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HomeBalkansRemembering 3275: Kosovo Recalls Un Flight That Ended in Tragedy

Remembering 3275: Kosovo Recalls Un Flight That Ended in Tragedy

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On the morning of Friday November 12, 1999, a plane full of humanitarian staff and aid left Rome for post-war Kosovo. It never made it to the airport in Pristina.

The plane crashed in a tragedy that caused the death of 24 humanitarian staff and shocked a country that was still recovering from the wounds of the war that had finished just five months earlier.

The plane, which was part of the World Food Program, WFP, went down minutes before reaching Pristina airport, on Mount Piceli, near the village of Sllakovc. The primary reasons for the crash are considered to be procedural lapses and operational oversights.

Laura Scotti, one of the 24 victims, was coming to Kosovo to help with donations in the reconstruction of destroyed schools. After the accident, the primary school in the village of Grabovc was named after Scotti, from the Amici dei Bambini foundation.

Gezim Berisha, the school’s director, told BIRN that after the air disaster it was decided to name the school after the donor who happened to be on that ill-fated flight.

“When its foundations were being laid in 1999, the donor for the school construction project passed away in the air accident. Since that day, it was decided that Laura Scotti’s name should be respectfully carried as the school’s name,” Berisha said.

Humanitarian missions aiding war-torn country

Following the entry of NATO forces into Kosovo in June 1999, numerous international missions headed to Kosovo to assist a country devastated by extreme poverty, destroyed homes, contaminated areas, and numerous mine-infested zones, hindering land cultivation in many regions.

The lack of basic amenities for the citizens of Kosovo prompted the United Nations to send numerous teams for months on end, bringing not only material aid but also staff to assist in crisis management.

One of these teams, flying from Rome on November 12, 1999, on board flight Si Fly 3275, disappeared from the radar at 11:15am, just before arriving in Pristina. The death of the 24 passengers on board marked it as the most serious aviation accident in Kosovo’s history.

The victims were 12 Italians, three Spaniards, two Britons, one Irish citizen, one Kenyan, one person from Bangladesh, one Australian, one Canadian, one Iraqi, and one German.

The remains of the 24 bodies were recovered by NATO forces. But the search was challenging; there were concerns that the area was still mined by Serbian forces who had only recently withdrawn from Kosovo.

In the days following the disaster, the families of the victims arrived in Pristina to identify the bodies. On November 15, the bodies were transported to Rome for identification before being returned to their families.

A commemorative ceremony was organized in Pristina a day after the tragic accident, where many people placed flowers and lit candles. 

Italian police rebuilt memorial nearly 20 years later

A memorial plaque bearing the names of the victims was installed 1,400 meters up on the mountain peak, inscribed with the names of the 24 victims of the crash.

In 2018, Italian police serving under the EU took steps to rebuild the memorial plaque. 

Ugo Ferrero, from the Italian embassy in Kosovo, told BIRN that the initiative to reconstruct the memorial plaque was taken after the area became neglected and was left abandoned.

“Thanks to the intervention and contribution provided over the years by members of the Italian police contingent who have alternated in Kosovo, the exact location of the mentioned monument was identified in 2018, and it was restored at their expense,” he said.

International troops from the EULEX and UNMIK missions pay homage every year at the site where the plane crashed. Some family members of the victims join in remembrance ceremonies at this site.

Tributes paid by victims’ friends and colleagues

The victims of the air accident have been recognised in their respective home countries for their humanitarian work.

One was Daniel Rowan, 34, who worked for Correctional Service of Canada, CSC. He travelled to Kosovo to contribute to the justice system.

“In the fall of 1999, he started working with the International Relations Division of CSC as a Kosovo file project manager to restore the correctional system in Kosovo,” the CSC told BIRN.

It emphasized that Rowan was a generous individual who brought humour and enthusiasm to his workplace.

“Dan was a dedicated professional and known for his ability to make sound judgments and strong decisions. He was a people person, and his strength and approachability made him beloved by everyone he met,” was how CSC described their former colleague.

A woman pays homages at the memorial site. Photo: UNMIK/Amanda Fisher

On June 5, 2000, Rowan was posthumously awarded the Correctional Service Exemplary Service Medal by the Governor General of Canada, given to employees in recognition of their contributions. 

On June 15, 2004, Rowan’s family received the “Dag Hammarskjold Medal – In Service to Peace” from the United Nations, honoring those who lost their lives in Canadian peacekeeping efforts.

Some individuals who might have perished were fortunate enough to escape the tragic accident that day. 

BIRN found that one officer seems to have missed the flight from Rome for some reason.

“There was a UNMIK officer who was in Rome that day and who was supposed to be on that flight but somehow missed it. Sometimes, it’s just not your day to perish. May peace be upon all those who were on that flight,” the CSC statement read.

BIRN could not confirm this information independently.

Meanwhile, the Amici dei Bambini foundation paid tribute to the former communications manager who was among the 24 victims.

“Laura’s sign in Kosovo is there and it is very visible. She certainly does not abandon our hearts, even if more than 20 years have passed,” the foundation said in remembrance of their former manager who was known for her dedication to children’s welfare.

The president of Amici dei Bambini, Marco Griffini, in a statement for BIRN, recalled Laura Scotti’s own words on how important it is to help children.

“Every time children come to us, we realize that what we do is really important. The fear is real, but it is equally true that we cannot stop before this fear,” were the words of Scotti, remembered by Griffini.

According to him, these words are more important than ever today, where situations of war and difficulty have multiplied around us.

“As Laura taught us: we can’t stop! We cannot take a single step back, but we must always stay close to ‘our’ abandoned children and families in difficulty, in any situation! This is Laura’s greatest legacy, which we do not forget and we will never forget,” Griffini told BIRN.

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