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Monday, 8 October, 2001, 17:21 GMT 18:21 UK
Scores die in runway blaze
Scene of tragedy
The plane ploughed into a building and caught fire
All 110 people on board an SAS flight from Italy to Denmark have died after their aircraft hit a small plane which had apparently strayed onto the runway in thick fog.

The airport's ground radar system has been out of action for months, it later emerged, sparking claims from the Italian pilots' union that the disaster could have been avoided.

It was impossible to save anyone in the planes - they are all dead

Transport Minister Pietro Lunardi
The SAS plane, Flight SK 686 from Milan to Copenhagen, veered into an airport baggage building after the collision, and burst into flames.

All four people on board the small Cessna plane and four airport workers were also killed.

The crash, at Milan's Linate airport, was almost certainly caused by a mixture of human error and the fog, said a spokesman for the Italian Interior Ministry, ruling out terrorism.

SAS hotlines for relatives
0845 604 0173
00 46 8 797 10 10
00 46 0200 727272
00 45 3232 6001
00 45 8024 0101
00 47 6758 5010
00 47 800 80610
00 358 800 90200
"We have had no reports of any survivors in hospital," SAS spokesman Michael Notrica told BBC News Online.

Italian Transport Minister Pietro Lunardi later confirmed the death toll.

"The rescue teams went into action immediately but it was impossible to save anyone in the planes. They are all dead," he said.

The dead included 56 Italians, 16 Danes, and two foreigners living in Denmark. A full list of passengers' nationalities was not immediately available.

The Italian authorities said the Cessna - piloted by two Germans and with two Italian businessmen on board - had been cleared for take-off on a flight to Paris, but appeared to have taken the wrong route across the airport.

Rescue workers carry stretcher
Rescue workers were quickly on the scene
"The small plane was not where it should have been when it was hit," said Roberto Arditti, spokesman for Interior Minister Claudio Scajola.

"There was an element of human error...but very heavy fog at the airport looks to have played a big part too. It may have caused confusion."

Officials said the Cessna appeared to have taxied across the runway, despite airport rules stating that such manoeuvres were not permitted in periods of low visibility.

The SAS plane, accelerating for its take-off, apparently swerved at the last minute as the pilot saw the Cessna, but was too late to avoid tragedy.

Charred cockpit
The intensity of the blaze left the plane completely burnt out
Witnesses described seeing smoke and flames shooting into the air as the plane turned into a fireball.

"I heard three or four booms and a few moments later a crash and then flames dozen of meters (yards) high," said one airport worker.

The SAS plane was an MD-87, which had been due to take off at 0735 local time. The incident happened at 0815 (0615GMT).

It was later revealed that the airport's ground radar system, which tracks planes as they move around the airport, had been out of action for anything up to two years.

It's a terrible tragedy that fills us with pain and mourning and comes at an already difficult time in the international context

Roberto Formigoni, Lombardy Region President
"Today this disaster probably could have been avoided if the radar had been functioning," said union spokesman Dario Balotto.

Mario Marinelli, the head of the Italian pilots' union, also told the ANSA news agency that the lack of ground radar could have contributed to the catastrophe.

Another tragedy

Relatives and authorities were stunned that a new air tragedy could come only days after a Russian plane crashed in the Black Sea, and despite heightened airport security in the wake of the 11 September attacks and the strikes in Afghanistan.

"It's a terrible tragedy that fills us with pain and mourning and comes at an already difficult time in the international context," said Roberto Formigoni, Lombardy Region president .

MD80-type plane, SAS
An SAS plane similar to the one which crashed. Picture: SAS
At least four airport workers were injured in the blaze, two of them seriously. One was said to have suffered burns to 80% of his body.

Relatives waiting for the SAS flight at Copenhagen airport were being offered counselling.

"SAS is doing everything possible to help passengers and to assist Italian authorities at this time," said the airline in a statement.

Linate, which is 7km (four miles) from the city centre, is Milan's second-biggest airport - most air traffic is handled at Malpensa.

The BBC's Justin Webb
"One of the worst air disasters in Italian history"
See also:

08 Oct 01 | Europe
Analysis: Dangers on the ground
08 Oct 01 | Europe
In pictures: Milan runway blaze
01 Nov 00 | World
Air disaster timeline
25 May 00 | Europe
Briton killed in runway crash
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