7 percent.
It has become a firm US ally in the region since the fall of communism — a stance that crosses party lines.
The country sent troops to the US-led war in Iraq and recently boosted its contingent in Afghanistan to some 2,600 soldiers.
US Patriot missiles are expected to be deployed in Poland this year.That was a Polish condition for a 2008 deal — backed by both Kaczynskiand Tusk — to host long-range missile defense interceptors.
The deal, which was struck by the Bush administration, angered Russiaand was later reconfigured under President Barack Obama'sadministration.
Under the Obama plan, Poland would host a different type of missiledefense interceptors as part of a more mobile system and at a laterdate, probably not until 2018.