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Polish leader's plane lies mangled in 'forest of death'
by Staff Writers
Smolensk, Russia (AFP) April 10, 2010

Germans among 10 dead in Russia helicopter accident: report
Moscow (AFP) April 10, 2010 - Ten people on a snowboarding tour including five Germans were killed Saturday when their helicopter was buried by an avalanche in eastern Russia, officials said. A total of 18 people, a mix of German and Russian citizens, were on the helicopter snowboarding trip in the remote Kamchatka peninsula in Russia's far east when the accident occurred, officials quoted by news agencies said. Eight of them managed to escape but five German citizens and five Russians were killed when the avalanche swamped the helicopter while it was on the ground, burying victims in up to 15 metres (50 feet) of snow.

"The eight accident survivors include one Russian citizen, six Germans and one Belgian," a spokesman for Russia's emergency situations ministry was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency. The incident occurred around 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatka, the main city on the peninsula, the reports said. Kamchatka, the site of sensitive Russian military installations and long a closed zone for foreigners, is renowned for its volcanoes and stunning natural beauty. Helicopter skiing tours have become hugely popular there in the past 15 years.

Poland's top brass dead in Russia crash: official
Warsaw (AFP) April 10, 2010 - Poland's top military commanders perished with the NATO member's President Lech Kaczynski in a plane crash Saturday in Russia, according to an official passenger list published by the government. A scan of a list of 88 passengers aboard the Polish government Tupolev Tu-154 jet published Saturday on a government website showed the names of chief of staff General Franciszek Gagor and Major General Bronislaw, head of operational forces. General Tadeusz Buk, head of land forces, Andrzej Blasik, air force commander and special forces chief Wojciech Potasinki as well as navy vice-admiral Andrzej Karweta were also on the list.

"The leadership of the general staff of the Polish army is meeting today. Faced with this crisis, it will take the appropriate decisions," general staff spokesman Dariusz Niedzielski said Saturday, quoted by the Polish PAP news agency. According to Polish military regulations, deputy commanders automatically take over commanding posts in such emergencies, pending formal nomination. "There will be a generational shift in the Polish army. It's a process which has already begun but this twist of fate will accelerate it," Professor Lena Kolarska-Bobinska, a Warsaw-based political analyst, told AFP Saturday. The Polish dignitaries were to attend a ceremony for thousands of Polish troops massacred by Russian forces during World War II.

The red and white tail fin caked with mud stood out like a beacon in the grey, fog-smothered forest in western Russia where polish President Lech Kaczynski's plane crashed Saturday.

Painted the colours of Poland's flag, it was an eerie reminder of another tragedy -- the massacre of 22,000 Polish officers and other elites by Soviet secret police in 1940 that Kaczynski was travelling to commemorate.

Emergency workers and officials milled about the swampy fields strewn with debris but with no other sign of life amid the wreckage.

One wing stood almost perpendicular among broken trees, the landing gear turned on one side, while other large chunks of the plane -- a red-painted engine and charred pieces of the fuselage -- were ripped apart in the crash.

Many parts of the plane were still in flames as firefighters trampled through mud and woods to the site of the disaster, their trucks parked on the nearby runways of Smolensk airport.

Television footage showed firefighters struggling to tackle the fires, dragging hoses through the wreckage.

Authorities cordoned off the fields around the crash site, an AFP reporter saw, and were waiting for larger salvage crews to arrive.

Over two dozen grey-faced and rattled Polish journalists, who had come to the area for the anniversary of the 1940 massacre in Katyn forest, stood grimly in the parking lot outside the sealed-off airport.

Smolensk airport officials who had been awaiting Kaczynski's arrival since early morning said his plane had circled several times in the low visibility.

It had tried to land three times before skimming the treetops and crashing sideways on its fourth descent, eyewitnesses said.

Due to thick fog overhanging the region, another plane scheduled to land earlier in the day had turned back, though a third touched down without incident in the morning, officials said.

Emergency workers were cutting down trees around the airport to allow vehicles to pass and clearing roads leading off the runway which were littered with refuse from the crash.

Body bags were brought to the scene, rescuers said, adding they would soon begin retrieving the victims' remains. Authorities have said 96 people were on the plane including many top Polish military commanders.

The Katyn forest near the crash site has become known as the "forest of death" because of the 1940 massacre of Polish officers and other members of the country's elite captured when Soviet forces invaded eastern Poland.

The massacre, which the Soviet Union long blamed on the Nazis, has been a long-standing sore point in Russian-Polish relations.

Intellectuals, policemen and other public servants were killed by Joseph Stalin's NKVD in the massacre, though most victims were officers.

On Wednesday the Russian and Polish prime ministers, Vladimir Putin and Donald Tusk, had honoured the murdered Poles in an unprecedented joint ceremony in the Katyn Forest.

Kaczynski, a frequent critic of both Russia and Tusk, was not invited to the ceremony but made it clear he wanted to pay his own tribute.


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