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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tragedy Upon Tragedy As Polish Leadership Killed

The President of Poland and much of Poland's military and civilian leadership were killed when the presidential plane crashed in Russia on the way to commemorate the massacre of 22,000 Polish officers by the Soviets in 1940:

Polish President Lech Kaczynski and some of the country's highest military and civilian leaders died Saturday along with dozens of others when the presidential plane crashed as it came in for a landing in thick fog in western Russia.

Russian and Polish officials offered conflicting death tolls but agreed 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.

The Army chief of staff, Gen. Franciszek Gagor, National Bank President Slawomir Skrzypek and Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer were also on board, the Polish foreign ministry said.

Early indications are that this was a weather related crash:

The pilot was told Smolensk airport was closed because of thick fog, according to the news agency Interfax. He was offered a choice of landing instead in either Moscow or Minsk, the capital of Belarus. But he decided to continue with the original flight plan and land at Smolensk.

The pilot made three unsuccessful attempts to land before the crash. On the fourth try and plane fell apart, Interfax said, citing officials at Smolensk's interior ministry.

Russia's foreign ministry confirmed the cause of the air catastrophe was bad weather. "According to provisional information the crash happened because the plane failed to land at the military airport near Smolensk in conditions of severe fog,' one official aid.

Just days ago I wrote about the Katyn Forest massacre, and the hopeful sign that for the first time the Russians and Poles were commemorating that tragedy together. For the leadership of Poland to die en route is a tragedy upon tragedy:

The crash came as a stunning blow to Poland, killing many of the country’s top leaders and reviving, for some, the horror of the Katyn massacre.

“It is a damned place,” former president Aleksander Kwas’niewski told TVN24. “It sends shivers down my spine. First the flower of the Second Polish Republic is murdered in the forests around Smolensk, now the intellectual elite of the Third Polish Republic die in this tragic plane crash when approaching Smolensk airport.”

“This is a wound which will be very difficult to heal,” he said.

Former president Lech Walesa, who presided over Poland’s transition from communism, cast the crash in similar historic terms.“This is the second disaster after Katyn,” he told the news channel TVN-24. “They wanted to cut off our head there, and here the flower of our nation has also perished. Regardless of the differences, the intellectual class of those on the plane was truly great.”

Poland is a good friend of the United States, and President Kaczynski went out of his way to honor Ronald Reagan for the fight to free Poland from communism when he visited the United States in 2007 (photo above right from Reagan Library).

Kaczynski also worked to acknowledge the Holocaust and the extermination of millions of Polish Jews during World War II, including honoring Poles who risked their lives to save Jews, and just recently giving a Polish national medal to the head of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel:
On January 27, 2010, during a ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day held at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland, Polish President Lech Kaczyński awarded Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev with the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.

During the ceremony, which marked this year 65 years since the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet Army, speeches were delivered by the President and Prime Minister of Poland, the Prime Minister of Israel, international delegates and figures, and Holocaust survivors. Polish President Kaczyński also awarded decorations during the ceremony to United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Director Sara Bloomfield and Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Director Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński.

The three decorations were awarded for “eminent services in educational and museum work commemorating the victims of the Nazi German labor camps, concentration camps, and extermination centers, and for their accomplishments in the development of the Polish-Jewish dialogue.”
Our thoughts go out to the people of Poland.

This post will be updated as more information is available.

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  1. Why are some things reportedly just too simple as to be real? Fog? With the number of Polish dignataries on that plane, the pilot would choose to risk heavy fog? Would the Polish government allow such a seemingly inept pilot to be in charge of some many of Poland's important governmental officials?

    Wasn't Poland one of the nations that agreed to allow the U.S. to place missile shields in their country?

    And why does the saying of the late Paul Harvey come to mind "And now, for the rest of the story"?

  2. I agree with retire05. Something is amiss here. Putin is not an honest dealer. And his opponents and critics seem to have a nasty habit of having tragedies befall them.

  3. My prayers and heart goes to the Polish people. Lech Walesa remains to guide his country, or those who Lech will gather, I pray.

    Two opposing countries, gathering in reconciliatory memories, which relieved Germans of 22,000 murders and transferred them to the Soviet elevates only that truth is a sometimes painful process, but what began as a goodness, met the test of righteousness (sometimes very opposite to ideas of goodness, yet somehow like the same spark that ignites a fire of warmth as well as conflagration, this seeming conflagration may rather be that flame of warmth, but large enough to touch enough hearts to propel truth to surface, and surround enough to see that mortality is just that …. sometimes, inevitable, timely or awkwardly of time, awaiting us all … and reminds us to ask questions just as tomorrow awaits ‘Why were we commemorating the transference of wrongful death from one to another and is it something we should honor or somehow live gratefully within a sufficient recognition?

    If there are things still that hide and they are good, lets not wait for tragedy squared to share them. The dead are still dead. What other truths were to emerge?

  4. "accident".... sure. "On the fourth try and plane fell apart."... yup: they do that all the time....

    pull the other one: its got bells on it.

  5. retire05, I sincerely hope that you are incorrect and that this was simply pilot error.

    But why do I have the sinking feeling that you may be right? I can't help but remember the suspicious poisoning of Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko; the shooting of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, and so on. It's not exactly as if Putin comes with clean hands to anything.

    And it's difficult to "Trust, but Verify " when one is not able to either trust or verify many of the actions of the leaders of our own nation. My condolences to the Polish people.

