MS Risk Blog

Late Polish President’s Remains Exhumed as Part of New Investigation into Fatal Plane Crash

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Late on Monday 14 November, the remains of the late Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria were exhumed as part of a new investigation into the fatal plane crash in Smolensk six years ago. The crash killed the couple and all 94 others on board.

The remains were removed from a marble sarcophagus in the crypt of Krakow’s historic Wawel Cathedral. Prosecutors have disclosed that new examinations are necessary in order to ensure that the victims were correctly identified, noting that the original autopsies carried out in Russia contained irregularities. Indeed, several exhumations carried out four years ago found that some of the victims were buried in the wrong graves, however more than that, prosecutors say that the forensic tests may also provide new evidence about the cause of the disaster. Further exhumations are due to be carried out in stages over the next 12 months.

The decision is highly controversial as it is opposed by some of the families of the victims. Furthermore, it is being carried out without their consent. While some families agree with the procedure, 17 families appealed to church and political leaders to prevent what they called a “ruthless” and “cruel” decision. In an opinion poll last month, just 10% of respondents supported the exhumations.

President Kaczynski’s plane crashed in dense fog just shot of the runway of a former military airbase in the Russian city of Smolensk on 10 April 2010. Senior state and military officials had been on their way to a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, in which more than 20,000 Polish officers were murdered by the Soviet secret police. Russian and Polish investigations have concluded that the crash was mainly caused by pilot error. Both reports have indicated that the pilots warned officials that the weather conditions were not sufficient to attempt a landing, however a decision was taken to descent to see if the runway could be sighted. The pilots flew too fast and too low and ignored repeated electronic warnings to pull up before smashing into the ground. While the tragedy initially united the country in grief, it has since caused much division. The investigations’ findings have never satisfied President Kaczynski’s twin brother, Jaroslaw, who now leads the governing Law and Justice party, which took office a year ago. Mr Kaczynski’s close ally, defense minister Antoni Macierewicz, has launched a fresh investigation. He has previously spoken about two explosions moments before the plane crashed and the examinations will check for traces of explosives. Indeed, about one quarter of Poles believe that President Kaczynski was assassinated, while more than two thirds of Poles do not believe the crash has been fully explained, with a majority believing that it was an accident. Previous probes have explicitly ruled out an explosion.

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