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Thursday, 4 July, 2002, 19:09 GMT 20:09 UK
German air crash: Your reaction
Swiss air traffic controllers say an automatic warning system in their operations room was switched off when a Russian airliner and a cargo jet collided over southern Germany on Tuesday.

Seventy-one people, most of them Russian children, were killed, when a Tupolev 154 airliner collided with a Boeing 757 plane owned by cargo firm DHL near the town of Ueberlingen on the shores of Lake Konstanz.

The children were flying to Barcelona for a festival organised by Unesco.

German investigators say the Russian pilot did not respond to the first warning from air traffic controllers, issued 50 seconds before impact, and only descended after a second warning, issued just 25 seconds before the crash.

Witnesses have described a huge fireball lighting up the sky.

Have you been affected by the crash? Do you live near the site? What is your reaction to this latest air tragedy?


This debate is now closed. See below for a selection of your emails.

That sometimes you have to switch off important equipment for maintenance is unfortunate but understandable. But for staff members to go on a break while it is switched off is not acceptable. When the equipment is switched off everybody should even pay more attention than they normally do.
Theo, New Zealand


We here at DHL are shocked that this could have happened.

Carolien De Plekker, Belgium
My condolences to everyone who has been affected by this tragedy. I work at DHL Brussels and I was driving to work when I heard about the crash. My collegues and I do the planning of the crashed DHX611 and the DHX600. We here at DHL are shocked that this could have happened. We postponed our summer party, that was planned this Saturday, as a mark of respect to the victims and their relatives. Obviously nobody feels like celebrating.
Carolien De Plekker, Belgium

It seems that - whatever the details - the problem was exacerbated by lack of staff. They appear to have been short-handed at the time of the accident with no-one covering the staff member on a break. Is anyone else getting worried about the privatisation of the UK air traffic control service? Will the demands of the shareholders and non-technical management's desire to turn a profit. How long is it before unsafe work practices sneak in and we see an accident like this over London?
Rich Johnson, Australia

My thoughts go out to all the parents and relatives of the dead. Sadly, given the increase in air traffic and the lack of a consistent aircraft-in-flight management model, we can only brace ourselves for more accidents such as this. Let's hope that all the authorities around the world learn from this accident.
Stephen, Canada

As far as I am aware the TCAS system is not available to air traffic control (ATC) i.e. they do not know what TCAS is instructing the pilots to do. TCAS will instruct the individual planes to take appropriate action (one ascend right, one descend left (say)). Therefore ATC seeing a potential event can ask one of the pilots to take evasive action that could conflict with the TCAS instructions to the pilot. This may explain the initial delay by the Russian pilot. Clearly the Swiss ATC situation didn't help. Given that planes should not be within a 1000 feet of each other (vertically) it is incredible to think that two planes can meet at the same air space like this.
Richard Philips, UK


There appears to have been no back-up for the collision avoidance system.

Sianne, UK
What an awful tragedy. My prayers are with everyone that has lost loved ones in this incident. One thing that really worries me is that there appears to have been no back-up - other than the controllers themselves - for the ground-based ATC collision avoidance system. Surely this should be a mandatory requirement for times when the main system needs to be shutdown for maintenance or in the event it fails completely?
Sianne, UK

Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the crash victims. The fact that schoolchildren were involved makes it all the more heartbreaking. Is there any fund or organization we could contact to assist these people in any way??
L. Finn, New York, USA

This is a really tragic event, and I feel deep sympathy for those who have lost their dear relatives. It does sound strange, but I am relieved that nothing worse happened. Some of the pieces of the planes could as well have hit buildings around Überlingen. My former neighbours moved to the area a few years ago, and at first I worried they might be involved.
Ursula, Regensburg, Germany

Once more tragedy is caused by lack of technical support and human error. This sad accident makes me think about the importance of updating the air traffic control methods in the EU. If a unified system had been in place the crash would never happened. The extra burden of attention because of the national airspace borders for the air traffic controllers could be supressed. Whether private or government managed this European global system (with all the advantages of cost,efficiency and improved security for air traffic) is, in my opinion, a necessity to be implanted by the air transport authorities of the EU (once more we must learn from the US).
Larry Martín-Barbadillo, Spain

How might one transmit condolences, especially to Russian families that lost children?
Anthony O'Donnell, New York, NY


A red-orange ball twice the size of morning sun

Ubha Kabaski, Ukraine
I was flying over Germany in a cargo plane at the time of this tragic crash. I remember seeing a red-orange ball twice the size of morning sun and I was so scared. This is a really tragic event and my prayers go to those who lost their beloved.
Ubha Kabaski, Ukraine

