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‘Plane Crash’ Mystery Remains

The ‘plane crash’ incident in upper Kodori Gorge is likely to remain a source of speculation for both the Abkhaz and Georgian sides as the mystery remains unresolved.

The Georgian Interior Ministry is claiming it is still searching for evidence that could shed light on the circumstances surrounding the unidentified, presumably Russian, aircraft, which Georgian forces had fired “warning shots” upon over Tbilisi-controlled upper Kodori Gorge in Abkhazia.

“There is nothing new in this regard, but the search operation is continuing. It is, however, unknown, when it will be over,” Shota Utiashvili, the chief of the analytical department of the Interior Ministry, told Civil.Ge on August 27 – five days after the incident allegedly occurred. Officials claim “difficult terrain” in upper Kodori is hampering the search operation.

There were conflicting reports surrounding the incident from the very start when the news first broke on August 25 – three days after the incident allegedly occurred. A man identified as “a witness”, speaking via phone from Kodori Gorge to Rustavi 2 TV on August 24, said the aircraft crashed in the Lata gorge in Abkhaz-controlled territory. “Black smoke coming from the crash site is still visible from our territory,” he said.

Later, however, reports said that the aircraft had crashed in a Georgian-controlled area in upper Kodori Gorge, but it was not possible to reach the crash site because of the remoteness and ruggedness of the area.

Although Tbilisi has confirmed firing warning shots at the aircraft, it has never officially confirmed it down the aircraft. Interior Ministry officials said the aircraft may, having fired ordnance, have caused a fire somewhere in the mountains, which was then mistakenly perceived as a downed aircraft by local residents.

Abkhaz accounts of the alleged crashed aircraft were contradictory as well. Initially, officials in Sokhumi denied reports of an overflight on August 22. Later on August 25, however, Abkhaz officials, sensing that Tbilisi was having difficulties in confirming a crash or an overflight by a Russian or Abkhaz aircraft, announced that a Georgian aircraft had flown into Abkhazia from the Black Sea on August 22, which then crashed in upper Kodori Gorge.

Additional controversy arose when Russian news agencies quoted the chief-of-staff of the breakaway region’s armed forces, Anatoly Zaitsev, as saying that it could have been a U.S. reconnaissance plane. Later, Zaitsev, however, denied saying this and reiterated that it was a Georgian aircraft.

He said on August 27 that the Abkhaz side was continuing a probe into the circumstances of the crashed aircraft. “The situation will only be clarified after a number of days. We hope, that we will be able to give well-defined answers to the existing questions,” Zaitsev said.

Georgian media sources, which had initially extensively covered the story, have studiously avoided it in the last few days, failing to provide any follow-up.


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