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Thursday, 18 April, 2002, 22:31 GMT 23:31 UK
Plane hits Milan skyscraper
Pirelli building on fire
Witnesses said they heard something like a bomb
A light aircraft has hit a skyscraper in the northern Italian city of Milan.

I felt the skyscraper vibrating under my feet, and we immediately got out using the stairs

Eyewitness Silvia Varatel
At least five people were killed and more than 30 injured in the crash on Thursday afternoon.

The top floors of the 30-storey Pirelli building caught fire, but the blaze was quickly brought under control.

Fears that this was a replay of the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York last year were dismissed by the Italian authorities who are treating the crash as an accident.

Click here to see how the crash happened

But Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi set up a crisis centre in Rome to deal with the incident, and put the country's air force on full alert "until the situation becomes clear".

Pirelli tower
The Pirelli tower:
  • 123 metres (403 ft) high
  • 30 storeys
  • Chief architect Gio Ponti
  • Built 1955-59
  • One of the world's highest concrete buildings
  • Eyewitnesses said they had heard a loud explosion.

    "We heard the loud noise of propellers and then a huge explosion and everything shook," said a woman working in an adjacent building.

    "Everything was flying through the air - paper, furniture."

    Silvia Varatel, a member of staff of the Lombardy government, was in the building itself.

    "I felt the skyscraper vibrating under my feet, and we immediately got out using the stairs," she said.

    SOS message

    The Pirelli building, which is the city's tallest, houses the offices of the regional Lombardy government, and is next to the city's main railway station.

    The crash occurred just after 1750 local time (1550 GMT), when many people working in the building had already left.

    The top floors of the building were being renovated at the time and therefore emptier than usual.

    Experts said there was no danger that the building would collapse like the World Trade Center in New York as the main concrete supports were untouched.

    The plane, which Swiss air traffic control officials said was a Rockwell Commander private aircraft, made a hole in the east side on the 25th floor.

    It had been flying from the town of Locarno just over the border in Switzerland, and the pilot sent an SOS message complaining of problems with landing gear before it crashed.

    There were no passengers aboard the plane.

    Fears dismissed

    Milan's stock exchange suspended trading after the incident.

    Injured man
    There were said to be many injured

    Stock markets in the US and elsewhere in Europe fell sharply amid fears of a repeat of the 11 September attacks.

    But Italian Interior Minister Claudio Scajola dismissed terrorism as a possible cause and said the crash was "probably an accident".

    However, David Learmount, an aviation expert from Flight International magazine, said he found the crash "very puzzling".

    "The first thing you do as a pilot is try to save your own life and ... the lives of those on the ground as well, trying to find an open space...," he said.

    "You certainly don't try to drive it into the front of a building."

    The pilot, named variously as Gino or Luigi Fasulo, was said to be very experienced and a member of Locarno flying club.

    But a friend of Fasulo told the BBC that she had stopped flying with him after he almost ran out of fuel and had to make an emergency landing in a potato field.

    The BBC's Gavin Hewitt
    "This was a tragic accident"
    The BBC's Bridget Kendall
    "The Italian cabinet activated a crisis unit and the Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi rushed back from Bulgaria"
    The BBC's David Willey reports from Rome
    "There are investigations taking place by the Civil Aviation Authority and the judicial authorities"
    David Learmount, Flight International magazine
    "I'm keeping an open mind about it at the minute"
    Former air accident investigator, John Guntrip
    "The standard approach procedures into Locarno take aircraft clear of Milan, so you wouldn't normally fly over the city"
    See also:

    18 Apr 02 | Europe
    Milan's moment of terror
    18 Apr 02 | Europe
    In pictures: Milan plane crash
    18 Apr 02 | Europe
    History of skyscraper incidents
    18 Apr 02 | Business
    Markets rattled by Milan plane crash
    27 Mar 02 | Americas
    US fears Easter attacks in Italy
    20 Mar 02 | Country profiles
    Country profile: Italy
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