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Not a landmark anymore

By 1st Lt. Kristoffer Egeberg
First published in
SFOR Informer#114, May 30, 2001

As a ghost, IL-76TD of the Belair Company has become a landmark, resting its wings at the end of Sarajevo Airport. A brutal landing on New Year's Eve 1994 grounded the huge Ilyushin cargo plane permanently. Now it will end its days at a scrap yard in downtown Sarajevo.

Sarajevo Airport - Many fantastic legends exist about how the famous plane ended up where it is today. But most of them are just rumours with no connection to reality. As it is now being cut up in parts and removed, most stories will disappear with it. But John Merritt, chief of the Air Travel Office in SFOR Headquarters in Camp Butmir, was personally involved in the true event.
"It happened on New Year's (Eve) evening 1994. I was at that time chief of the Operations cell in UNPROFOR Joint Logistics Operation Centre based in Zagreb. I got a message from Sarajevo Airport that an Ilyushin had crashed. We thought it was one of our two Ilyushin aircraft currently chartered by the UN," he said.
But the UN plane had just minutes before aborted its landing because of heavy wind and driving rain. Behind it came the Belair plane, chartered by the French government in order to bring supplies to the PX and the UN troops at the airport.
"During those war days, the approach to Sarajevo was slightly different from now. The clue was to come in high, and dive down toward the runway to minimise the risk of AA fire. The pilots misjudged and came in too fast. Landing in the middle of the runway, they had no chance in stopping. The plane ran out of runway and rolled straight into an earth-dune at the far end of the airport," Merritt said.
The crew walked away from the crash unharmed. The cargo, which consisted of champagne and wine among other things for the New Year celebration, was at large salvaged.
Final chapter
Now, the Belair story has reached its final chapter. SFOR Engineer Support Unit (ESU) contracted the local company EKO-Metal to remove its remains. The job is underway almost seven years after the plane's final touchdown. That is how long it has taken to get approval and assurance that no one will claim a right to the plane. Belair Company ceased to exist several years ago. No insurance claims remain. The imperative reason to remove it is the safety hazard it represents to the UNMiBH and SFOR helicopters based near by.
"When we started the work, we found that there was still 10,000 litres of fuel left in the tanks. We had to suck it out and wash down the tanks before further work could be done," explained ESU Contract Manager Tisdall Francis. ESU strongly supports its contracted partner with the removal.
"We monitor and support with machinery and tools. The company will do the job free of charge, but will hardly lose money as the framework of the plane is mainly constructed of valuable titanium," said ESU Site Manager Stephen Parkes.
"This is totally different from what we (ESU) are normally involved in. We had to call in specialists to remove batteries, freon and oil from the hydraulic system (which was still charged). All the information we got on the plane is from the Internet. Not even Russian pilots we asked had any technical information on the Ilyushin Il-76," he said with a laugh.
In a few weeks no signs will remain. COMSFOR and local authorities at Sarajevo Airport have requested parts of the tail to be kept as souvenirs. But the story of Belair Ilyushin Il-76 will remain in the memories of those who have seen the huge stranded bird.
"It's time to remove it. Doubtfully a good promotion for air travel and Sarajevo where it has stood until now," Parkes said.

Related link: Miscellaneous