- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 13, 2010

WARSAW (AP) — Mourners formed a line that snaked for more than half a mile to pay their respects to the late Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, Maria Kaczynska, whose bodies are lying in state in the Polish capital.

The president and his wife were among 96 people killed Saturday in a plane crash in western Russia. Investigators are pointing to human error as the cause.

The body of the first lady was greeted with tears and tulips after being flown home Tuesday, and her coffin then was ferried slowly to the Presidential Palace in the back of a black Mercedes-Benz hearse, just as her husband’s was on Sunday. The two are lying in state in closed coffins in the palace’s Columned Hall, where the president appointed and dismissed governments.

Stanislaw Kracik, Krakow province governor, announced that the presidential couple will receive a state funeral at 2 p.m. (8 a.m. EDT) Sunday in Krakow’s 1,000-year-old Wawel Cathedral, the main burial site of Polish monarchs since the 14th century.

The last Polish leader killed in office, Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski, the exiled World War II leader who perished in a mysterious plane crash off Gibraltar in 1943, also is interred there.

The White House announced Tuesday that President Obama will leave Saturday night for Krakow to attend the funeral services.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Mr. Obama is going to express condolences to an important ally and to show support for the Polish people on behalf of all Americans.

Other leaders expected for the funeral include Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.

Mrs. Kaczynska’s body, in a wooden casket draped with Poland’s white-and-red flag, arrived in a military CASA plane at Warsaw’s Okecie Airport. It was met by the first couple’s only child, Marta, and by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who was the twin of the late president.

Their daughter knelt by the casket and wept as a Polish honor guard stood by.

Thousands of Warsaw residents, gently lobbing bouquets of tulips and roses on top of the hearse, lined the route of the cortege.

“I’m here because it’s such a tragedy for Poland,” said Maja Jelenicka, 63. “I’m in despair. I feel as if I’ve lost a close relative. Maria Kaczynska was a wonderful woman, kind, with a heart of gold.”

At the Presidential Palace, Alicja Marszalek, a retired telephone operator waiting with a friend, said: “We will wait as long as its takes… . We want to pay homage to them because they were wonderful people. He was a modest man, very well educated, intelligent and kind.”

Parliament held a special observance in memory of the president and the 18 lawmakers killed in the plane crash. In the assembly hall, framed portraits of the lawmakers and flowers bedecked their now-empty seats.

The names of the victims were read out, and Senate Speaker Bogdan Borusewicz, his voice breaking, declared the crash the “greatest tragedy in Poland’s postwar history.”

Investigators have suggested that human error may have been to blame in Saturday’s crash. The Tupolev Tu-154 went down while trying to land in dense fog at Smolensk in western Russia. All aboard were killed, including Mr. Kaczynski and dozens of Polish political, military and religious leaders.

They had been traveling in the Polish government-owned plane to attend a memorial in the nearby Katyn forest for thousands of Polish military officers executed 70 years ago by Josef Stalin’s secret police.

Poland’s TVN24 broadcaster cited Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov as saying there was no explosion or fire aboard the plane before it crashed and that its engines were working until the crash.

The pilot was warned of bad weather in Smolensk and was advised by traffic controllers to land elsewhere — which would have delayed the Katyn observances. He was identified as Capt. Arkadiusz Protasiuk, 36, and the co-pilot as Maj. Robert Grzywna, 36.

Traffic controller Anatoly Muravyev, part of the Russian team that handled the plane, told the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper that the crew ignored their warnings about worsening weather at the Smolensk airport.

The crew “started landing with confidence and with no swerving,” Mr. Muravyev was quoted as saying, “but then the traffic controllers had doubts (about the weather).”

He said the head controller three times ordered the plane to reattempt the landing and then advised the pilot to fly to another airport.

“The crew did not listen, although the controllers warned them about bad visibility and told them to get ready to fly to a reserve airport,” he said.

Polish Prosecutor General Andrzej Seremet said Polish prosecutors were still reviewing data from the flight recorders and would discuss their findings Thursday.

So far, 87 bodies have been recovered and 40 of them identified, he said.

Associated Press writer Marta Kucharska in Warsaw and Mansur Mirovalev in Moscow contributed to this report.

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