In Memory of the UN Flight Tragedy in Kosovo

In 1999, a United Nations plane carrying 24 humanitarian civilians on board crashed in northern Kosovo on a flight that came from Rome, while delivering staff and humanitarian aid to the post-war country. 24 years later, Prishtina Insight brings details from the accident and the commemoration for the victims.

On the Friday morning of November 12, 1999, a plane full of humanitarian aid and missionaries, left Rome prepared to come and help the post-war Kosovo, but never made it to the Airport of Prishtina. 

The plane crashed, in a tragedy that caused the death of 24 humanitarian staff and shocked the country that was still recovering from its own wounds caused by the war that had finished just 5 months ago.

The plane, which was part of the World Food Program, went down just minutes before reaching Prishtina Airport, on Mount Piceli near the village of Sllakovc. The primary reasons considered for the crash were procedural lapses and operational oversights.

BAJGORA, KOSOVO: Aerial view over the mountain site in northern Kosovo Saturday 13 November 1999 showing a trail of pulverised debris marking the place where a UN light aircraft smashed into the ground Friday, killing all 24 people on board. EPA PHOTO/ALBAN BUJARI

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

Gëzim Berisha, the school’s director, stated to BIRN that after the air accident, 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 ’99, 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 declared.

Laura Scotti School in Grabovc, Fushe Kosove/Courtesy of Gezim Berisha, Director of the School.

Humanitarian Missions aiding the war-torn country

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

The dire situation, with a 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, originating from Rome on November 12, 1999, aboard flight “Si Fly 3275,” disappeared from radar at 11:15, just before arriving at Prishtina Airport. The crash claimed the lives of 24 individuals, marking it as the most serious aviation accident in Kosovo.

PRISTINA, KOSOVO: Family members of UN plane crash victims arrive in Kosovo Sunday, 14 November, 1999, to identify the bodies and to visit the scene of the crash which occured late Friday. EPA PHOTO/ALBAN BUJARI

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

The remains of the 24 individuals were recovered by NATO forces, the search for their bodies was challenging as there were doubts that the area was still mined by Serbian forces who had only recently withdrawn from Kosovo.

PRISTINA,KOSOVO: A coffin containing one of the 24 victims of the UN plane crash is loaded onto an aircraft at Pristina airport Monday 15th November 1999 for the journey back to Rome where the bodies will be formally identified before being returned to their families. EPA PHOTO/ALBAN BUJARI

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

Aftermath in Pristina MHQ –  footage: Courtesy of UNMIK

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

Aftermath in Pristina MHQ –  footage:Courtesy of UNMIK

Italian police rebuilt the memorial plaque nearly 20 years later

Ugo Ferrero from the Italian Embassy in Kosovo stated to BIRN that the initiative to reconstruct the plaque was taken after the area was neglected and left abandoned.

“Thanks to the intervention and contribution provided over the years by members of the Italian State 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 declared.

International troops from the EULEX and UNMIK mission contingents pay homage every year at the site where the plane crashed. A memorial plaque bearing the names of the victims has been installed there. Some family members of the victims have joined in remembrance at this site.

Photo credit: Amanda Fisher, UNMIK

Photo credit: Amanda Fisher, UNMIK

In 2018 the Italian police under the EU took steps to rebuild the memorial plaque located at 1,400 meters on the mountain peak, inscribed with the names of the 24 victims of the plane crash, all UN officials and humanitarian organization members.

Remembrance from Friends and Colleagues of the Victims

The victims of this tragic accident were also recognized in their respective countries for their humanitarian work.

One of the victims was Daniel Rowan, 34, who worked for Correctional Service Canada, CSC and had traveled 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,” as stated in CSC’s declaration to BIRN.

CSC emphasizes that Rowan was a generous individual who brought amusement 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,” were their words for their former colleague who tragically died in the Kosovo accident.

