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Saturday, 13 July, 2002, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
Controller admits mid-air crash errors
Mourners at the Ural's city of Ufa
Russian mourners blame the Swiss for the disaster
The Swiss air traffic controller who was on duty when two planes collided in mid-air last week has spoken for the first time of his anguish at the accident.


The tragic accident shows that errors cropped up

Swiss air traffic controller
In a statement sent to a Swiss news agency the unnamed controller admitted that mistakes had led to the crash over Germany last week which killed 71 people, most of them Russians.

He said he was stricken by the suffering of the families who had lost loved ones in the crash.


No words can speak the grief and sorrow the tragedy has caused to our families

Murtaza Rakhimov, Bashkortostan President
The statement was released on the same day as an open air memorial service took place in the Urals city of Ufa to remember the Russian victims.

Of the 71 dead, 45 were young students from the Ufa area who were heading to Spain on holiday.

Remorse

The 71 people were killed when two planes collided while under guidance from Swiss air traffic control on 1 July.

The Swiss air traffic controller who was on duty at the time had told the Russian airliner 44 seconds before the crash that it should descend.

The plane followed the controller's instructions and ran into the DHL cargo plane, which also was descending.

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

The controller said he knew it was "his duty and responsibility to prevent such accidents happening," and added that he was co-operating fully with the inquiry.

He explained that the accident showed there had been a breakdown in the line of responsibility in Switzerland.

"On the night of the accident I was part of a network of people, surveillance equipment, and regulations," he wrote. "All these pieces must work together seamlessly, and be coordinated. The tragic accident shows that errors cropped up in this network."

Map showing the flight paths of the two planes
But the BBC's Emma Jane Kirby says the admission of fault may have come too late to mend the now strained relations between Switzerland and Russia.

On Friday, the Swiss President, Kaspar Villiger, cancelled plans to attend the service at Ufa, after being warned that his presence might cause strong emotions among the mourners.

But last week, he had declined to attend services at the crash site itself, going instead on a government awayday and prompting criticism that the Swiss Government was heartless and uncaring.

Ufa mourns

Many people in Russia are putting all the blame on the Swiss.

More than 1,000 mourners attended the ceremony in Ufa's central square, where some 30 coffins of local children killed in the disaster were laid out.

A procession later made its way from the square to a cemetery for the burials.

Russian police carrying coffin of one of the victims
Forty-five of the dead were from Ufa
Addressing the mourners, Murtaza Rakhimov, president of the local republic of Bashkortostan, spoke of the immeasurable pain and irrecoverable loss the accident had caused.

"No words can speak the grief and sorrow the tragedy has caused to our families," he said.

Messages of support were still coming in from Russia and abroad.

"We have never forgotten the warmth and compassion displayed by the German people towards our compatriots," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"It was an emotional farewell"

Key stories:

At the scene:

Background:

TALKING POINT
See also:

12 Jul 02 | Europe
06 Jul 02 | Europe
26 May 02 | In Depth
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