Human remains found during excavations at a military cemetery where a Greek transport aircraft carrying commandos was buried in 1974 were in good condition and were expected to yield genetic material for identification purposes, officials said on Friday.
Xenophon Kallis, head of the mission, said experts did not expect to have a problem extracting genetic material from the remains despite the fire that engulfed the Noratlas aircraft, shot down by friendly forces in July 1974.
“Yes there are some bones with burn marks, but as I said, our assessment is that we will not face any particular problems.”
The condition of the remains was very good, he said, despite the explosions and the flames, which destroyed the fuselage and the wings.
“We think there will not be any problem with the genetic testing; meanwhile we have given samples to the Institute of Neurology and Genetics for a preliminary study to be certain that the bones are in good condition and will yield DNA,” Kallis added.
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.
Kallis could not say if the large number of remains found represented all the missing soldiers.
“At this stage we do not know the number with scientific certainty. The process continues and at the end we will be in a position to inform the families whether their people have been located here and if they have been matched,” he said.
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 reportedly done to erase any trace of Greek involvement since it was not officially at war with its NATO ally Turkey.
Questions remained however, 41 years later.
Presidential Commissioner for Humanitarian Issues Fotis Fotiou was asked why a monument had been erected atop the mound where it was known the plane had been buried. And why some soldiers were left inside while others were removed from the crash site and buried at a military cemetery in Lakatamia.
There was also the question of why the troops manning the anti-aircraft guns around the airport had not been told Greek aircraft were on their way until it was too late.
Fotiou said these were questions he was asked daily by ordinary people and the families.
“I think it would be right to complete the whole procedure and we will look at this issue too,” he said.