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Polish President Lech Kaczynski and another 131 people traveling with him to commemorate mass killing of Polish officers during World War Two died on Saturday when his plane crashed on landing in western Russia.
“On Saturday, President Kaczynski’s Tu-154 airplane crashed when landing near the town of Pechorsk, Smolensk region, in heavy fog,” Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the Russian Prosecutor General’s Investigations Committee said. “There were 132 people on board the plane, including the president and his spouse.”
The 1940 massacre by the Soviet secret police of thousands Polish officers seized by the Red Army, when it invaded the country in the first days of World War Two in September 1939, has become 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 tragedy.
Officials said that apart from the presidential couple and the crew, Kaczinski’s Soviet-made Tu-154 three-engine mid-range jet plane carried an official delegation of 85 officials including chief of the armed forces general staff and central bank head. There was no information who else was on board.
Polish Foreign Ministry press secretary Petr Paszkowski said the plane crashed some 300-400 meters from the runway after catching tops of surrounding trees.
The Polish Armed Forces’ guard of honor, the president’s twin brother Jaroslaw Kaczynski, parliament speaker and acting president Bronislaw Komorowski, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, other officials, as well as thousands of Poles, met the plane in the Polish capital.
The body was to be delivered to the presidential palace.
A plane carrying the body of Polish First Lady Maria Kaczynska, who was killed in an air crash in western Russia, landed in Warsaw on Tuesday morning.
A brief ceremony was held at the airport, similar to that for the return of late President Lech Kaczynski’s coffin on Sunday.
The First Lady’s coffin will be transported to the presidential palace to be placed next to that of her husband in a presidential chapel.
Following a family ceremony, the couple’s coffins will be placed in the Column Hall of the presidential palace for public viewing.
The presidential couple, together with more than 90 others, died in an air crash in Smolensk, western Russia, on Saturday morning.
Senate Speaker Bogdan Borusewicz said Tuesday that a state funeral will most likely be held in Warsaw on Saturday, to morn those who died in the crash.
On the same day, Presidential Minister Jacek Sasin said the burial of the presidential couple may take place on Sunday. He added that he should not reveal where the couple will be buried at the moment, “although the family has already made the decision.”
The funeral of the Polish president, who was killed in a plane crash last week, could be delayed as ash clouds from a volcanic eruption in Iceland might prevent other world leaders from coming to pay their last respects.
The funeral for late Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria is scheduled for Sunday.
“If there are no opportunities for the foreign guests to arrive and for us to transport the president and the first lady’s bodies to Krakow, it might affect the scheduled ceremonies,” Deputy Chief of the Chancellery of the President of Poland Jacek Sasin said.