Relatives make harrowing visit to Polish air crash site

10th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Six months after the air crash in Russia that killed Polish president Lech Kaczynski and 95 others, relatives of the victims Sunday made an anguished visit to the site of the tragedy.

A delegation of almost 200 Poles, mainly loved ones of those who perished on April 10, heard a mass at the crash site outside the western city of Smolesnk attended by the first ladies of Poland and Russia.

Kaczynski and dozens of top Polish officials had been flying to the region to attend a ceremony marking the 1940 massacre in Katyn forest of thousands of Polish army officers at the orders of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

"The presidential plane crashed here on April 10. It broke into thousands of pieces and at the same time shattered our lives and broke our hearts into thousands of pieces," said Ewa Komorowska, widow of former deputy defence minister Stanislaw Komorowski who was killed in the crash.

"We have only seen a fragment of the plane but it was enough: the impression was horrendous," she said.

The crash, which came as Kaczynski was to visit the Katyn massacre site, carried a heavy symbolism since the issue had pained Warsaw-Moscow ties for decades. The months since the tragedy have seen a warming of relations.

"All of us, the president of Russia, myself and all the Russian people, were deeply shaken by this terrible tragedy," said the wife of President Dmitry Medvedev, Svetlana Medvedeva.

"All Russia shared Poland's grief. In those difficult hours we were together with you," she said, before laying flowers at a memorial stone where Kaczynski's body was found.

The Polish delegation had earlier flown to Vitebsk in neighbouring Belarus before being driven over the border in buses.

Despite the apparent warming of ties, Poland has become increasingly critical of the pace of the Russian investigation and how Russian authorities are storing the jet's wreckage at the Smolensk aerodrome.

The Russian investigation has found the crew ignored warnings that heavy fog made conditions were unsuitable for landing in Smolensk and that passengers were present in the cockpit shortly before the crash.

However the Polish side is still awaiting concrete conclusions about the cause of the crash.

© 2010 AFP

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