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SOFIA (Reuters Life!) - The airplane of former Bulgarian Communist ruler Todor Zhivkov was submerged in the Black Sea waters near the city of Varna to attract scuba divers and tourists to the sunny coasts of northeastern Bulgaria.
The Soviet-made Tupolev-154, ordered specially for the needs of Zhivkov, eastern Europe's longest-serving communist leader, was grounded in 1999 but once flew with famous passengers such as former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
The machine was placed at about 22 meters (24 yards) deep in the bay of Varna and 700 meters from the coast to form an artificial reef, Orlin Tsanev, chairman of Black Sea Dive Odesos association, which ran the project, told Reuters.
"The submerging of the plane aims to make it an attraction and (a place) for training divers," Tsanev said.
Some 30 divers swam round the plane on Wednesday and Russian diving clubs have already expressed interest in exploring it.
Tsanev said the Tupolev-154 was the biggest plane to be placed under water in the world and has considered applying to have it recorded by Guinness world records.
Sea vegetation around the 49-meter long airplane is expected to boost fish population and make it attractive to divers, especially for the ones with a nostalgic touch for the totalitarian era.
Zhivkov ruled Bulgaria for 35 years until the fall of communist regime in 1989. He died in 1998.
Four years ago a private firm bought Zhivkov's private yacht to organize cruises with it along the Danube River.
Reporting by Irina Ivanova, editing by Paul Casciato