The excavation works at the Tomb of Makedonitissa in Nicosia in search for the remains of Greek airborne commandos, killed when their Noratlas plane was shot down by friendly fire during the 1974 conflict will start on July 27, Presidential Commissioner for Humanitarian Issues and Overseas Photis Photiou said, adding that this constitutes a moral obligation of the State.
The Commissioner was speaking to the press after a memorial service held at the Saint Theodoros Cathedral in Paphos for those killed during the coup of 15 July 1974 officiated by Bishop Georgios of Paphos.
Photiou noted that this was a major and difficult project which would last around six months and be carried out by a team of local and foreign scientists in cooperation with several agencies here in Cyprus.
He expressed the hope that the remains of the young men would be found, identified and handed over to their relatives.
The Noratlas plane carrying Greek commandos was shot down by friendly fire on 22 July 1974.
Excavations to trace the commandos’ remains at the Lakatamia military cemetery wrapped up in May with no success so the search is being moved to the Tomb of Makedonitissa, a military cemetery and war memorial, near the site where the plane crashed after mistakenly being shot down by Greek Cypriot forces.
Authorities are now fairly confident the downed Noratlas was buried at the Tomb of Makedonitissa, and suspect some of the people aboard the aircraft may also have been interred there.
On the evening of July 21, 1974, the Hellenic Air Force launched a clandestine operation, dubbed ‘Niki’ (Victory), using 15 Noratlas aircraft in an effort to transport a battalion of Greek commandos from Crete to Cyprus.
The aircraft were erroneously engaged by Greek Cypriot anti-aircraft guns at Nicosia International Airport, and the third Noratlas was shot down with the loss of four crew and 28 commandos.
Only one of the 32 survived. The remains of 16 or 17 of the fallen were in the past found and identified after excavations at the Lakatamia cemetery.
Authorities recently decided to follow up on leads suggesting the remaining 15 or 14 might likewise have been buried at a different spot within the Lakatamia cemetery.
But the excavations there came to nothing.
The commandos’ relatives have already provided DNA samples to assist with identification should any remains be found.