The 72nd Victim of Bashkirian Airlines Flight 2937

And how tragedies send ripples through time

It’s 2002.

Brazil wins the FIFA World Cup. The Euro is introduced for the first time in the European Union. 9/11 is still fresh in the minds of air travellers.

Over Germany, Bashkirian Airlines Flight 2937 is halfway through its journey from Moscow to Barcelona. On board, among its sixty passengers, Konstantin and Diana Kaloyev were travelling with their mother to visit their father, Vitaly. However, they would never meet their father for a summer that never happened. In the dead of night, Bashkirian Airlines Flight 2937 would collide with DHL Flight 611 resulting in the death of all 69 people aboard the Russian plane and the 2 pilots aboard the DHL plane.

The scene is set. On the morning of July 2nd, 2002, Vitaly Kaloyev was no longer a father. On the morning of July 2nd, 2002, Vitaly Kaloyev was no longer a husband. In the middle of summer, a dark winter had desceneded upon him. Vitaly had seemingly died along with his family.

Was there anything worth living for anymore?

Then, as if seemingly responding to Kaloyev, purpose was bestowed.

It was revealed in the investigation that Peter Nielsen, the air traffic controller working at the time of the incident, played a key role in the demise of the two planes. As the only controller in the tower, which happened to be a violation of his company’s policy, Nielsen was already overworked. Add to that some ill-timed maintenance work, improper communication about unavailable equipment, and the need to unexpectedly assist a third plane, and now the tragedy seems almost inevitable.

The two blips representing Bashkirian 2937 and DHL 611 approached each other. Nielsen notices the soon-to-be accident and gives instructions to the Russian pilots that are contradictory to the aircraft’s traffic collision avoidance system’s (TCAS) commands. 30 seconds later, the two blips momentarily merge into one before promptly disappearing all together.

With that, 71 people died in the skies over Europe.

Grief makes you do powerful things. The lack of closure makes you do terrifying things.

For Vitaly, the buck had to stop somewhere. Someone, somewhere, was responsible for the death of his family, and they were going to pay for it. That person, rather conveniently, became now former air traffic controller Peter Nielsen. It didn't matter that Nielsen, a husband and father himself, went through and was likely still deep in his own period of grief. It didn’t matter that Skyguide, Nielsen’s employer, had actively tolerated a work culture that violated its own rules. It didn’t matter that seventeen months earlier, a similar crisis resulting from conflicting ATC and TCAS instructions almost led to another mid-air collision.

None of that mattered for Vitaly.

Having stripped this multidimensional tragedy of its complexity, Kaloyev’s grief had concluded that Peter Nielsen was to pay for his sins. So, for the next year and a half, he stalked Nielsen.

In 2004, in the presence of his family, Kaloyev fatally stabbed Peter at his home in Klonten, Switzerland. With his last breath, Peter passed away. Bashkirian Airlines Flight 2937 had taken its 72nd and last victim.

Closure, for Vitaly, was achieved. A few metres away, however, a fresh new set of egregious wounds had formed on Nielsen’s family, promising to haunt them for the rest of their lives.

The cycle of suffering continues.

“Vengence is mine”

Deuteronomy 32:35

Just a nineteen year old with a laptop and a few opinions

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