Polish President Lech Kaczynski Dies in Plane Crash

Lech Kaczynski Polish President

Polish President Lech Kaczynski was killed along with his wife and several senior government and military leaders in a plane crash just hours ago.  This is a tremendous tragedy for the people of Poland and the entire transatlantic community.

Atlantic Council President and CEO Frederick Kempe sent the following message of condolences to Ambassador Robert Kupiecki:

I have just heard the shocking and terrible news about the plane crash in Russia that has taken the lives of President  Lech Kaczynski and many other prominent and gifted Polish citizens in the delegation that was on board.  Please know that I, the Atlantic Council and the millions of Americans who so love Poland share in our profound sadness at this tragedy and regarding this enormous loss to your great nation.

We also stand by you in the difficult days of healing that lie ahead.


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 96, officials said. Russian and Polish officials said there were no survivors on the Soviet-era Tupolev, which was taking the president, his wife and staff to events marking the 70th anniversary of the massacre of thousands of Polish officers by Soviet secret police. On board were the army chief of staff, national bank president, deputy foreign minister, army chaplain, head of the National Security Office, deputy parliament speaker, civil rights commissioner and at least two presidential aides and three lawmakers, the Polish foreign ministry said.

Russia’s Emergency Ministry said there were 96 dead, 88 part of a Polish state delegation. 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 1 1/2-hour flight from Warsaw’s main airport. "We still cannot fully understand the scope of this tragedy and what it means for us in the future. Nothing like this has ever happened in Poland," Paszkowski said. "We can assume with great certainty that all persons on board have been killed." 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.


President Dmitry Medvedev sent his condolences and promised to work closely with Poland in investigating the crash. "Russia shares the grief and mourning of Poland," Medvedev said in a statement posted on the Kremlin Web site. "Please accept the most sincere condolences to the Polish people, words of compassion and support to relatives and friends of those who perished."


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’s opposition leader, former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Kaczynski’s wife, Maria, was an economist. They had a daughter, Marta, and two granddaughters.

Numerous Russian sources, including RIA Novosti, are citing "human error" as the cause of the crash.   But as Jim Heinz’ AP story, quoted above, makes clear, the safety of the airframe itself is in question.

U.S. President Barack Obama has issued the following statement:

Today, I called Polish Prime Minister Tusk to express Michelle’s and my deepest condolences to the people of Poland on the tragic deaths this morning of President Lech Kaczynski, First Lady Maria Kaczynski, and all who were traveling with them to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the Kaczynski family, the loved ones of those killed in this tragic plane crash, and the Polish nation.

Today’s loss is devastating to Poland, to the United States, and to the world.  President Kaczynski was a distinguished statesman who played a key role in the Solidarity movement, and he was widely admired in the United States as a leader dedicated to advancing freedom and human dignity.  With him were many of Poland’s most distinguished civilian and military leaders who have helped to shape Poland’s inspiring democratic transformation.  We join all the people of Poland in mourning their passing.

Today, there are heavy hearts across America.  The United States cherishes its deep and abiding bonds with the people of Poland.  Those bonds are represented in the strength of our alliance, the friendships among our people, and the extraordinary contributions of Polish-Americans who have helped to shape our nation.

It is a testament to the strength of the Polish people that those who were lost were travelling to commemorate a devastating massacre of World War II as the leaders of a strong, vibrant, and free Poland.  That strength will ensure that Poland emerges from the depths of this unthinkable tragedy, and that the legacy of the leaders who died today will be a light that continues to guide Poland – and the world – in the direction of human progress.

Other world leaders have likewise expressed warm sentiments:

  • NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  "On behalf of all of NATO, and myself personally, I express my most profound condolences to the people of Poland, and to the families of President and Mrs Kaczynski and all those who have died in this terrible accident. his is a tragedy for them and for Poland. My thoughts are with them today"
  • British Prime Minister Gordon Brown: "I think the whole world will be saddened and in sorrow as a result of the tragic death in a plane crash of President Kaczynski and his wife Maria and the party that were with them. We know the difficulties that Poland has gone through, the sacrifices that he himself made as part of the Solidarity movement."
  • French President Nicolas Sarkozy: "Lech Kaczynski devoted his life to his country. A tireless defender of the ideas in which he believed, he always battled with conviction for the values that founded his entry into politics: democracy, liberty and the fight against totalitarianism."
  • Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt: "What has happened is a great catastrophe for our neighboring country and our thoughts are today with the families and friends of those deceased, as well as with the whole Polish nation."
  • UK Conservative Leader David Cameron added the Kaczynski was, "very brave Polish patriot who stood up for freedom. He suffered hugely under communism and always stood up for his beliefs, and for his great faith in his country."

Image: Lech-Kaczynski.jpg