Poland in Mourning After Crash

On the morning of Saturday, April 10th, Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria, and 94 other members of Poland’s government and clergy were on a flight to Russia to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre.

Mourners arrive to light candles under a giant cross at Pilsudski Square in Warsaw, Poland, in memory of late Polish President Lech Kaczynski on April 11, 2010. Kaczynski, his wife Maria and leading members of the Polish military and government were killed when the presidential plane they were traveling in crashed while attempting to land at Smolensk, Russia on April 10th. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Thousands of people stood silent in the streets of Poland’s cities Sunday, in a silent memorial to President Lech Kaczynski and the other 95 people killed in a devastating plane crash. The two minutes of silence were preceded by the thundering pealing of church bells and din of emergency sirens for nearly a minute before everything faded away. In front of the presidential palace, hundreds of people stopped what they were doing and stood, some with their eyes closed and heads bowed.

A soldier stands guard near a sea of candles in front of the President Palace two days after Polish President Lech Kaczynski died in a plane crash, in Warsaw, Monday, April 12, 2010. Photo: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

When the Polish Air Force Tupolev 154 crashed near the airport of the Russian city of Smolensk on April 10, it added a layer of modern calamity to a historic catastrophe. Among the 96 passengers and crew killed were a sizable chunk of Poland’s political elite: President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, the military chief and his top commanders, the central banker, several members of parliament and senior clergymen. They were on their way to mark the 70th anniversary of a massacre of more than 21,000 Polish prisoners of war in the nearby forest of Katyn.

A hearse carrying the coffin of Polish President Lech Kaczynski drives through downtown Warsaw, Poland on April 11, 2010. Photo: REUTERS/Agencja Gazeta/Franciszek Mazur

In Moscow, Russia’s transport ministry said that Russian and Polish investigators had begun to decipher flight data recorders of the aging Soviet-built Tu-154 airliner that crashed Saturday while trying to land in deep fog in Smolensk, killing all aboard.

A woman lights a candle during a special service for the victims of the plane crash in Smolensk in a Catholic Cathedral in Moscow, Sunday, April 11, 2010. Photo: AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

Russian officials had initially said 97 people were killed but revised the figure to 96. Poland’s Foreign Ministry also confirmed the figure, according to Fox News.

Mourners lay candles and flowers outside the Presidential Palace in memory of late Polish President Lech Kaczynski on April 10, 2010 in Warsaw, Poland. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

That the crash occurred near Katyn served as a stark reminder to Poland of the horrors of that place. Kaczynski and those aboard the flight were headed there to remember the thousands of Poles systematically executed by Josef Stalin’s NKVD, the forerunner to the KGB, in 1940. About 4,000 Polish army officers were killed in Katyn itself. In total some 22,000 officers and others were killed there and in other areas. [via Fox News and Boston; photos via Boston’s Big Picture]

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