Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery: An Abandoned Graveyard That Uses Aircraft Parts As Gravestones

Photo Credit: Modris Putns / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
Photo Credit: Modris Putns / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery, the final resting place of Soviet-Estonian fighter pilots killed in air accidents, is a strange sight to behold. The spooky part of the location is the way the pilots have been memorialized. Sticking up from the ground are actual tail fins from Soviet aircraft. However, it remains unknown whether or not they’re from the specific aircraft involved in the accidents that killed the aviators buried underneath them.

Aircraft tail sticking out of the ground at Ämari Pilots' Cemetery
Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery. (Photo Credit: Modris Putns / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery was built over the site of a former cemetery used to bury war casualties.

From 1945 until the end of the Soviet occupation of Estonia in 1991, heavy bombers were based at Ämari Air Base, then known as the Suurküla Aerodrome. The aerodrome was once home to several Sukhoi Su-24 medium bomber squadrons, from which many of the tail fins in Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery likely originated.

It’s unknown how many pilots have been laid to rest in the cemetery. There may be a few who found their final resting place at the Ämari Air Force Cemetery, but chances are most aviators’ remains were returned to their families for a proper burial. If that’s the case, then Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery was established to honor the ultimate sacrifice these men made for their country.

Aircraft tail positioned behind a gravestone at Ämari Pilots' Cemetery
Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery. (Photo Credit: Robert Treufeldt / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 ee)

Opinion remains divided regarding the tail fin markers at the cemetery. Some historians are adamant they came from the crashed aircraft that killed their pilots. Not only would this practice be impractical if the rest of the aircraft was salvageable, there’s also no evidence to confirm the tail fins are, in fact, from ill-fated fighters. It’s more likely they came from aircraft that were already out of commission.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Suurküla Aerodrome fell out of use. In May 1997, Ämari Air Base became home to an aerial unit, and, when Estonia joined NATO in 2004, the base was made NATO-interoperable. It’s since underwent a major infrastructure overhaul.

That being said, the Ämari Air Force Cemetery has remained untouched.

Grave surrounded by chains at Ämari Pilots Cemetery
Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery. (Photo Credit: Robert Treufeldt / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 ee)

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Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery is no longer an active gravesite, but the grounds continue to be maintained. It takes a unique approach in memorializing pilots who gave their lives for their country, and ensures they’ll never be forgotten.

Madeline Hiltz

Maddy Hiltz is someone who loves all things history. She received her Bachelors of Arts in history and her Master’s of Arts degree in history both from the University of Western Ontario in Canada. Her thesis examined menstrual education in Victorian England. She is passionate about Princess Diana, the Titanic, the Romanovs, and Egypt amongst other things.

In her spare time, Maddy loves playing volleyball, running, walking, and biking, although when she wants to be lazy she loves to read a good thriller. She loves spending quality time with her friends, family, and puppy Luna!