More than 80 people have died after a Polish presidential TU-154 plane crashed near an airport outside Smolensk in western Russia. The Polish president and his wife were killed in the crash.
TU-154 was serving a flight from Warsaw to Smolensk. Polish Foreign Ministry said President Lech Kaczynski and his wife were on board the plane.
The president was heading for a personal visit to the memorial site where Polish officers were murdered during World War II.
In Warsaw people are bringing flowers to the Presidential Palace to pay their respects to late President Lech Kaczynski.
The Polish presidential aircraft, a Tupolev-154, was attempting to land at Severny airport in Smolensk in thick fog, a Russian investigative committee reports. It crashed 300-400 meters off the landing path 11am Moscow time, Itar-Tass news agency reports, citing sources in Russia’s Emergencies Ministry. The plane made four attempts to land before crashing, Polish television station Polsat reports.
Bad weather, human error and mechanical fault are considered as possible reasons behind the crash, Russia’s investigative committee reports. The plane was piloted by a Polish crew from the presidential air unit.
There are reportedly no survivors of the crash, Smolensk region governor, Sergey Antufyev said, speaking to Russia’s Vesti-24 news channel.
“At landing the presidential plane didn’t make it to the runway. Preliminary information has it that the plane became caught on the tops of the trees, crashed and disintegrated. There are no survivors of this crash,” Antufyev said.
The governor specified there were 85 people from the presidential delegation and the flight crew on board the aircraft.
Russia’s Emergencies Ministry say there were 88 members of the presidential entourage and eight crew members on board the aircraft.
Earlier Russia’s Investigative committee reported there were 132 people at the plane.
Law enforcement officials in Smolensk region confirm there were no survivors of the crash, Itar-Tass news agency reports.
“At 10:50 am, connection with the TU-154 was broken on a flight from Warsaw to Smolensk. According to our reports, all have died. This was the plane of the official Polish delegation,” said Irina Andrianova, Russian Emergencies Ministry spokesperson.
Meanwhile the Polish Foreign Ministry reports, that all the evidence so far indicates that the Polish presidential couple of Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria Kaczynski died in the crash.
Martin Voitovski, a journalist from the Polish presidential pool who is at the scene, has given RT his account of the tragedy.
“In Katyn, a memorial ceremony was about to start and all were waiting for the president. Journalists had arrived an hour earlier by another plane. We learned about the presidential plane having problems. We arrived at the airport and learned that the TU-154 could not land because of the heavy fog. The plane was advised to land in Minsk and all the delegation would go by vehicles to Katyn, but the pilot decided that they would land here, at Smolensk military airport. The plane just crashed,” he said.
Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev has set up a commission, headed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, to investigate the accident.
Meanwhile Russian Emergencies Minister Sergey Shoigu is flying out to the crash site.
Polish cabinet of ministers to hold urgent session in Warsaw.
Poland will conduct its own investigation into the accident independently from Russia, the Polish Prosecutor General said.