“Ours went on a humanitarian aid mission and received ignominy,” recalls the last president of the association


This Friday marks the 20th anniversary of the Yak-42 accident, the greatest tragedy of the Spanish Armed Forces in peacetime. In the incident, 62 soldiers who were returning to Spain after four and a half months on a mission in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan died, along with twelve Ukrainian crew members and a Belarusian citizen.

Two decades after the accident, the relatives remember the deceased with all judicial channels already closed and also the political ones, after the Ministry of Defense recognized in 2017 (14 years after the accident) the responsibility of the Administration after a report from the Council of State that determined that the accident could have been avoided if measures had been taken.

The tragedy took place on May 26, 2003 in Trabzon (Türkiye). It was a Russian-made Yakolev 42 plane, with a Ukrainian company and crew, subcontracted by the Ministry of Defense –directed at the time by Federico Trillo– for the transfer of Spanish troops.

The incident caused a great commotion in Spain, to which was added later the scandal generated by the incorrect identification of the corpses. This led to the conviction of three soldiers for falsifying the attribution of the mortal remains: General Vicente Navarro (now deceased) and Commander José Ramírez and Medical Captain Miguel Sáez, pardoned in 2012 by the Government of Mariano Rajoy.

This process was revived in 2018 when Turkey informed the Spanish Ministry of Defense of the discovery of a limb of a possible Yak victim, who had been buried in the Turkish cemetery in the city of Macka just two months after the accident, as there had been no been identified.

This limb, a femur, was not recoverable for identification; but it led to Turkey reporting that there were another 23 jars with biological samples remaining from the plane crash stored at the Forensic Anatomical Institute in Istanbul.

The samples were sent to Spain and the National Court made them available to the families of the victims so that, if they so wished, they could collect them and take care of them, since they had already been correctly identified in Turkey. Legal sources have assured Europa Press that all the families decided to take charge of these samples in a process that was already closed.

With it also ended the entire judicial process of the accident, which reached the European Court of Human Rights at the request of the families. However, the European courts endorsed the criteria of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court, denying the legal possibility of reactivating the case.

Throughout this process, the relatives of those who died in the Yak-42 united around an association that was dissolved in 2017 after the report from the Council of State pointing out the responsibility of the Administration. The Defense Minister at the time, María Dolores de Cospedal, also recognized before Congress the Administration’s “patrimonial responsibility” and said that doing so was “a moral obligation.”

“They had no choice,” recalls today the last president of the association, Miguel Ángel Sencianes, brother of the late Air Force First Sergeant José Manuel Sencianes. The families then ended their fight, 14 years after the incident, although with the feeling that they had “stolen justice”.

Sencianes evokes in a conversation with Europa Press the long and “painful” journey that families had to go through to honor the deceased, with obstacles, according to the complaint, among political power, in justice and also in high levels of the Armed Forces. “There were honors and parades in his honor, but on the other hand he kept covering himself up,” he laments.

As he recalls, “everything started” with the words of then-minister Federico Trillo saying “that the Yalolev was a good plane and that the identifications had been carried out correctly.” “Both things were lies,” he says, explaining that the military had already warned of the poor conditions of these flights and, furthermore, a Turkish imam had raised the first suspicions about the attribution of the mortal remains.

Then began a long judicial journey in which he also points to today’s Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande Marlaska, then judge at the National Court in charge of the case that declared its dismissal. “The truth is there and justice was stolen from us,” denounces Sencianes.

Twenty years after the accident, he regrets having had to face this whole process and sums up his feelings as follows: “Satisfaction for having dedicated fifteen years to ours; suffering for many mothers and fathers who are no longer here and who had to go through this ordeal” .

As he recalls, his relatives were returning from a peace mission and were not reciprocated by the State. “Ours went on a humanitarian aid mission with a town and they received an ignominy,” he rebuked excitedly with the memory of his brother.