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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Speculation grows over Milan crash
Regional president Roberto Formigoni inspects the damage
The impact left a huge hole in the building
Italian detectives are investigating the background of an elderly Swiss pilot who crashed his light aircraft into Milan's largest skyscraper, killing three people.

The crash caused panic, as people initially feared it was a terrorist attack similar to that on the World Trade Center.

The pilot was very experienced, and there's every reason to believe it might have been suicide

Lombardy regional president Roberto Formigoni
The authorities appear now to have ruled out that possibility and are trying to establish the true explanation for what happened.

Much speculation centres on the theory that the pilot, Luigi Fasulo, aimed the plane at the Pirelli building deliberately in order to commit suicide.

One of Mr Fasulo's two sons, Marco, told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that his 67-year-old father had killed himself.

"It was a suicide, a suicide, I'm telling you. There were people who wanted to ruin him financially, so he committed suicide," he said, alluding to his father's reported large debts.

Pilot Luigi  Fasulo
Fasulo gained his pilot's licence more than 30 years ago
Lombardy regional president Roberto Formigoni supported that theory, saying it was highly suspicious that Mr Fasulo's plane had smashed into the centre of the building and had made no attempt to pull away in the final seconds.

"The pilot was very experienced, and there's every reason to believe it might have been suicide," he said.

However, Mr Fasulo's nephew denied that he had any reason to kill himself.

"He was a person who loved life," he said.

Several theories

Mr Formigoni said investigators were looking into what he termed Mr Fasulo's "cowboy reputation."

  • Pilot Luigi Fasulo reports problem with landing gear
  • Plane hits Pirelli tower starting fire in top floors
  • Building evacuated, fires quickly controlled

      Crash timeline

  • They have also been searching for clues among the burned out remains of that part of the Pirelli building where the plane disintegrated.

    Several alternative theories have been put forward:

    • That he suffered a heart attack
    • That he was overcome by smoke from a reported fire in the plane's engine
    • That he misunderstood instructions from the control tower at Milan's nearby Linate airport.

    Italy's Transport Minister, Pietro Lunardi, told the country's upper house, the Senate, that after making contact with air traffic controllers, there was then radio silence, which suggested Mr Fasulo had suddenly become ill.

    Another suggestion - put forward by pilots who knew Mr Fasulo - is that he was trying to manually lower the undercarriage, had his head down and was not concentrating on his surroundings.

    Top floors ablaze

    The single engine aircraft crashed on Thursday evening.

    As well as Mr Fasulo, two women working in the building were killed - one jumped to her death after the crash; the other was found inside.

    About 30 people were injured - 11 were taken to hospital, two with serious injuries.

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

    The plane, which Swiss air traffic controllers said was a single-engine Rockwell Commander 112, took off from Locarno at 1715 (1515GMT) on Thursday.

    It was bound for Milan's Linate airport, but as the pilot neared the city, he told air traffic controllers he was having problems with his landing gear.

    Pirelli tower
    The Pirelli tower:
  • 123 metres (403 ft) high
  • 30 stories
  • Chief architect Gio Ponti
  • Built 1955-59
  • One of the world's highest concrete buildings
  • The pilot was told to head west, but for unknown reasons veered north, telling the airport that he was fixing the problem.

    He lost contact and did not send a distress call before hitting the skyscraper.

    The Pirelli building, which is 127 metres (400 feet) high, dominates Milan, and provides offices for the regional Lombardy government.

    Fearful parallels with 11 September were all the easier to draw, because Milan is Italy's financial and business centre.

    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 BBC's Brian Barron in Milan
    "This has jangled the nerves of the world"
    The BBC's Kevin Buckley
    "The suicide theory is growing"
    See also:

    19 Apr 02 | Europe
    Milan plane crash: What happened
    18 Apr 02 | Europe
    Milan's moment of terror
    18 Apr 02 | Europe
    History of skyscraper incidents
    18 Apr 02 | Business
    Markets rattled by Milan plane crash
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