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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bashkir Kids Dreamed of a Vacation in Spain

The trip was supposed to be a dream vacation of 14 days of fun in the Spanish sun for more than 40 children from Bashkortostan.

But it all began to go wrong Saturday when they missed their flight. Organizers scrambled to find a plane as angry parents bombarded them with phone calls. Then just hours after the plane took off, it collided with a cargo jet high over Germany, killing everybody onboard.

"If only we had known, if we had only known," said the weeping mother of 14-year-old Bulat Biglov in the Bashkir capital, Ufa.

"If they had flown on time, none of this would have happened," she said on NTV television.

The group of 8- to 16-year-olds were from the families of Bashkortostan officials and were headed for the Costa Dorada resort area on the Mediterranean near Barcelona. Also among the passengers were two families going to Barcelona.

The Bashkortostan group of 54 people -- the 46 children and eight supervising adults -- arrived in Moscow on Saturday morning and were due to fly to Barcelona in the evening. An expected 55th member of the group, a child, fell ill and did not make the trip to Moscow.

Of the 54, only 49 boarded the plane. The other five were held up in Moscow with visa problems.

The vacation plan began to go awry Saturday evening when the young travelers were sent to the wrong airport. Instead of boarding a Rossiya Airlines flight at Sheremetyevo-2, they were bussed to Domodedovo Airport.

"It was our mistake," said Tatyana Ostapenko, the general director of the Soglasiye youth travel agency, which was in charge of arranging the tour.

Recognizing her error, Ostapenko placed the children in the Tourist Hotel, paid for their meals and sent them on a tour of the capital to keep them entertained. "Meanwhile, I began searching for options to repair the damage and to get the children to Spain," she said.

Angry parents started calling her office with demands to quickly send their children to Spain. Ostapenko said they called day and night.

The tour of Moscow did nothing to mollify the parents, who did not want their children to miss out on a single day in Spain, Ostapenko said.

The Spanish vacation schedule was a busy one. The group was to stay at the four-star Estival Park Hotel, just minutes from the beach. In addition to enjoying the sun and sightseeing, the young vacationers had a whole program of contests.

According to Ostapenko, at some point in the rush to find another flight, the group's Ufa travel agency, Kreks, suggested chartering a Bashkirian Airlines jet. The airline offers regular chartered flights from Domodedovo Airport to Barcelona on Saturdays.

Ostapenko agreed to foot the $35,000 bill, a sum that well exceeded any profit she would have made on sending the group to Spain. After all, she said, it was her agency's fault that the trip had been delayed.

It was not clear Tuesday what Bashkirian Airlines did to prepare the plane for the last-minute charter nor the readiness of the pilots to make the late-night flight.

The airline refused to comment.

The group boarded the plane Monday evening. With them was Oksana Kostenko, a 30-year-old Soglasiye employee.

"I got a call from my staff that the plane was moving toward the runway and thought it was finally over," Ostapenko said. "It was 10:30 p.m."

Sitting in her office Tuesday afternoon, Ostapenko was trying to come to terms with the midair collision that occurred a few hours later. "If only I had known," she said. "I would be willing to give up everything I have if that could help to somehow reverse the situation."

The news of the young guests from Bashkortostan dying in the tragedy shook the Spanish hotel.

"Everything was ready, and the coach driver was waiting at the airport. It's a terrible tragedy," a Estival Park Hotel spokesman told Reuters. "Plane crashes are always ghastly, but knowing there were kids on board makes it even more so. Everybody in the hotel is affected by this, it's a terrible blow."

Talgat Abdurakhmanov, an aide to the Bashkir prime minister, said by telephone from Ufa that the children were from the families of medium-level government officials.

Bashkortostan declared three days of mourning.

The trip was organized by the executive director of the Bashkortostan UNESCO club.

UNESCO clubs are nongovernment organizations that support UNESCO's political, economic, cultural and educational program, UNESCO spokeswoman Elke Salas Rossenbach said by phone from the agency's headquarters in Paris.

Officials in Ufa said Bashkortostan's Committee on UNESCO Affairs was created by decree of President Murtaza Rakhimov. It has no official contacts with Moscow's regional UNESCO bureau.

The official who picked up the phone at the committee offices stressed that the tour was not organized under the auspices of the committee but by executive director Rim Sufyanov in a private capacity. Sufyanov's 14-year-old daughter Yulia was on the trip.

He suffered a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital after learning about the crash, the committee official said.

Staff Writer Robin Munro contributed to this report.