Dead on Arrival

Russian air-hostess Nadezhda Kurchenko was killed during the plane hijacking in 1970, less than 2 years after she started working at the state air company branch in the town of Sukhumi in November, 1968.  It was the most well-known and mysterious case of plane hijacking in the former USSR.

First Hijacking in the Soviet Union
At the end of the holiday season, on October 15, 1970 plane AN-24 took off from the town of Batumi situated near the country’s border. The flight #244 was heading for Sukhumi and Krasnodar and had 46 passengers, including 17 women and a child. The passengers returning home from holiday in the Caucasus region could not imagine that they will become the witnesses and participants the drama of the first hijacking of the Soviet plane when the criminals succeeded.

Several minutes after the plane took off and was flying 800 meters high two passengers – father and son Brazinskas called air-hostess Nadezhda Kurchenko and gave her a note ordering the pilots to change the flight direction and fly to Turkey. The girl ran to the pilots cockpit shouting: “Hijacking!” The criminals ran after her. “Don’t get up!”, - the younger hijacker shouted. “We’ll explode the plane!” At that moment shots were fired in the plane salon, and 19-year-old Nadezhda was killed. She was going to have her wedding three months later...

The senior pilot Georgi Chakhrakia was shot in the spine and got his legs paralyzed. He could hardly turn around because of pain and saw a terrible scene: Nadezhda was lying on the floor next to the door to the cockpit. The girl was bleeding and did not move. Navigator Valery Fadeev was shot in his lung, and flight mechanic Oganes Babayan was wounded in his chest. Junior pilot Sulico Shavidze was in luck because the bullet got stuck in the metal pipe on the back of his arm-chair. Senior Brazinskas was standing behind the pilots and shouted: “Keep right of the seashore! Fly South! Don’t enter the clouds!”

The pilot tried to deceive the terrorists and land the plane in the military aerodrome in Kobuletti. However, the hijacker repeated his threat to explode the plane. Later the fact of the hijacker’s bluffing was revealed – he had not the real grenade but its copy. Soon the hijacked plane crossed the Soviet-Turkish border, and 30 minutes later the plane approached Trabson airport. The plane flew around the runway and fired green rockets asking to clear up the runway for the emergency landing. After the landing the hijackers surrendered to Turkish authorities.

The passengers and the crew were offered to stay in Turkey, but none of them agreed. The next day a special plane arrived from the USSR and took the people and the body of the killed girl back to the country. A little later Turks returned the hijacked AN-24 plane. After repair works plane #46256 with the photo of Nadezhda Kurchenko in its salon flew in the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan for a long time.

Lord’s Court
At that time, in October of 1970, the USSR demanded Turkey immediately to deport criminal to Russia. Turkey refused to meet this demand. The hijackers’ case was heard in Turkey and 45-year-old Pranas Brazinskas was sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment and his 13-yeard-old Algirdas had the prison term of 2 years. In 1974 there was an amnesty in Turkey and the prison term for senior Brazinskas was replaced with … his arrest at home in the luxury villa in Istanbul. One of the former high-ranking officers of the Soviet KGB said later the special services planned the operation on murdering the two terrorists, but the US special service took the Brazinskas’ to the USA and therefore the operation was not conducted.
The farce with the criminals “escaping” to the USA was presented in the following way: the father and the son allegedly escaped from the home arrest and  applied to the US Embassy in Turkey asking for granting political asylum in the USA. This request was refused, and the Brazinskas surrended the Turkish police again, were imprisoned for two more weeks and … finally released. Then they headed to Canada through Italy and Venezuela. During the intermediate landing in New York the Brazinskas left the plane and were “detained” by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service. They were not granted the political refugee status, but were granted the permission to reside in the USA and later in 1983 received American passports.

In 1976 году Algirdas received the new official name Albert Viktor White, and Pranas became Frank White. They settled in town Santa-Monica in California where they worked as painters. In the USA they published a book about their heroic deeds  where they tried to justify their hijacking the plane with the excuse of their “struggle for liberating Lithuania from the Soviet occupation”. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Lithuanian community in the USA was suspicious about the Brazinskas, they caused fear among their former compatriots. Their attempt to arrange collecting donations to the fund for assistance to them failed – none of the Lithuanian immigrants donated money to them.

