Grieving Ufa Buries 28 Crash Victims

APHundreds of Ufa residents attending a funeral in the city's central square Saturday for 28 of those who died in the midair collision.
UFA, Bashkortostan -- Grieving relatives and friends gathered in Ufa on Saturday to pay their final respects to 28 people killed in the air crash over Germany earlier this month.

More than 1,000 people came to Ufa's central square where Muslim and Russian Orthodox ceremonies were held to mourn the victims, including 26 children, who died in the collision over Germany of a Bashkirian Airlines Tu-154 and a DHL cargo plane.

The July 1 crash left 71 people dead, 44 of them Bashkortostan children who were headed to a summer holiday in Spain.

Regina Khamatov, holding 10 red carnations in her hand and holding back tears, came to mourn for her 10-year-old brother, Artur. "It is a stupid, absurd mistake," she said. "He wanted to live so much."

Bashkir authorities have organized a special fund of 28 million rubles ($903,000) for relatives of the victims, but Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov told the mourners no amount money can compensate for their loss.

"No money can measure the pain from the loss, no words can explain the death of the children," he said. "They, like little stars, have faded away from life's horizon."

Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov offered condolences on behalf of President Vladimir Putin. "Your pain is immeasurable and your loss irrecoverable," he said in a short but emotional speech. "And no matter whose fault it finally will be -- of air traffic controllers, the crews, tourist agencies or evil fate -- we the adults are to be blamed that we have not saved our children, and they left us, as angels, for heaven."

German Deputy Foreign Minister Jurgen Chrobog said, "We will never forget your compatriots, German people crying together with Russians at the side of a charred wheat field."

He said Germany will erect a memorial at the crash site "to serve as an eternal remembrance."

Swiss President Kaspar Villiger, who had originally planned to attend the ceremony, canceled his visit after Russian officials warned that his presence might cause strong emotions among the mourners, many of whom blame the Swiss air traffic controllers for the crash.

Misha Japaridze / AP

Relatives of Elina Musagitova, 12, weeping at her coffin at the funeral Saturday.
Bashkir First Deputy Prime Minister Khalyaf Ishmuratov said Friday that Bashkortostan leaders had asked Moscow to advise Villiger not to attend the ceremony.

"The Swiss president and other officials of that country are welcome any time, but not on the day of the funeral," he was quoted by Interfax as saying.

"On the first days after the crash, the Swiss, in defiance of ethical standards, accused the Bashkir pilots of incompetence and shifted the blame to them," Ishmuratov said.

He also said Switzerland did not send its condolences immediately after the crash.

At a memorial ceremony Friday near the crash site in southern Germany, Swiss Transport Minister Moritz Leuenberger sought to address the Russian anger. "The confrontation with the terrible notion of being part of the cause of the death of 71 people led us into helpless initial reactions, to confused and confusing information, to lapses," Leuenberger said, expressing condolences on behalf of Switzerland. "Not everyone of us found the right words."

Meanwhile, the Swiss air traffic controller who was on duty at the time of the collision offered his condolences, according to a German media report Saturday. "As a father I sense that this loss leaves a gap that will hurt," the German newsweekly Focus quoted the man, whom it identified only as Peter N., as telling it and the Swiss weekly SonntagsZeitung.

In Ufa, mourners on Saturday wept over zinc-lined wooden coffins lined up on the main square and then proceeded on buses bearing portraits of the victims on their windshields to a cemetery in southern Ufa.

Twenty-six victims, all of them children, were interred at the cemetery after Russian Orthodox and Muslim services. Two other victims were buried elsewhere.

The procession, which stretched for almost 1,000 meters, was escorted by police through the city to the cemetery on a road strewn with flowers thrown by mourners.

The 28 coffins were brought to Ufa from Germany on Saturday morning on a special cargo plane. During the trip from Ufa's airport to the main square, people lined the route to honor the victims.

A similar service for 31 of the victims was held in Ufa last Monday.