Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Russian Pilot 'Error' in Mid-air Collision: BBC Report

Pilot error is being blamed for the collision of an passenger jet with a transport plane over southern Germany in which 71 people, including 44 Russian children, are believed to have died.


Pilot error is being blamed for the collision of an passenger jet with a transport plane over southern Germany in which 71 people, including 44 Russian children, are believed to have died.

The children on the Tupolev 154 airliner were on a school trip to Spain, an official at Bashkirian Airlines told BBC News Online.

Both pilots aboard the Boeing 757 were also killed in the night-time crash which happened at 12,000 metres (36,000 feet) near Lake Konstanz, on the German-Swiss border.

No-one on the ground has been reported dead or injured as burning debris fell over a wide area near the town of Uberlingen in southern Germany, setting several buildings alight.

Witnesses described a huge fireball lighting up the night sky.

BBC correspondent Jonathan Charles in Germany said that there could have been more damage on the ground had the cargo plane not crashed into Lake Konstanz.

German officials believe that the pilot of the Russian plane failed to respond to requests by Swiss air traffic controllers to drop to a lower altitude.

"Ground control demanded that the Tupolev lower its altitude. Despite several calls, it did not react," regional transport minister Ulrich Mueller said, quoting Swiss air traffic controllers.

The Boeing pilots were British and Canadian

"We have to assume right now that this was a misunderstanding."

The Swiss, in whose airspace the planes were flying, have yet to issue an official statement.

There are reports that the pilot of the Boeing tried to avoid the impact at the last moment and failed.

Correspondents note that mid-air collisions between large planes are extremely rare, because most planes carry avoidance equipment that sounds an alarm or automatically changes course, if another plane is too close.

'Black rain'
There was no chance of survival, given the height at which the planes collided.

According to Bashkirian Airlines, there were 57 passengers, most of them children, and 12 crew aboard the Tupolev.

Eight of the children were under 12 years old, according to Russian officials.

"I was lying in my bed, saw a ball of fire in the sky and ran out onto the balcony," said Klaus-Dieter Schindler, an eyewitness in the village of Owingen.

"Behind the forest it looked like a firework display was going off. In the glow of the fire I saw wreckage falling out of the sky. It looked like black rain."

The landing gear of the Tupolev lay burning just a few hundred metres away from where Mr Schindler was speaking.

A BBC correspondent, Jonathan Charles, reports that hundreds of emergency workers are working at the scene.

There is no hope of finding survivors but they want to seal off the site to protect any potential evidence. Already, a Tupolev "black box" has been found.

Old aircraft
The crash happened over the town of Ueberlingen at 2343 (2143GMT) on Monday, with the debris of the Tupolev scattered across woods and farmland, and the Boeing crashing into Lake Konstanz.

The Tupolev, Flight BTS2937, had been flying from Moscow to Barcelona, carrying schoolchildren of varying ages from Bashkortostan in the Ural Mountains.

It had reportedly made a stopover in Munich shortly before the crash.

Bashkirian Airlines has eight Tu-154s in its fleet - the aircraft has for decades been the standard airliner across the former Soviet Union.

The DHL cargo plane was en route from Bahrain to Brussels, and had also made a stopover, at Bergamo in northern Italy.

British pilot Paul Phillips was flying the plane, with a Canadian co-pilot.

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Most on Board Crashed Russian Tu-154 Were Children

At Least 71 Killed in Midair Collision Over Southern Germany 


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