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news 07 Jan 15

New Report Into Trajkovski's Death Blames Pilots

The 2004 plane crash that killed Macedonia's former President was not an assassination attempt but an accident caused by pilot errors, technical problems and procedural mistakes, investigators say.

Elvira M. Jukic
BIRN
Sarajevo

 

A new report into the death in 2004 of former Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, conducted by a team of regional experts and released in Sarajevo on Tuesday, once again declared that the fatal plane crash was not the result of an assassination but an accident.

Blaming a deadly combination of pilot errors, technical problems and procedural mistakes, the report is expected to finally end years of speculation about the causes of the disaster.
 
“Our task was to determine how the plane came down and that is what we did,” the chief investigator, Omer Kulic, told a press conference on Tuesday.
 
Kulic said that the investigation, conducted by experts from Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia, determined that a number of serious mistakes caused the crash on February 26, 2004 near the southwestern Bosnian city of Mostar.  
 
Kulic said the plane was technically unfit for flight as some of its instruments were not working.

These included the low-altitude alarm, one of the two black boxes and the location beacon. The investigation also revealed that the autopilot function had been turned off – which might have saved the plane.  
 
The report also says the flight crew were ill prepared. They failed to check the weather forecast before take-off while the co-pilot, who lacked the appropriate training, ignored warnings from air traffic control to head for an alternative airport due to the bad weather over Mostar. He steadily decreased altitude instead.
 
Nine people died in the crash, including Trajkovski, his team and the flight crew.
 
Trajkovski became President of Macedonia in 1999 and was head of state in 2001, when armed clashes erupted between Macedonian government forces and ethnic Albanian  militants demanding more rights for their community.

He supported the internationally-brokered Ohrid peace accord, which ended the conflict by conceding a package of new rights to Albanians who make up about a quarter of Maceodnia's population.
 
The first report into the crash, conducted by Bosnian experts and published on May 5, 2004, also blamed the crash on pilot errors, technical problems and procedural mistakes. However, the Macedonian authorities complained of a lack of detail.  
 
After collecting additional evidence for years, the Macedonian authorities sought a new investigation, which was launched in 2013. It started work at a time when a Macedonian lawyer, Ignat Pancevski, was claiming that Trajkovski was, in fact, murdered and that his aircraft had been shot down by a military jet.
 
The allegation was based in part on the fact that after the crash it took 25 hours for Bosnian and NATO search and rescue teams to find the wreckage, although it was located only some 10 kilometres from Mostar airport and close to a local road.  

Kulic confirmed that the search operation was poorly coordinated within and between local and NATO SFOR teams.

However, he stressed that autopsy reports showed that all the passengers on the flight died on impact. Thus, nobody could have been saved even if the search operation had located the wreckage sooner.
 
Another member of the investigation team, Muharem Sabic, told the press conference that the plane’s beacon device – which should activate in a crash and help locate the wreckage – was not functioning, which helps explain why the search took so long.

 

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