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Wednesday, 3 July, 2002, 21:46 GMT 22:46 UK
Grim work at crash site
Recovery crews comb the wreckage
The wreckage is scattered over 30 kilometres

When news of the air crash first came to light in the early hours of Monday morning, breathless reporters from Swiss-German radio spoke of the enormous rescue operation that was already under way.

But two days later, standing in a wheat field at Ueberlingen and looking at the twisted blackened wreckage that was once a Russian Tupolev plane, it is clear there could never have been any survivors.

A good chunk of the tail lies close to a charred and much-dented piece of engine - the rest of the plane had simply been ripped off.

Journalists film the wreckage
Bits of charred cloth billow around the wreckage site

"It's a very difficult recovery operation," says police officer Harold Hanner. "The wreckage is spread over 30 kilometres, much of it in fields and rural areas difficult to access."

With shards of metal scattered all over the field, it is hard to remember this was once a sturdy aircraft.

The plane seems to have been torn to pieces as easily as you might shred a piece of paper.

'This will be hard'

Most of the roads to Ueberlingen have been sealed off as recovery workers continue to sift through the wreckage.

Helicopters buzz continually overhead. They have the grim task of looking for bodies.

"So far we've found 37 bodies," says police spokesman Egon Harq. "We have to continue to search for more."

He pauses and looks uncomfortable as he tries to find some suitable words in his limited English vocabulary.

"We found some parts of bodies," he says gently.

"In another field there is a piece of the middle of the plane and there we have found more people, but to identify them, this will be hard."

Although red and white tape encircles the wreckage preventing anyone getting too near the tail and propeller, the tape cannot prevent lighter materials blowing out from underneath the flimsy barrier.

As I stand staring at the tail of the plane, I feel something brush against my leg.

I bend down and pick up a sizeable fragment of yellowed and charred cloth. It looks like a piece of somebody's coat.

Relatives en route

Relatives of the Russian children who died in the crash are due to arrive in Ueberlingen soon.

One of the things they are likely to do when they get here is to visit some of the fields where the plane went down.

As bits of charred plastic seat covers and blackened material are blown around the field by the breeze, another journalist picks up a piece of cloth and touches my arm.

"If I was a parent," he says, "I don't think I'd want to see this."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"Significant failings have emerged about Swiss air traffic control which may have been crucial"
Skyguide spokesman Patrick Herr
"We had to do maintenance work on the system"
Aviation expert Yuri Karash
"It is natural for human beings to make mistakes"

Key stories:

At the scene:

Background:

TALKING POINT
See also:

26 May 02 | In Depth
03 Jul 02 | Europe
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