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Last Updated: Friday, 7 November, 2003, 16:29 GMT
Frankfurt pilot 'too sick' for trial
Franz Strambach
Strambach was obsessed with dead astronaut
A pilot who sparked fears of a terror attack in Frankfurt by circling the city in a plane has been ruled mentally unfit to stand trial.

Franz Strambach, 32, said he commandeered the light plane to kill himself in memory of a dead female US astronaut.

The drama, on 5 January, caused terror in parts of the business capital as the plane circled high-rise office blocks for nearly two hours. Mr Strambach threatened to fly it into the European Central Bank.

As the plane flew over the city, shadowed by fighter jets, air traffic at Frankfurt airport was halted and parts of the city centre were evacuated.

I now know that I was very sick and completely divorced from reality
Franz Strambach
Psychiatrists say Mr Strambach has schizophrenia and a persecution complex.

He will be kept under psychiatric care for the foreseeable future.

Mr Strambach, a psychology student, has apologised for what he did, but said he was not intending to cause fear or to fly the plane into a building.

Instead, he insisted, he was planning to kill himself to be reunited with Judith Resnik, who died in the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster.

Judge Christoph Trapp said Mr Strambach was criminally unaware of his actions at the time because of his mental state.

He could not therefore be found guilty of any offences, he said.

Plane flies over Frankfurt
The drama continued for two hours
Mr Strambach had faced a maximum jail term of five years for extortion, disturbing the peace and violating air traffic laws.

Judge Trapp said the aim of detaining Mr Strambach in psychiatric care would be "to prepare him quietly and under supervision for a life in freedom".

Mr Strambach gave a 10-minute address to the court, saying he had believed the only way out of his problems was suicide.

"I now know that I was very sick and completely divorced from reality," he said.

Mr Strambach seized control of the plane at a civilian airport, forcing its occupants out with a starting pistol.

Earlier this week, the German Government agreed that hijacked planes could be shot down as a last resort if all other means of grounding them had failed.

Parliament must approve the new law, which would leave the final decision to the country's defence minister.

Holger Appel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung paper
"He said he didn't want to hurt anybody"

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