On June 5, 2000, Daniel Rowan was posthumously awarded the Correctional Service Exemplary Service Medal by the Governor General, given to employees in recognition of their contributions. On June 15, 2004, Daniel’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.

CIAMPINO, ITALY : Relatives of the victims of the UN plane crash in northern Kosovo embrace each other as they await the arrival of the 24 coffins aboard the Italian Airforce G222 landing at Ciampino airport near Rome Monday 15 November 1999. EPA PHOTO ANSA/LUCIANO DEL CASTILLO

Within this event, there were also individuals who were fortunate enough to escape the tragic accident on that day.

BIRN found that there was an officer who had missed that flight.

“There was a UNMIK officer who was in Rome that day and 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 statement read.

Prishtina Insight could not confirm this information independently.

Meanwhile, the Amici dei Bambini foundation had words for the former communications manager among the 24 victims of this air accident.

“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 emphasized in remembrance of their former manager who was volunteering in Kosovo with special dedication to children’s welfare.

The President of Amici dei Bambini, Marco Griffini, in a statement for BIRN recalled Laura Scotti’s 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 President Griffini.

According to him, these words are more important than ever today, where the situation of desertion, war and difficulty is 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,” Marco Griffini told BIRN.

Considered causes for the plane crash

After the plane crash, officials declared that there were no signs of an attack. Instead, it had disappeared from radars around noon near Vushtrri.

A report was conducted regarding the accident, listing the potential causes that might have led to the crash. The aircraft had been in service for 13 years and had accumulated 25,000 flight hours until July, when it was handed over to the Italian company, Si Fly.

Bureau Enquêtes-Accidents, Report

Among the main causes that might have influenced the plane’s crash, according to the French Bureau Enquêtes Accidents were:

-To teamwork which lacked procedural discipline and vigilance during maneuvers in a mountainous region with poor visibility.

– To the aircraft being kept on its track and then forgotten by a military controller unused to the mountainous environment of the aerodrome and to preventing the risk of collisions with high ground, within the framework of the radar service he was providing

-The opening of Prishtina Airport to civilian traffic without adequate prior assessments of operational conditions or dissemination of aeronautical information.

-Crew fatigue.

-Undertaking the flight with an unserviceable or disconnected GPWS.

Below are the names of the individuals who perished in the tragic air accident on November 12, 1999, in Kosovo:

  1. Bazzoni, Roberto – Italian, Caritas Sardinia
  2. Biocca, Paola – Italian, WFP, World Food Program
  3. Curry, Andrea – Irish, GOAL
  4. Davoli, Velmore – Italian, Civil Volunteer Group
  5. Evens, Nicolas Ian Philip – Briton, Tearfund
  6. Faisal, Abdulla – Kenyan, UNV
  7. Gavino, Marco – Italian, UNMIK
  8. Lay, Kevin – Briton, Tearfund
  9. Liuzzi, Raffaella – Italian, Boyden
  10. Martinez-Vasquez, Miguel – Spanish, UNMIK
  11. Martinez, Jose Maria – Spanish, UNMIK
  12. Mirshahidul, Alam – Bangladesh, UNMIK
  13. Perez Fortes, J. – Spanish, UNMIK
  14. Powell, Richard Walker – Australian, WFP (World Food Program)
  15. Rowan, Daniel – Canadian, Canadian Government
  16. Samer, Thabit – Iraqi, WFP
  17. Sarro, Paola – Italian, Terre des hommes
  18. Scotti, Laura – Italian, Amici dei Bambini
  19. Sircana, Antonio – Italian, Caritas Sardinia
  20. Zecchi, Carlo – Italian, Civil Volunteer Group
  21. Ziegler, Julia – German, International Crisis Group
  22. Maccaferro, Andrea – Italian, Air Operator Balmoral
  23. Canzolino, Antonio – Italian, Air Operator Balmoral
  24. Piazza, Katia – Italian, Air Operator Balmoral
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