  6. Kaczynski was a pro-America, anti-EU, politician who was standing in the way of Putin's plans. When Obama cut Poland loose, he became a lone bird. It's always open season on those who have no friends, and it's never been easier for Putin to get away with an assassination than now. Interesting things may start happening in Czechoslovakia. Putin wants all his old Eastern Bloc territory back, and he is going to get it.

  7. AG, my daughter was a flight attendant and I can tell you, planes don't just "fall apart", not even under difficult landing attempts. They "fall apart" under two different senarios: 1) they "break" apart upon impact and 2) they "break" apart upon impact.

    There are just too many questions:

    was fog the reason that the Russians shut down the airport where the plane was scheduled to land?

    Why does one report say that the plane hitting trees cause the severe wreckage, yet when you look at pictures of the wreckage, the trees in that area are sparse?

    Why did Putin, former head of the KGB, just on the investigation so quickly?

    American planes land in severe fog routinely. What are the Russians using for runway lights? Candles?

    Putin wants Poland back, along with Georgia and the Ukraine. Pardon me if I don't trust the communists who never do anything without a purpose.

    The black box has been retrieved. Let's see if the Russians allow U.S. air safety experts have access to the wreckage as well as the black box. Our air safety experts are second to none. Whatta you want to be they are not included in the investigation? And at that point, what does Obama do? Send Putin a case of Shiner Bock?

  8. Sister Hiew, I agree. The MSM will blithely note that this "accident" coincidentally happened on the anniversary of an event so distant in the past that it can barely be remembered. Nevertheless, Putin--who is not a fool--well knows that the removal of his opposition in the Polish government on the Katyn anniversary sends a fearful signal of his intentions, and his power to implement them.

  9. Prof. Jacobsen:
    Thank you for your kind post. My husband is of Polish ancestry, and a military officer. He has always taught our children about Polish history, including the Katyn massacre. My grandfather taught us about the bravery of the Polish resistance during WWII.

    During college in the early 80's in Canada, one of my housemates was a PhD student from Poland who held Solidarity meetings in our living room.
    I am forever in awe of their tenacity and courage in the face of what seems to be overwhelming odds.

    There were many people of powerful totemic significance to the Poles on board, including their President in exile.

    That being said, I don't trust this as merely just an "accident".

    I can understand why Russia would not want to let the US "second-guess" their investigation, but feel that perhaps an international agency such as ICAO should be leading the investigation, or at least be allowed as an observer.

    My heartfelt prayers and thoughts to the people of Poland.

  10. Thank You very much for this article...

    Greetings from mourning Poland.

  11. I've discussed this story with my father in-law, who is a 30+ year veteran commercial airline pilot and former military pilot. He agrees that the Russian account of what happened stinks to high heaven.

    Although much has been made of the Tu-154M aircraft being "Soviet era", and the "dense fog" conditions, the reality is this particular variant has numerous avionics upgrades that would allow the aircraft to land on its own with minimal pilot intervention. Modern avionics systems do not care about fog, its like it isn't even there. Pilots of these large aircraft do not do visual landings anymore, and they don't have to.

    The Russian account of what happened is, from a technical standpoint, highly suspect. Moreover, the casualties involved in the crash were far too convenient, especially coming on the heels of Russian victories in the Ukrainian elections, the coordinated overthrow of the pro-west government in Kyrgyzstan, and the overall resurgence of Russian influence over their former satellites.

    My father in-law suspects the flight crew was given erroneous information by air traffic control. How convenient.

  12. It probably was an accident, but, then again, it might have been an act of war.

    Prudent men pray for peace and prepare for war.

  13. I live in an area where the airport is often closed because of foggy conditions. The only way that the planes could try to land is with instruments.

    If there really was fog then yes the airport would be closed.

    The aircraft itself was 26 years old. Anything could have happened.

    I am not happy about Putin having a hand in the investigation of the crash. It smacks of a whitewash attempt.

    My husband is an aeronautical engineer....

  14. Hello

    I am polish-woman and two days ago i tried comment this tragedy on CNN web, but unfortunately my few comments was deleted. I have no idea why. Reporters of CNN or SkyNews, said that there - in Smolensk - was a fog! It's not true! Few minutes after plane crash, there were our reporter and saw wreck, black-box and all of it, and he told us, that there wasn't a fog. Later no-one else talk about it couse Polish Media often tell what Russians like, not we, Polish-People. Eye-witness - i saw him on TV-news - told that there was cloudy weather but no fog. Before crash he heard somekind echo, like the wings cut the trees, and then was a two explosions. How could it be, if they fell from - i don't know - 10m??? This trees not so high! No mater what russians media and polish says, i feel that someone lie to us.
    And when i saw our prime-minister hugs a Putin, i felt horrible. Just like in 1939/40! The same shit - pardon for language.

    It's not an accident!!! I live in Poland. I know what Russians did in 1940! What they did with CASA plane, and why they Killed our President! Americans Wake Up!! Don't make this mistake once again! He - Putin - hates Us[polish peop.] so much! For the 1920' - check in history book. He wants to have all Europe. Once in the past he almost win and now wants to do the same thing... It's not an accident. All real polish people know the true! I know it's sound crazy... but think about it. Please!!!

  15. It's horrible. My deepest sympathies to all who died, to their families and the Polish nation.

    You should also read this. I could not help but translate it for you.