By BosNewsLife News Center with Jessica Golloher in Moscow, Stefan J. Bos in Budapest and VOA News in Washington
MOSCOW/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)-- Poland’s president Lech Kaczynski has died along with all other 95 people on board an air plane that crashed in Western Russia, Polish and Russian officials confirmed Saturday, April 10.
Russian and Polish officials said there were no survivors on the 26-year-old Tupolev, which headed to the western Russian town of Smolensk to observe 70th anniversary of the World War Two-era killing of 22,000 Polish officers by Soviet security forces in the nearby Katyn area.
Witnesses said the plane crashed into trees near the airport and then, broke into several pieces before catching on fire. The exact cause of the crash was under investigation, amid reports that bad weather and human error played a role in the accident.
Among the passengers confirmed on the flight were Kaczynski's wife Maria, Poland's army chief, deputy foreign minister, central bank governor and scores of Polish legislators.
Kaczynski was elected president of Poland in 2005. A year later, he spoke of his plans to make Poland an integral part of the European Union. "We must build a properly functioning country, without corruption. A country helpful toward its citizens, to build an independent Poland within the European Union," he said at the time.
Following news of his death, crowds were seen heading towards the Presidential Palace in the capital Warsaw. "We are here to be together to console each other," said Adrianna Parowska.
"It's a great shock because the elite of our nation went there to remember the dead from 70 years ago and right now Poland is really in trouble."
The speaker of the lower chamber of parliament, Bronislaw Komorowski, took over Kaczynski's duties, ahead of expected early presidential elections.
The transition of power came as international leaders expressed their sorrow over the crash.
United States President Barack Obama said the accident was "a devastating loss for Poland, the U.S. and the world." He said he contacted Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk to express his deepest condolences.
British Prime minister Gordon Brown said he was saddened by the news of the accident and that the whole world will be saddened by it also. He said he knew the sacrifices President Kaczynski made on the part of the Solidarity movement during the Communist-era in Poland and for Polish freedom.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Kaczynski "a tireless defender of democracy and liberty and a leader in the fight against totalitarianism."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her deep dismay at the Polish president's death as well as all those on board.
Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili called Kaczynski one of his closest friends. He called him a hero, not only in Poland but in Georgia as well. (With reporting from Warsaw).