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Tuesday, 2 July, 2002, 14:07 GMT 15:07 UK
Crash planes dived to disaster
crash scene
A flight recorder from the Tupolev has been recovered
A passenger jet and a cargo plane which collided in mid-air in southern Germany were both diving to avoid each other, it has emerged.

When I looked out of the window the whole sky was red and orange

Edward Lloyd, Ueberlingen
A catastrophic sequence of events led to the loss of all those on board. The first warning was issued by air traffic controllers only 50 seconds before the crash, German investigators revealed on Tuesday.

At least 71 people were killed - most of them Russian children and teenagers - in the crash over Lake Konstanz.

Witnesses described a huge fireball lighting up the night sky.

Launch new window : Mid-air collision
How the crash happened

Amazingly, no-one on the ground was injured or killed, despite flaming wreckage pouring down around the town of Ueberlingen.

Disaster investigation

  • Tupolev 154 flying from Moscow to Barcelona
  • Boeing 757 flying from Bergamo to Brussels
  • Swiss air traffic controllers say Russian pilot reacted too late to its requests to dive
  • Boeing's collision avoidance system advises pilot to dive
  • Collision happened on 1 July at 2130 GMT. All lives aboard lost

  • Investigators are examining the flight box recorder of the Bashkirian Airlines' Tupolev 154 which collided with a Boeing 757 cargo plane operated by couriers DHL, late on Monday night.

    But Swiss regional air traffic chief Anton Maag said both aircraft were diving to avoid a crash when they flew into each other.

    And he added that the Russian pilot had started a steep dive only after controllers had repeatedly instructed him to do so.

    Both planes were flying at 36,000 feet (11,500 metres) when air traffic controllers advised the Russian plane to descend.

    According to Mr Maag, it took three attempts before the Russian pilot acted.

    However, German crash investigators say it appears from Swiss recordings that the Russian crew reacted to their second instruction to descend.

    Whereas the crew did not reacted on the first instruction they acted upon the second one and started the descent about 25 seconds before the collision

    German crash investigators
    The first instruction was given only 50 seconds before the crash, and the crew began descending about 25 seconds later, said the Federal Office for the Investigation of Air Accidents.

    At the same time, the Boeing pilot was also advised to descend by the plane's collision avoidance system.

    The eventual collision happened at 35,000 feet.

    Earlier reports had hinted that the Russian pilot had problems understanding the air controllers, but Mr Maag said there was no language problem.

    Patrick Herr, of Swiss air traffic controllers Skyguide, said there were two questions: "Why did the Russian pilot not react immediately and why did the TCAS on the 757 advise its crew to dive?"

    A relative waits for news at Barcelona airport
    Distraught relatives congregated at Barcelona airport
    Bashkirian Airlines has defended its pilot, saying it had been assured by the German authorities that he had not made a mistake.

    Russian air ministry officials have also described the pilot and crew of the Tupolev as having enormous experience of international flying.

    Axel Gietz, a spokesman for DHL, said the Boeing, with two crew on board, had been built in 1990 and had been constantly maintained.

    "We cannot explain the accident at this point. We can only send our condolences to the families of those involved."

    The Russian plane had been flying from Moscow to Barcelona, carrying children from Bashkortostan in the southern Urals.

    Cultural visit

    The children were heading to Barcelona for a festival organised by Unesco, the cultural arm of the United Nations.

    Wreckage lies strewn around Ueberlingen
    Eight of the children were under 12 years old, according to Russian officials.

    A three-day period of mourning has started in Bashkortostan, and President Vladimir Putin has sent his condolences.

    The company said its staff were devastated by news of the tragedy, and offered its condolences to the families of the dead.

    A Tupolev "black box" flight recorder has been found and will be sent for analysis.

    Police boats and helicopters have been deployed on Lake Konstanz to try to find bodies and parts of the aircraft. The Boeing's flight recorder may lie on the bed of the lake.

    The federal department for criminal investigations has also set up a special commission to help with the identification of the bodies - only 15 have so far been found.

    The BBC's James Robbins
    "In Germany, the detailed crash investigation is well underway"
    The BBC's Robert Hall
    "This type of collision is extremely rare"
    The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
    "They had missed their original connecting flight"
    Anton Mark, Zurich Air Traffic Control
    "The Russian pilot reacted very late"

    Key stories:

    At the scene:


    See also:

    26 May 02 | In Depth
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