By George Psyllides
Human remains have been found during excavations at a military cemetery where a Greek transport aircraft carrying commandos was buried in 1974, a senior official said on Tuesday.
The Noratlas plane was shot down by friendly fire during the Turkish invasion in July 1974. Authorities have been searching for the remains of Greek airborne commandos sent to Cyprus to assist the National Guard.
Fotis Fotiou, Presidential Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs, said a number of bones have been located but did not elaborate.
He said all tests would be carried out and announcements would be made when necessary.
“We are working hard so that we have the desired results soon,” he said.
He declined to say whether the remains were found inside the fuselage, buried for 41 years under a mound at Makedonitissa cemetery, that bears a monument to those fallen in 1974.
Fotiou said locating the bones was a significant development “and I think that everyone should at least be satisfied today.”
Work on the site is painstaking as crews have to take precautions due to the existence of explosives carried by the commandos of the ill-fated flight.
The soldiers were killed when the plane was shot down over Nicosia airport during the Turkish invasion early on July 22.
The aircraft carried 28 commandos and four crew. Only one commando survived after he jumped out of the flaming transport plane before it crashed.
The remains of 12 others killed in the incident have been identified through DNA tests but 19 are still missing, believed to have been buried along with the aircraft’s fuselage.
The aircraft was part of operation Niki, victory in Greek, a secret operation to lend assistance to Cypriot forces battling invading Turkish troops.
Thirteen – out of 15 – aircraft reached Cyprus, setting off from Crete in what many described as a suicide mission. They were carrying the Commando Battalion ‘A’ whose men helped keep the Nicosia airport in Greek Cypriot hands before it was taken over by the United Nations.
In addition to the plane that crashed near Makedonitissa, two others took heavy damage – also from friendly fire – and were unable to fly back to Greece. The two aircraft were torched. This was done to erase any trace of Greek involvement since it was not officially at war with its NATO ally Turkey.