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.
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,"
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.
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,"
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.
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
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
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