In his elderly years Senior Brazinskas became irritable and peevish and caused many quarrels with his son in the two-bedroom apartment they shared. One day they had an argument and the 45-year-old son killed his 77-year-old father with the baseball bat. In November 2003 the Jury of the court in Santa-Monica announced him guilty of the murder and currently Albert Viktor White is going to be imprisoned minimum for 16 year term.

Main Question
33 years after the tragedy,we still have no answer to the most important question: “How Nadezhda Kurchenko was killed and what was the real number of the people killed during the plane hijacking?” According to the information leaked in the press, there were bullet holes in the plane, and totally 24 shots were made aboard the plane. The fire was so intense that one of the women-passengers of the hijacked plane is still sure Senior Brazinskas used the machine-gun. However, it is known that the hijackers were armored with sawn-off hunting guns. Considering that there were no other armored people on the plane, the Brazinskas were supposed to reload their guns at least 12 times. Is not clear why the criminals had to shoot so many times if their most dangerous threat to the crew was the promise to explode the grenade.

Maybe the Turkish court version of the event  is true? It says that two armored guards in civilian clothes were aboard the plane. The Brazinskas said those two people were the first to shoot and their bullets killed the air-hostess. There can be no justification for the hijackers who committed  the terrible crime and caused the tragedy. Meanwhile, there is no logical explanation to the Brazinskas’ shooting at all the five crew members, including the both pilots (their armchairs’ backs were shot through), providing that the Brazinskas could not operate the plane.

It is possible AN-24 plane was under the heavy fire of the people shooting at the hijackers who were standing at the door to the pilots’ cockpit. In this case, other questions arise: “What kind of guards were they providing that the service of military guards for the border area flights was established in the USSR only at the beginning of 1971? What finally happened to them (all the reports of the event say there were only four wounded people who were the AN-24 crew members), were the guards wounded or killed? Why the hijackers could shoot better than the trained guards? Could the Brazinskas use Nadezhda as a “shield” or they made the guards to surrender threatening to explode the grenade? One is unable to answer these questions until the information of real circumstances of AN-24 hijacking is published. Probably the official report of this event did not mention the guards to avoid the accusations of the lack of professionalism among the Soviet special service men.

Arithmetic of Life
Contrary to the common belief, air-hostess Nadezhda Kurchenko was not the first Aeroflot state air company employee to be killed during hijacking planes. This first happened on June 3, 1969 when three terrorists  tried to hijack IL-14 plane flying from Leningrad (now - St Petersburg) to Tallin (Estonia). The hijackers killed the flight mechanic who started fighting them. The last tragedy happened on March 16, 2001 when four Chechens armored with axe and knife hijacked Russian TU-154 plane flying from Istanbul to Moscow. The terrorists made the crew land in Medina in Saudi Arabia.  Saudi special forces stormed the plane and their bullets killed two terrorists, one passenger and the air-hostess.

For the course of history of the Soviet and Russian passenger aviation 91 attempts to hijack planes and 26 completed hijackers were registered. During these 117 incidents 111 passengers and crew members and 17 terrorists were killed. This means there are 6-7 innocent victims for every killed hijacker. It is a too high price for maintaining strict control over the country’s borders...

P.S. I greatly appreciate the assistance of Nadezhda’s younger sister – Ekaterina Kurchenko in preparing this story.

Nadezhda Kurchenko
She was born on December 29, 1950 in village Novo-Poltava of Klyuchevskoi District in Altai region. Nadezhda finished the boarding school in village Ponino of Glazovsky District in Udmurt Autonomous Republic. She was killed on October 15, 1970 trying to prevent hijacking plane by terrorists. In 1970 she was buried in the center of town Sukhumi.  20 years later her grave was transferred to the cemetery in town Glazov. She was posthumously awarded by the Order of Red Banner. A peak of the Gissarsky mountain chain, Russian fleet tanker and small planet of Capricorn constellation  are named after her.

Unfortunately, even “Encyclopedia of Udmurt Republic” has many mistakes in its information about Nadya, including the wrong birth date and the opposite direction of her last flight route. The Encyclopedia omits the fact that before the girl turned 18 years old and she started working as an air-hostess, she was working in the air company branch accounting. Neither the peak nor the tanker named after Nadya are mentioned. This is the encyclopedia we have.

Dmitry Korobeinikov
Source: Den information agency

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Author`s name Pavel Morozov