Top leadership killed in plane crash, 10 April, 2010
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UPDATE - 16 April, 2010 See Map and photos of crash site provided by Siergiej Amielin of Smolensk,
and uploaded to
(Click on tag "CПУTНИK" to see satellite view).

As of 16 April, all but 20 of the bodies have been identified and returned to Warsaw.
On Saturday April 17 a Memorial Mass will be held in Pilsudski Square, Warsaw, close to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
President Kaczynski and his wife will be buried in the Cathedral at the ancient royal castle Wawel in Kraków on Sunday April 18, after the funeral Mass in the historic St.Mary's Church in Kraków's old town square, attended by European royalty, presidents and prime ministers from over 40 countries, including President Obama and his wife.

Polish flag

Saturday, April 10, 2010, is a tragic day in Polish history. The Polish presidential plane crashed while attempting to land in dense fog at the airport of Smolensk, western Russia, killing President Lech Kaczyński, his wife, 87 top Polish leaders and 7 crew members. Among them were the commanding officers of all branches of the Polish Armed Forces, the head of the national bank, the deputy foreign minister, several other cabinet members, 17 members of the Sejm (parlament) and senate, members of the President's staff and of the Security Force

   They were on their way to a memorial service on the 70th anniversary of the Katyń massacre , in which over 20,000 Polish officers and officials were executed by NKVD, the Soviet secret police, in the Katyn forest (close to Smolensk) and other locations in 1940. The officers had been taken prisoner by Soviet forces when the Soviet Union invaded Poland in September 1939, the officials arrested shortly afterwards. These executions were carried out on the direct order of Beria, the head of the NKVD, with the approval of Joseph Stalin.

   The tragedy of the plane crash is even more heartbreaking, because it could eaily have been avoided. Air traffic control had repeatedly warned the pilot to divert to another airport, because dense fog had closed in making landing very dangerous. The plane had circled the airport three times. Finally while attempting a landing, air traffic control ordered the pilot to abort because the plane was flying too low. Moments later a wing hit a tree about 1,000 meters (one mile) from the end of the runway. The plane crashed into the forest and burst into flames, breaking up into several pieces.
   The initial recommendations to divert were not mandatory, it is the pilot who has to make the decision. However, why he attmpted landing in these conditions is unknown. The flight recorders have been recovered and may be able to provide the answer.


   After the German army attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, the Soviets were forced by their new Allies to release Poles in their captivity to enter the new Polish corps under General Anders. All his enquiries regarding the missing officers were stonewalled. The freed Poles were evacuated to the Middle East.
   Then in 1942 the Germans uncovered the mass graves in the Katyn forest. Documents on the bodies, such as diaries, name-tags, revealed the identities and established that they had been executed in April 1940. The Polish underground obtained this information and passed it to the Polish government-in-exile in London. The Swiss Red Cross had been invited by the German army to witness the exhumations and also passed the information to the British.
   Stalin immediately accused the Germans of murdering the Polish officers that he said had been left behind in prison camps during the Soviet retreat. They also broke off relationships with the Polish government-in-exile and stopped any further transfers of Poles from Siberian camps to the Middle East.
   The Allies accepted the Soviet story not wishing to antagonize a useful "ally" in the fight against the Nazis. For the next 50 years the Soviets maintained their story.
   In communist dominated Poland it was absolutely forbidden to even mention the word "Katyn".

Katyn    After the break up of the Soviet Union, the Russians finally admitted that the murders had been carried out by the Soviet Secret Police, but permitted the Polish government to erect a memorial at the site of the executions. However they were unwilling to accept any responsibility or to take action against any surviving perpetrators.
   Suddenly, this year, prime minister Putin invited Polish prime minister Tusk, the recent Polish president Lech Waęęsa and a number of other prominent Poles, to a memorial service on April 7, at the memorial in the Katyn forest. A sudden reveral of position, because only a few weeks earlier the Russian press and television had been accusing Poland of spreading anti-Russian propaganda with "false stories" about Katyn. Now the film "Katyn" by Polish producer Wajda is being shown in Moscow cinemas and on Russian national television.

   The ill-fated flight was bringing the Polish President and officials to attend a memorial mass at the Katyn site on April 11. Several hundred family members of those executed in 1940 had arrived earler by special train from Warsaw. They were faced with the additional grief of mourning their President and government members.

Black Box reveals
final 39 minutes
of tragic flight.

The full story of the
Katyń massacre

Putin and Tusk
lay wreaths at Katyń memorial, 7 April 2010.

Full list of passengers and crew (in Polish)

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Last updated: June 8, 2010.