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Tuesday, 9 October, 2001, 05:42 GMT 06:42 UK
Broken radar was factor in Italian crash
Tail of SAS plane
The crash is Italy's worst aviation disaster since 1972
Officials investigating a collision between two planes at Italy's Milan Linate airport which killed at least 118 people say fog, human error and a broken ground radar system were the most likely causes of the crash.

I thought a bomb had exploded in a suitcase and I ran

Salvatore Reale, baggage handler
Italy's Civil Aviation Authority blamed pilot error for the country's worst air disaster, but said it could have been avoided if the ground radar system was working.

All 110 passengers and crew on board a Scandinavian Airlines SAS jet and died when the plane hit a Cessna in heavy fog and ploughed into a baggage hangar.

Four people on board the Cessna and four ground staff were also killed.

The airport's ground radar system, which can track aircraft on runways, has been out of action for up to two years.

Terrorism ruled out

Salvage work continued at the scene during the night, with smoke still rising from the Swedish SAS passenger plane.

Map of Italy
Relatives are expected at the scene on Tuesday morning, but it is not yet clear whether they will be asked to identify the bodies.

The Italian Government has ruled out terrorism as a cause.

SAS insists that the pilot of the plane, which was bound for Copenhagen, Denmark, with 110 people on board, was not responsible for the crash.

"Our flight, SK 686 was cleared for take-off," said the SAS regional vice-president Bjoen Alegren. "Everything points in the direction of an accident at this point."

The Swedish plane was thought to be travelling at about 320km an hour (200mph) when it hit the Cessna. It then careered for several hundreds of metres before hitting the baggage depot.

The runway was cloaked in thick fog when the crash occurred at 0815 (0615GMT) on Monday morning.

Paramedics carry a victim on a stretcher
There were no survivors from either of the two planes
Italian authorities said the Cessna - piloted by two Germans and with two Italian businessmen on board - appeared to have taken a wrong turning when heading towards a position for take-off, bringing it onto the runway.

"The instruction given by the flight controller would have taken the plane onto the correct waiting position for take-off," Italy's Civil Aviation Authority Enav said.

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.

'Ball of fire'

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 metres high," said one airport worker.

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
Fifty-six of the SAS passengers were Italian, 16 were Danes, two were foreigners living in Denmark, and a further four were believed to be Finns. Officials are still working to confirm the identities of the others.

Four airport workers were injured in the blaze, at least two of them seriously. One was said to have suffered burns to 80% of his body.

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 is the worst aviation disaster in Italy since 1972, when an Alitalia flight crashed into a mountain near Palermo in Sicily.

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

The Italian President, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, has sent a letter of condolence to Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf.

SAS has offered compensation payments to the next-of-kin of those who died, and also reportedly arranged for two flights to take relatives to Italy.

The BBC's Justin Webb
"No one on the Scandinavian flight stood a chance of survival"
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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