The Hejce Tragedy Occurred Ten Years Ago
Ten years ago to the day, in the evening hours an An–24 military plane of the Slovak Air Force crashed on Borsó-Hill above Hejce, in the vicinity of Airport Kosice around 30 kilometers from the runway. Forty-two soldiers returning home from the KFOR peacekeeping mission in Kosovo lost their lives in the disaster, and only one passenger of the plane survived the accident. Since then, a commemoration has been held every year, attended by the people who lost their loved ones, the comrades, the leaders of the Slovak armed forces and the Hungarian Defence Forces, one-time participants of the rescue operation and local people as well as Martin Farkas, the sole survivor, who was present in this year’s event as well.
Speaking at the ceremony, János Áder said that in the wake of the Hejce disaster, Hungary had participated in the rescue operation and the investigation with great sadness but with a sense of duty and camaraderie. The residents of nearby settlements, the Hungarian authorities and experts were all doing their duty, because “we all knew that it was not only our Slovak friends who had suffered an irreplaceable loss.” He also noted that the Hungarians were all the more overcome with grief, as they were aware that the men killed in the tragic accident had been serving together with Hungarian troops in the Kosovo mission.
“Ten years ago, we had to express our solidarity and camaraderie not by celebrating the end of a successful mission but rather by showing sympathy”, the President of Hungary said, adding that ten years ago it was demonstrated that the two nations can count on each other. János Áder noted that the 42 victims were aware that they had chosen a dangerous profession which may involve danger of death any time while they are protecting the peace of others. Together with the tragic ending, their life can be held up as an example to everyone.
In his speech delivered at the commemoration, President of the Republic of Slovakia Andrej Kiska said that the deceased had been among those men who put duty above their own interests, and would have sacrificed their lives in a given situation to act in accordance with their oath of service. “I am convinced that even today, in these difficult times, they would not shrink from the challenge but rather, they would face it”, he added. In addressing the relatives, he stated that the burden they are carrying is one of the heaviest, for which they deserve respect, and rightly so.
At the event, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Operations Patrick Turner said that the KFOR mission is the Alliance’s longest-running operation, aimed at creating peace in Kosovo and the wider region. Ten years ago, in 2006 there were some 17,000 NATO troops present in the country, and these days they number only around 5,000, which also shows that back then the security situation was much more fragile in the Balkans country than it is today, he added. In his opinion, the troops – among them, the Slovak ones – command respect for having participated in stabilizing Kosovo and creating a safe and secure environment. Those who lost their lives under horrible circumstances ten years ago paid the highest price, and their death is also the greatest loss in NATO’s history, because there are no other instances when the organization lost so many soldiers on a single occasion, the Assistant Secretary General said.
Hungarian Chief of Defence Gen. Dr. Tibor Benkő told the press that one still has terrible thoughts upon seeing the Hejce memorial to the victims or the 42 wooden headboards erected on Borsó-Hill. Of these thoughts, the most tormenting one is that after six months of deployment with a foreign mission, they were already just a few minutes away from their homes and families when the plane crashed. “Whenever they lose their comrades, soldiers always have a terrible feeling”, General Benkő emphasized.
After the speeches, prayers were said and then the participants of the ceremony laid the wreaths and flowers of remembrance at the memorial.
The commemoration held on the tenth anniversary of the tragedy was attended by Hungarian Minister of Defence Dr. István Simicskó, Slovak Minister of Defence Martin Glvác and Slovak Chief of Defence Gen. Milan Maxim.