Tripoli, 10 April 2013:
In April 2011, at the height of bitter fighting around Ajdabiya, a rebel helicopter attacking Qaddafi troops was shot down and three of the four crew killed.
Yesterday, Tuesday, two years to the day after they perished, the three airmen were honoured at a moving ceremony near the crash site, where a model helicopter has been mounted in their memory.
On 9 April 2011, on the outskirts of Ajdabiya, the MI35 Hind was hit by unexpected ground fire from forces loyal to Qaddafi. The crew were all Air Force personnel from Benghazi.
The pilot, squadron commander Colonel Hussein Mohamed Al Werfali, Lieutenant Mohamed Fathi Salami and Second Lieutenant Ibrahim Bader Dakhil were all killed in the crash. Second Lieutenant Ismael Kotub, who attended yesterday’s event, was the sole survivor.
Werfali had gained fame and respect for his televised speech on 22 March, where he declared the commitment to the revolution of all the Air Force units stationed in Benghazi.
Some 400 people, including around 75 military personnel, gathered for the ceremony, which took place about half a mile from the place where the helicopter crashed.
Family members of the martyrs were flown to the ceremony by helicopter from Benghazi, along with several senior officers. Local police were also present, on bikes and in cars, with their sirens blaring.
To cheers and waves from the crowd and shouts of “Allahu Akbar,” an MI35 helicopter flew low over the crowd, in a dramatic salute to the men who gave their lives for a free Libya.
Military citation certificates were presented to 15 members of the armed forces and civilians, including family members of the dead airmen, honouring both losses and heroic actions.
One person who attended told the Libya Herald that it was very moving ceremony, which reflected the importance of the Air Force to the ultimate success of the revolution.
“The camaraderie between civilians, Thuwar and the Air Force is much stronger than you might think, when people are brought together in remembrance of those who died during the revolution,” he added.
The battle for Ajdabiya, which spanned March and April, during which time the town changed hands several times, was a turning point in the war to overthrow Qaddafi. Some 136 people lost their lives in the fighting. A further 250 were wounded, some of whom attended yesterday’s ceremony.