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Wednesday, 3 July, 2002, 09:50 GMT 10:50 UK
Russia in shock over crash
Tupolev wreckage in a field
71 people - including 52 children - died in the accident

People in Russia have been trying to come to terms with the terrible tragedy in the skies above Germany, when 52 children from the Russian republic of Bashkiria were killed in a mid-air collision.

Questions are being asked as to how this could have happened, but there are no immediate answers.

Victims' relatives
The Russian people want to know why this tragedy occurred
Russian public opinion has put the blame squarely on the Swiss air traffic controllers, or rather one controller - because, according to Russian media, he was alone in the control tower while others on the shift were allegedly having a break.

Many papers are quoting the preliminary transcripts of the flight recorders found at the crash site, showing that the Russian pilot had just a 50 second notice of an imminent collision.

Some experts, however, admit that 50 seconds should have been enough to perform the collision avoidance action.

Pilot distracted?

There are no answers, though, as to why the Russian pilot did not respond immediately and only performed the manoeuvre 25 seconds prior to the crash.

By that time the collision avoidance system on the cargo plane must have been triggered, the experts say, automatically forcing the Boeing to dive as well.

Doctor treats relatives of victims in Bashkortostan
Many of the children on board were from rich Russian families
One theory is that the Russian pilot could have been distracted by an on-board inspector who was supervising the flight as part of random checks performed by the airline on its crews.

Another suggestion is that the crew might not have had the necessary two-day rest, as this was an extra flight to accommodate the group of children, who missed their scheduled departure.

It is also unclear why the Russian airliner was flying at such a high altitude, normally reserved for cargo planes.

On a more general note, Russian observers point out that the skies over Europe are overcrowded.

They suggest that the recent European decision to decrease the permissible distances between planes to 300 metres might have contributed to this dreadful course of events.


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26 May 02 | In Depth
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