2nd jetliner downed, killing 81 in Georgia

September 23, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- A missile apparently fired by Russian-backed separatists yesterday struck down the second passenger plane in two days over Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia, and authorities there said at least 81 people died as the aircraft burst into flames on an airport runway.

The destruction of the two civilian aircraft with heat-seeking missiles marked a vicious turn in a 13-month-old war that had appeared settled until a week ago but now threatens the multiethnic former Soviet republic with disintegration.

Since the collapse of a 7-week-old cease-fire last Thursday, Georgia's president, Eduard A. Shevardnadze, 65, the former Soviet foreign minister who shaped policies that helped end the Cold War, has been holed up in a bunker in the obscure Black Sea resort town of Sukhumi, personally leading his army's defense of its last stronghold in Abkhazia.

Georgian authorities accused the separatists of firing both missiles from small boats on the Black Sea at planes headed for landing in Sukhumi.

Georgia's press service said the plane downed yesterday was a Tu-154 carrying at least 100 passengers, a crew of six and a cargo of humanitarian aid from Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. After the plane was hit, it caught fire, the report said, but its pilot managed to bring it to a landing at Sukhumi's airport. It exploded almost immediately, however, on touching the runway.

Five crew members and 20 passengers escaped, the report said. It was the highest single death toll in a war that has claimed several thousand lives.

The Tu-134 plane shot down Tuesday came from Sochi in Russia and carried 28 people to their deaths in the Black Sea.

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