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December 12, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 168
Explosion in Zagreb

The Big "Bang" Conspiracy

by Branko Dabic

A little before 10 o'clock on Saturday evening, a strong explosion shook western parts of Zagreb and was heard throughout the city, reviving unpleasant memories of time spent in shelters during the autumn of 1991. Even though there was also reason for fear this time, since only a few days earlier Karadzic had threatened to attack military targets and the military industry around Zagreb in revenge for Croatian involvement in Western Bosnia, the mark of general danger was absent.

The "statement by the Political Executive Board of the Croatian Army" saying that, "for unconfirmed reasons, a fire began and then a fuel tank exploded", did not appear until Sunday in the official media. According to this statement, six people were injured by the explosion.

However, the news that the tank was really a helicopter and that more than twenty people had been injured spread quickly. President Tudjman's spokesperson then dictated to HINA (official Croatian news agency) a new statement regarding the misfortune "that occurred on Saturday evening at Lucko Air Base involving the explosion of a helicopter that was transporting humanitarian aid to Bosnia-Herzegovina". The new statement did not provide much more explanation of the circumstances surrounding the misfortune, but did open up many questions. First of all, if many houses near the airport were damaged from the explosion of this helicopter, how is it possible that the statement did not mention that there were victims? It would also be a true miracle if the crew had survived.

Since there is not enough information despite two official statements, only speculations passing around journalist circles remain. According to them, the helicopter was an MI-17 that really was to transport aid to Western Bosnia. The causes of the explosion are also a matter of speculation. The most popular thesis is that sabotage occurred, which is possible, but would have been hard to carry out. According to these speculations, this type of aid, consisting of anti-armor and other weapons for the defenders of Bihac, arrives from Ukraine and the sabotage could have occurred prior to its arrival in Croatia. This intention is probably not questionable, but it is much more complicated to set a time bomb that will explode during flight. But perhaps that is not important and it is just coincidental that it exploded before take off.

According to another version, one that sounds more believable to me, the reason was much more prosaic. We received an explanation from a source that is well informed about flying. According to him, MI-17 helicopters can carry five tons, which was probably the case during this instances and other instances of this risky undertaking of bringing aid to the surrounded Muslim Fifth Corps in Bihac. The fact that the helicopter could have been loaded with five tons is risky in and of itself. There was exceptionally thick fog that night and there is the possibility that the pilot could have lost his orientation before taking off. According to this speculation, the helicopter fell after reaching a height of ten meters and this caused the explosion. Of course, even though the official papers and some of the tabloids remain silent for understandable reasons, journalistic curiosity poses added questions about previous flights made over the Republic of Serbian Krajina. According to sources used by some foreign correspondents in Zagreb, this route has been used for a fairly long time and is relatively secure because it is used with the aid of the Croatian Army. A flight over the territory controlled by the Serbs lasts only a few minutes.

As far as the pilots who embark on such risky flights are concerned, the motivations vary: money - one flight pays 5000 DEM, which is not that much money considering the risk; professional obligation in the military service; patriotic or local-patriotic motivation, but the financial stimulus should not be ignored here too.

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