I hope the airlines learn from it and reduce the traffic in the air.
Harald, Germany

My deepest sympathy to all affected by this tragedy. As a pilot, I recognise the complications of sharing airspace. Since the Boeing was equipped with TCAS, were they expected to do the right thing automatically? It is my guess that if neither airplane had received any instructions at all, the collision would not have happened.
Roger Sheldon, Fair Oaks, CA USA


Bursting like a rocket into a forest and exploding

Christoph, Konstanz, Germany
I still cannot believe what I saw last night. There was one piece of a plane bursting like a rocket into a forest and exploding there. It was really frightening from my point of view.
Christoph, Konstanz, Germany

My thoughts and prayers are offered to all the little Russian children and those caring for them. Not forgetting the two pilots of the DHL cargo plane. May they all rest in peace.
Edmund O'Leary, Epsom, UK

Is it possible that the delay by the Russian pilot was due to the need to inform a plane load of children to return to their seats and fasten their seat belts?
Fergal, Ireland

To Stephen Follows (below) - there are phone numbers:
in Muenchen 49-89-97-620
Moscow 095-504-02-99
Ufa 9-3472-23-37-36.
Also there is a link with a passenger list in Russian.
(Under Internet links at top right of this page).
Eugenia Y, St. Petersburg, Russia


Is there any way I could get a passenger list?

Stephen Follows, Belgium
It is possible that a friend of mine was travelling on the plane from Russia. Is there any way I could get a passenger list, or at least know if she was on the plane??? PLEASE HELP.
Stephen Follows, Belgium

I personally think this unfortunate tragedy could end up pointing out the dangerous state of air traffic control in Switzerland, where a commercial pilot have to deal with five different countries' ATC system within close proximity of each other. The ATC tapes may play more a role in determining the cause than the black boxes on both crashed aircraft.
Raymond Chuang, USA

My deepest condolences to the families of the victims of this air disaster which is too difficult to comprehend. The world is a global village and living in this technology age, we have invested time, effort, money, expertise and commitment into making the world a safer place to live in. It's only in God that we all live, move and have our being. Let's keep living, working and create new ways of thinking and solving such air disasters in the near future.
Alick Nyirenda, Zambia

A simple turn of one of the aircraft would have averted this accident. Radar needs ample time to correct flight paths. If aircraft are slowed when they are handed off, it would also give the controllers more time to react. Giving instructions to the DHL aircraft would have been easier and probably acted upon sooner than ordering a Russian airliner to respond on a moment's notice. I cannot forgive the fact that the collision avoidance system was turned off at the radar site.
Peter M Townson, USA


I owe my life to the TCAS collision avoidance system

Mike Smith, UK
I'm a former BA Boeing 757/767 captain and I owe my life to the TCAS collision avoidance system. This thing really works if you let it, and believe in it. This accident is so sad and appears to catalogue pure human error. We all make mistakes. I'm relieved that the many I have made did not result in such a tragedy.
Mike Smith, UK

I cannot understand why the cargo plane pilot couldn't hear the instructions to the Russian pilot and therefore take evasive action. If anyone can answer this I would be most interested. A sorry day for all those involved.
Jay Tee, UK

First of all, I'd like to express sincere condolences to the families who lost the most precious of God's gifts - the children. But one shouldn't think that those kids were a kind of elite's children. They were just kids. And even if their parents were some commercial tycoons or governmental bosses, now they are just parents. The parents who will never see their children again.
Yuri Kiselev, Russia

Why Swiss ATC allowed two aircraft on conflicting routes at the same flight level to proceed to within 50 seconds in a radar environment without actively deconflicting them is a big mystery to me. The brazen finger-pointing at the Russians already done by the Swiss ATC agency to me seems like a crude attempt to media-manage their part in this tragic accident. Condolences to all involved in this sad event.
John Haywood, UK


This is the type of accident I have been dreading

Alastair Scott, London, United Kingdom
As someone who worked on the Swanwick system this is the type of accident I have been dreading. Fifty years ago en-route collisions were the most common type of air accident and a great deal of work has been done to reduce their probability. Reduce but never eliminate; improbable things happen, and the pointing fingers of blame should wait until after the investigation.
Alastair Scott, London, United Kingdom

