The Doomed Flight
The Doomed Flight
Babushera tragedy

On September 22, 1993, a plane flying from Tbilisi to Sokhumi – capital city of Abkhazia, Georgia’s breakaway region - was shot down while attempting to land at Babushera airport. The aircraft crashed on the runway, killing 108 of the 132 people on board.

During the same week, two other civilian airliners belonging to Tbilisi-based Transair Georgia were hit by missiles fired by Russian-backed rebels in Sokhumi. A total of 136 perished in the attacks.

This was only one episode of the war that lasted for 13 months in Abkhazia in 1992-1993.

The flight shot down in Babushera was carrying soldiers and doctors who were on a humanitarian mission.
Those on board were planning to help civilians in Sokhumi and take the wounded back to Tbilisi.
Bela Zaldastanishvili’s two sons and two brothers were on board that plane.
All four of them - Nukri, Temuri, Zura and Vasiko - died.
Twenty-one years on from the tragedy, there are still no graves where Zaldastanishvili can remember her loved ones. But this will soon change.
Returning home...

The families of those killed in the plane crash could not retreive the bodies of their loved ones. The scale of the damage meant it was impossible to identify the bodies following the crash without DNA testing. 

The war continued in the city of Sokhumi but it was urgent to bury the bodies. Those who were killed were buried in a mass grave without being formally identified.

Now, 21 years on from the Babushera tragedy, the bodies of all Georgians who died in the crash have finally returned home.

Authorities began to excavate the graves at Babushera Cemetery in May 2014 following lengthy negotiations between Georgia and Abkhazia. 

International humanitarian aid group Red Cross helped facilitate cooperation between de-facto Abkhaz authorities and Georgian officials. The graves of the unknown victims were opened and DNA samples were taken from all the bodies. 

The samples were sent to Zagreb, Croatia to be analysed. Currently testing is still underway. Once all the remains are identified, the bodies will be returned to their families and reburied in Georgia. The victims will finally be laid to rest in peace. 

Zhuzhuna Okruashvili's then 32-year-old son Zura was on board the plane that was shot down at Babushera.
Twenty four people survived... but Zura was not one of them.
Zura's younger brother Shota died several years before the Babushera tragedy.
Since then, Zura had been the only child in the family.
Since September 22, 1993, the Mother has only photos and memories left from her sons.
"He looks good in this picture, doesn't he?" Zhuzhuna said while showing off her older son Zura's photo.
Zura was a painter, sculptor and poet. He dedicated his poetry to his Mom.
Zhuzhuna knows where the grave of her youngest son is.
She says she wants to know where her other son's grave is and once this happens, she "will die happy".
The man who survived

September 22, 1993 was the day Nukri Zirakashvili became a hero.

Zirakashvili was among the two dozen people who survived the plane crash in Babushera. After dragging himself out of the aircraft, which was on fire, he saved the lives of as many people around him as he could. 

Together with his three friends, then 32-year-old military police officer who had served in Afghanistan, decided to travel to Sohkumi to assist the Georgian soldiers in troubled Abkhazia.

Before the fated plane departed Tbilisi, Babushera Airport in Sokhumi announced it was closed to all flights. However this did not stop the doomed flight from leaving Tbilisi and heading to Abkhazia.

Nukri Zirakashvili miraculously survived the crash and saved others' lives too.
The crash

What Zirakashvili remembered from that day sounded more like the plot of a fiction movie rather than a real life experience. 

Zirakashvili said the plane was flying above the Black Sea when passengers noticed a ship had opened fire in their direction. After the first unsuccessful attack, the pilot changed course but a second missile attack struck one of the plane’s wings and caused immediate and irreparable damage.

The plane, unable to keep its balance, continued flying towards Sohkumi but it ran out of fuel as the petrol tank had been damaged in the attack.

“Once the plane approached the runway of Babushera Airport we started falling down as fast as a bullet,” Zirakashvili said.

The plane hit the runway hard, skidded along the tarmac, turned upside down and kept sliding for a further 600 metres.

This was the last thing Zirakashvili remembered.

After he regained consciousness, he saw a small hole above his head. Beyond that hole was the sky. 

Zirakashvili gathered his strength and climbed out of the hole. Once he was free, he grabbed other survivors and helped them out of the aircraft, which was now on fire.

Zirakashvili survived but he found out one of his friends had been killed in the crash.
This is what one of the unidentified graves of Babushera victims looks like.
Once DNA testing on the bodies is complete, these impersonal graves will no longer exist in Georgia.