Polish tragedy affects those in the Grand Strand

Horry County, SC - HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – A plane crash in Russia that killed 96 Polish dignitaries affected more than just the Polish. It affects some people in the Grand Strand, as well.

Bill Perkins, who now lives in Myrtle Beach but lived in Poland for a few years, was in Poland to work with Lockheed Martin on the F-16 project. Perkins worked closely with some of the people who died on the plane.

He tells stories of buying cowboy hats for one, and smoking cigars with another, memories he says he won't ever forget.

Perkins woke up and saw a Skype message on his computer.

"It was a message from a friend of mine that said 'Have you heard?'" Perkins said.

Perkins isn't the only one who used Skype to find out more information. Mieczyslaw Fiut and his wife, who own International Kitchen in Little River, spoke with their son, who lives in Poland, via Skype Saturday morning.

The Fiut family moved to the Myrtle Beach area from Poland in the 1990s. They are headed back to Poland for their son's wedding on April 21 and say they don't know what to expect when they arrive.

Mieczyslaw says he had to check multiple news sources Saturday morning, because he didn't believe the news.

Initial signs point to an accident and not foul play in the crash of the plane Saturday morning carrying Poland's president and a delegation of the country's top military and civilian leaders.

Authorities say the pilot was trying to land in a thick fog in western Russia. All 97 people on board were killed.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin personally assumed charge of the investigation.

Thousands of people have been placing candles and flowers at the presidential palace in the center of Poland's capital.

Poles have been in tears as they watched television coverage of the crash. They've lowered flags to half-staff, and taped black ribbons in their windows.

Many called the crash Poland's worst disaster since World War II.

At a cathedral in Krakow that is the burial spot of Polish kings, 20 monks rang a bell that is normally silent except during times of profound importance or grief.

An official with the Smolensk regional government says dispatchers asked the pilots to divert from the military airport to which they were headed because of the fog, but the pilots ignored the instruction and ended up crashing into a wooded area.

President Lech Kaczynski and his delegation were en route to events marking the 70th anniversary of the Katyn forest massacre of thousands of Polish officers by Soviet secret police during World War II.

Copyright 2010 WMBF News. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.