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Poland’s President, And Almost 100 Others, Killed In Plane Crash In Russia

 Heavy fog appears to have doomed the flight of Poland’s president, as he and dozens of high-level Polish political and military leaders were killed when their plane crashed trying to come in for a landing in western Russia Saturday.

 President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria, and other officials were on their way to the site of the 1940 Soviet massacre of Polish troops at Katyn. More than 20,000 elite Polish officer corps were killed there 70 years ago.  

 The Associated Press Saturday was reporting that 97 people were killed in the plane accident, which happened near Smolensk,

but The Wall Street Journal said that different agencies had different death tolls, ranging from 88 to 132.

 Hampered by poor visibility due to heavy fog, the Tu-154 jet crashed on its fourth attempt to land at the Smolensk-Severnyl military airport, around 11 a.m. Moscow time, The Journal reported.

 As The Times described it, Kaczynski’s plane missed the airport’s runway, skimmed treetops about a half mile from the airport and left burning pieces of its fuselage strewn in the forest.

 The Times also quoted an unnamed Russian military official who said that air traffic controllers at the Smolensk airport had repeatedly ordered the plane’s crew not to attempt to land, telling them the plane “was descending below the glide path, and recommended it reroute to another airport.”

 But the crew ignored the order, leading to the tragedy: the virtual decimation of Poland’s military and political leaders.

 The Polish presidential plane was a 20-year-old Tupolev Tu-154, according to The Times, a jet designed by the Soviets in the mid-1960s. The plane was overhauled in December, according to AP, with its three engines repaired, and its electronic and navigation retrofitted.

 The Tu-124 overall isn’t manufactured anymore, but an estimated 200 of them are still flying.

 There have been 66 crashes involving Tu-154s in the past four decades, including six in the past five years, according to statistics from the Aviation Safety Network cited by AP.

 Some Polish officials had repeatedly warned that the government’s air fleet was old and needed replacing, especially after former Prime Minister Leszek Miller was in a helicopter crash in 2003. But some said there was no money to update the air fleet.     

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