Thousands pay last respects to two Air Force pilots
Thousands of mourners gathered at an Air and Air Defense Force office in Baranavichy on Thursday to pay their last respects to two military pilots killed in an aircraft crash in Poland on August 30.
Alyaksandr Marfitski and Alyaksandr Zhurawlevich died as their Su-27UBM fighter jet crashed during an aerial aerobatics display in Radom, a city some 62 miles south of Warsaw.
The bodies of the experienced pilots lay in state at the ideology and leisure center of the Air and Air Defense Force’s Western Operational and Tactical Command on September 3.
Speaking at the event, Belarusian Defense Minister Leanid Maltsaw called the men "brilliant officers, brilliant pilots, true patriots and professionals" and said that the pair had saved hundreds people at the price of their own lives during the accident. General Maltsaw expressed gratitude to the Polish people and his Polish counterpart, Bogdan Klich, for "supporting us, sharing our sorrow at these trying moments."
"Military pilots are people of a special profession. The sky, the desire to take to the sky is their life. They have a rule - to bear responsibility not only for themselves, the plane, but also for those on the land," Ihar Azaronak, commander of the Air and Air Defense Force, said at the ceremony.
Noting that all of the accident’s details were probably never going to be established, General Azaronak stressed that the pilots had done their utmost to prevent a bigger tragedy by diverting the plane from a populated area.
Andrzej Blasik, commander of Poland’s Air Force, echoed the remarks, noting that many could see the pair’s "virtuoso" flying skills during the dress rehearsal for the show on August 28. He expressed condolences to the families of the pilots.
The ceremony was attended by delegations of the Belarusian Council of Ministers, the National Assembly, the defense ministry, the Armed Forces’ General Staff, the Brest Regional Executive Committee, all military air bases, the Russian Knights aerobatic team and the Polish army, as well as Polish priests.
Polish army officers laid square-shaped wreaths at the closed caskets, which were draped with Belarusian Air Force flags and had the pilots’ caps placed on top of them according to tradition.
The pilots were to be buried at a cemetery a few kilometers off Baranavichy later in the day.
The 53-year-old Colonel Marfitski was deputy head of the Western Operational and Tactical Command of the Air and Air Defense Force, while the 46-year-old Colonel Zhurawlevich was deputy commander of the 61st Fighter Air Base in Baranavichy.
The pilots had a total flying time of more than 4,000 hours and were among the country’s 20 military pilots with the top level of qualification.
Colonel Marfitski is survived by his wife and two daughters, while Colonel Zhurawlevich is survived by his wife and daughter.