All the President’s Men: The story of the Smolensk Air Disaster and the death of Lech Kaczyński

The wreckage of Poland’s presidential airplane lies in a forest outside Smolensk, Russia. (Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives)
Lech Kaczyński, left, and his brother Jarosław, right. (Jacek Turczyk)
Soviet officials observe the excavation of a mass grave in the Katyn Forest in 1943. (Warsaw Institute Review)
A sign at the entrance to the Katyn massacre memorial near Smolensk emphasizes 8,000 Soviet victims of Stalin’s terror, who were not killed in the Katyn massacre and are not buried in Katyn, over the Polish victims, exemplifying Russia’s complicated relationship with the crime. (Ponars Eurasia)
The route of the accident flight. (Google + own work)
Smolensk North as it appeared shortly before the accident. (Google)
Smolensk North’s “control tower.” (Radio Maryja)
The aircraft involved in the accident. (Dmitry Karpezo)
The four pilots and three flight attendants who made up the crew of the ill-fated flight. (
The Yak-40 which carried the press pool into Smolensk. (Björn Strey)
The approach chart used by the pilots for the flight to Smolensk North. (MAK)
A map of the route of the flight with select CVR excerpts chosen by the MAK. (MAK)
A witness took this photograph of the Il-76 during one of its two unsuccessful approaches. (State Accident Investigation Committee)
Captain Protasiuk in the cockpit of a Tu-154. (
Flight data for the last two minutes of the flight, starting at approximately the current point in the narrative and continuing until impact. (MAK)
Visualization of the TAWS warning envelope. (Zuopeng Wang)
The ravine just before runway 26. (State Accident Investigation Committee)
Flight 101’s vertical and lateral deviation from the glide path during its final moments. (State Accident Investigation Committee)
This CGI animation of the crash sequence was featured in Mayday (Air Crash Investigation) Season 12 Episode 10: “Death of the President.”
An aerial view of the debris field, with two of the trees hit by the plane and a profile view of the terrain. (MAK)
Firefighters douse the wreckage shortly after the crash. (Public domain image)
Portraits of the victims of the disaster. (
Mourners place candles outside the presidential palace in Warsaw. (Patryk Korzeniecki)
These were some of the largest remaining sections of the fuselage. (BBC)
The wing roots and landing gear were the largest pieces overall. (Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives)
Firefighters tackle flames near the tail section shortly after the crash. (NBC)
Emergency crews work amid the wreckage. (Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives)
The plane’s vertical tail came off mostly in one piece. (MAK)
The two wing roots with landing gear. (MAK)
Part of the fuselage skin and an engine. (Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives)
Emergency workers examine part of the fuselage. (Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives)
The tail section and #1 engine. (Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives)
Part of the aft galley lies upside down amid the wreckage. (The Guardian)
The wingtip which was severed during the crash. (MAK)
Pallbearers carry Kaczyński’s casket at his funeral. (Carsten Koall)
Firefighters near the tail section during the wreckage cleanup process. (Moscow Times)
Pieces of the Tu-154 were recovered and placed on the apron at Smolensk North. (Aviation Safety Network)
More pieces of the Tu-154 after being collected from the crash scene. (TASS)
The full reconstruction of the wreckage. (MAK)
Poles commemorate the anniversary of the disaster. (Polskie Radio 24)
The destruction of the plane was total; there was no possibility of survival. (State Accident Investigation Committee)
The reinvestigation committee claims this photograph shows the wing having been ruptured from the inside out. (Comittee for the Reinvestigation of the Smolensk Air Crash)
The birch tree struck by the Tu-154. (MAK)
Another tree which was struck by the plane as it turned inverted. (Comittee for the Reinvestigation of the Smolensk Air Crash)
Firefighters extinguish the flames shortly after the accident. (TVP)
A man mourns at the site of the crash. (AP)
A victim is carried away from the scene in a temporary casket. (Reuters)
Jarosław Kaczyński and Lech Kaczyński’s daughter Marta at the arrival of Kaczynski’s casket in Warsaw. (AP)
Thousands of candles were lit outside the presidential palace to commemorate the victims. (AP)



Analyzer of plane crashes and author of upcoming book (eventually™). Contact me via @Admiral_Cloudberg on Reddit or by email at

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