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Tuesday, 2 July, 2002, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK
Missed flight put youngsters on doomed plane
Scene at Barcelona airport
Those waiting at Barcelona were left in shock
It was only by a tragic fluke that the Russian children who died when their airliner went down over Germany were in the air at the time.


If only they had flown on time

Victim's mother
The party of 52 youngsters from the southern Urals republic of Bashkortostan had originally been due to travel to Barcelona for a festival organised by the United Nations educational body, Unesco, at the weekend.

But heavy traffic on Saturday meant they missed their flight from Moscow, and their parents - anxious the children should not miss out on the holiday - helped to organise a charter flight for Monday evening.

The plane, a Tupolev-154, collided with a cargo plane a few hours after taking off from Moscow's Domodevo airport.

"If only they had flown on time, nothing would have happened," the mother of an 11-year-old who was on board the flight told Russia's NTV television.

One distraught mother thought her 14-year-old son had flown out, as planned, on Saturday evening, and was already enjoying his holiday in Barcelona.

It was only on Tuesday morning that she found out that he had never arrived.

Wealthy elite

Officials from Bashkirian Airlines said they had decided to provide a charter flight, partly because the children came from Bashkortostan, the airline's home.

Map of the region
The children were mainly the sons and daughters of Bashkortostan's wealthy elite, and correspondents say the airline may have felt obliged to provide the service.

The parents of more than half the young victims work for the Bashkir Government - and two of the children's fathers head ministerial departments.

Other children are reported to come from families prominent in the oil business, the republic's major resource.

Most of them lived in the republic's capital, Ufa.

"They were all involved in an activity club run by a local branch of Unesco," the body's spokesman Vladimir Sergueev told BBC News Online. "That's how they knew each other and came to be on the trip."

Airline officials said many of the children shared surnames, indicating that families may have lost more than one child in the disaster.

The President of Bashkortostan, Murtaza Rakhimov, has declared a three-day period of mourning throughout the republic.

Visas denied

Many of the children's parents are being issued with emergency visas to allow them into Germany, where a major operation has been launched to retrieve the bodies of those who died.

In a twist of fate, it was a lack of visas which saved the lives of five members of the group, including the group's leader.

The Spanish consulate had turned down their request for the relevant papers, without specifying why, said a representative from the group's travel agent, Tanya Chuvilkina.

She said her staff had been waiting for the arrival of the children at Barcelona airport in the early hours of Tuesday.

"But they never arrived."


Key stories:

At the scene:

Background:

TALKING POINT
See also:

26 May 02 | In Depth
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