Tu-104A with registration number USSR-42379 took off from the capital’s Domodedovo airport to Chita on the evening of May 17, 1973. There were 72 passengers and 9 crew members on board.
Flight 109 was always full: it traditionally flew home from business trips or vacations with children. It was always a standard route that passed regularly.
At 03:36 Moscow time on May 18, the aircraft commander, Nikolay Obodyansky, told the dispatcher that one of the passengers had threatened the flight attendants and demanded that they change their flight route. The pilot accompanied the message with a coded distress signal.
The altitude at which the aircraft was located was 6600 meters. Two minutes later, communication with him was lost and the mark on the dispatcher’s radar disappeared. A few hours later, 97 kilometers from Chita, a Mi-8 search helicopter discovered a piece of aircraft scattered over 10 hectares.
The cockpit of the plane was found on the northern slope of Hundunai Hill. To the west of this place, a kilometer away, the pilots saw the lower part of the fuselage with the engines. The tail part extends about two kilometers northwest. Both planes and chassis were soon found.
The bodies of the pilots and flight engineer were in their seats in the cockpit, destroyed by the impact. One of the dead passengers – an officer – rescuers had to remove from the spruce top. Nearby, they found a woman with a child in her arms, and the remains of others on board lay there.
“No mistake should be made”
The first findings of investigators testified to the attack. It was assumed that the then-unknown perpetrator had set off an improvised explosive device.
“An explosion of shellless high explosive (TNT) weighing five and a half to six kilograms occurred in the area of the right emergency hatch of the first cabin,” the report of the investigative commission of the aircraft said of the accident.
The USSR Prosecutor General’s Office decided to examine in detail all the corpses of passengers to determine which ones triggered the IED – the attacker had to be close to the bomb.
Forensic experts from Chita, Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude were brought in to search for the right body. Through joint efforts, the next day they found the alleged culprit – a man of 30-35 years old, without hands and with a deformity.
“in the middle of the day [19 мая] The body of a man who was missing the entire anterior surface of the trunk, thoracic and abdominal cavities, as well as part of the hip and lumbar region, as well as the right lower extremity, was brought to us. The head was sharply deformed, flattened from the sides with sunken eyeballs, many small linear wounds on the surface and exposing bone fragments in the parietal region, ”recalled forensic expert Vil Akopov, who was involved in the identification of the corpses.
It was discovered by experts that the terrorist had two gunshot wounds as well as blast wounds on his body.
“I immediately reported this to the inspector. Expressing his disbelief, he noted that there should be no bullet wounds. He soon arrived with a general who noted the significance of the sensational finding, listened, and warned that there should be no mistakes,” the coroner later shared.
Hundreds of law enforcement and forensic experts participated in activities to identify the assailant, and literally disassembled the man’s skull piecemeal for facial recognition: the bones of the skull were fixed with splints and the skin flaps were closed. sewn with thin nylon threads.
The investigation was conducted in complete secrecy. While the newspapers did not write about the incident, the morgue where the remains of the dead were examined was also taken under surveillance. After the autopsy, the bodies were sent to Moscow for cremation.
“Submachine guns served in the division building and morgues. Chita’s machine-building plant urgently produced zinc coffins for dismembered corpses. As they piled up, trucks arrived, loaded with coffins, and took them by plane to the airport, where they were sent to the Moscow crematorium, and from there they brought the pottery given to their relatives. Many tried to find their son, father, spouse in the morgue to say goodbye to him before he was sent to the crematorium, but they were not allowed to be taken to the morgues, and there was no question of getting approval from their relatives for the burial, ”wrote Professor Akopov.
I wanted to be a diplomat
As a result, researchers and specialists have achieved the impossible without the help of modern technology and databases – the appearance of the terrorist was restored. The photo was handed over to the KGB and the next day it was determined that the explosion was carried out by a 32-year-old native from Kirovobad, Azerbaijan. (current name – Ganja) Chingiz Rzayev.
It turned out that he served in Transbaikalia – he was a digger. After some time, he worked in the road construction department, where several kilograms of explosives were lost shortly before the attack. A search of the terrorist’s house found explosive fragments and a draft of a bomb.
As forensic psychologists found out, the reason for Rzaev’s attempt to hijack the plane was his failure in life. After the army, he tried to enter MGIMO to become a diplomat, but it did not work – he did not know foreign languages \u200b\u200band did not speak Russian well.
One of his friends told investigators that Rzayev took the failure of the exams as an insult. And in speeches he repeatedly expressed his desire to move to China.
police on board
After identifying the culprit of the plane crash, Valery Zikanov, an investigator for particularly important cases, corrected the picture of what had happened. In 1973, passengers were not yet screened at the airport, and it was not difficult to carry the “ban” on the plane.
When the liner gained altitude, Rzayev approached the stewardess, showed the bomb and probably ordered it to fly to China – the exact location was not indicated in the message to the pilots, the terrorist would have told about this personally. Since 1970, after Brazinskasy’s father and son smuggled the An-24 to Turkey, all flights flying close to the border have been accompanied by plain-clothed armed officers from the Ministry of the Interior and the KGB.
On the Moscow-Chita flight was a young sergeant, 21-year-old Vladimir Yezhikov. In the front row, just behind the cockpit, sat a young man in plain clothes. He had a service weapon with him – a Makarov pistol, which would later be found at the crash site.
The flight attendant informed Yezhikov about Rzayev’s demands. Following the instructions, the police tried to stop the passenger with explosives with words, but did not make contact. Thereupon, the terrorist stabbed the police in the stomach and ran to the cockpit holding a bomb in his hand.
Then Yezhikov went to extreme measures and shot him twice in the back to stop the attacker. There are two versions of what happened next: according to the first, Rzayev detonated the explosive himself, and according to the second, the bullet hit the bomb and caused the explosion.
Investigators eventually thought that the bomb made by Rzayev had the so-called reverse fuse. As a result, as soon as the killed terrorist stopped pressing the button, the explosion occurred.
“There is a possibility of overlooking the criminal”
The Tu-104 plane crash was the largest terrorist attack in Soviet history in terms of the number of victims – 81 people died. It has led to a major overhaul in airport security systems. Passengers and their luggage were checked before boarding the plane. The practice of escorting flights by plainclothes police was removed as ineffective and potentially dangerous.
Indirectly, the disaster contributed to the creation, a year later, of a special KGB division “Alpha”, one of the main tasks of which was the fight against hijacking and the release of hostages from hijacked planes.
The next revision of anti-terrorism measures took place only after the tragedy of August 24, 2004 – then, almost simultaneously, at one-minute intervals, two planes taking off from Domodedovo Airport exploded in the air. Then, Alexei Vlasov, an expert in the field of flight safety, told socialbites.ca that 90 people were killed.
“Aviation security has been sharply strengthened after this incident. However, in any case, there is a human factor. It cannot be said that the case of carrying IEDs on the plane is absolutely excluded, there is a possibility of allowing the passage of the criminal. But purely in practice, various control systems are now used: both personal screening of passengers and additional baggage screening after boarding. Protection is quite serious, ”explained the expert.
The possibility of hijacking aircraft is also practically excluded – the cockpit is equipped with an armored door that locks from the inside, Vlasov adds.
“A criminal can only enter by chance, for example, if a flight attendant brought food or came to ask something, you can enter with him. There is an example when one of the pilots locked himself in the cockpit and sent the plane into the mountains – although the co-pilot cut him off with an ax, it was not possible to fully avoid the tragedy due to the armored door, ”he concluded.