Perhaps, instead of wasting time with the repeated instructions to the Russian pilots the DHL pilots should have been instructed to avoid the collision by climbing. Having said that, I guess in a situation like that it takes fraction of seconds to make a bad mistake.
Zain Ally, Pakistan


The pilots involved were experienced and capable

Chris Thiry, USA
My sympathy and condolences go out to the families of the victims, and the ATC employee that could not prevent the accident. I'm sure that a host of facts will make up the cause of this tragic accident. To all accounts the pilots involved were experienced and capable, so I doubt the error was theirs by default, more likely it was conflicting information and the bad situation that they found themselves in.
Chris Thiry, USA

Advising a passenger plane full of children to go into a dive is inherently more dangerous than to simply order the pilot to reduce speed and direction to avoid a collision. Especially if the trajectories of both planes are known beforehand. May God bless all victims and families involved in this calamity.
Daniel Haug, USA


The whole sky was red and orange

Edward Lloyd, Überlingen, Germany
I heard a loud bang and thought there might be a thunderstorm and when I looked out of the window the whole sky was red and orange. One of the planes suddenly passed over and I heard an explosion a second afterwards. We tried to get to the crash site as soon as possible. We have never seen anything the like this, all over the place there was debris.

Fire brigades told us to search for pieces of the plane and for any of the dead. We were in the field where the tail fin had landed and we were told there were burnt corpses in what was left of the back of the plane. We were then told to seal a road and stayed there until five o'clock in the morning when we were relieved of our duty. Even then no-one really knew what had happened, some were talking of three planes, others of just one. Two or three helicopters were searching the surroundings for any possible survivors. But everyone was sure that there were none.
Edward Lloyd, Überlingen, Germany

A terrible tragedy. However I am amazed that it doesn't happen more frequently when you consider the amount of air traffic and the antiquated systems that the air traffic control workers have to put up with. My condolences to the families involved.
JM, UK


I would purposely wait for a second or third warning

Demetris Karageorgis, Nicosia, Cyprus
How can one expect a pilot to react in such a short notice?! Personally, I would PURPOSELY wait for a second or third warning to make sure this is what I had to do before putting the passengers into such an experience. The crew might have been trying to prepare the passengers first, putting on their seat belts etc. This could take minutes to happen and it's amazing that the crew responded within 25 seconds of the first warning. I strongly believe the problem was to do with the air controller who did not promptly notify the plane's crew much earlier. My condolences to the families of the victims.
Demetris Karageorgis (Engineer), Nicosia, Cyprus

I would like to express my condolences and sympathies to the families of all the victims. You are in my prayers.
Jenn Kay, USA

Why does the media blame the Russian TU-154? The TU-154 has comparable safety record to Boeing's.
Gyuri, Hungary

There is never a foolproof system. Accidents do happen, whether it is mechanical fault or human error. We can perhaps make the system better to avoid a million accidents, but there will in all probability be one accident which is beyond our comprehension. From each such accident we should learn and ensure that it does not reoccur again. My sympathies are with those who lost their loved ones in this accident.
Patanjali, USA


Conflicting instructions would explain his hesitation

Kyle Smith, Canada
Firstly, my thoughts and sympathies go out to the families of all those who perished. Many people are focusing on the actions of the Russian pilot and how, if he had TCAS, he should have climbed, not dived. Perhaps his TCAS was indeed instructing him to climb as air traffic controllers were telling him to dive. Conflicting instructions would certainly explain his hesitation.
Kyle Smith, Canada

Lake Konstanz is a border of three nations: Austria, Germany and Switzerland. This is one more reason that European air traffic control should be held by a central organisation rather than on a national level, especially in border areas where confusion handing over control can be prevalent. My sympathies to our Russian brothers.
Mark, Brussels, Belgium

I spent a few hours in town today. Everyone's pretty shaken but no-one in the town was hurt. I assumed the roar last night was thunder. After a few seconds it occurred to me that the sound wasn't right, but since I got back from New York last September I've been seeing apocalypse everywhere, so I went back to sleep. At 02:20 a mate in England phoned me and said to check that the building wasn't ablaze - that's the first I heard. Everyone else that I've spoken to actually saw it come down. The town is crawling with press and the TVs are on in the pubs. I think we were all partly prepared, after last year, but it's a small town, and no-one expects these things.
Elliott Bignell, Ueberlingen, Germany

If I understand the issue correctly, TCAS ordered one plane to dive whereas air traffic control ordered the other plane to dive both in order to avoid a collision. If both planes were without TCAS then surely ATC would have ordered one to dive and the other to climb? If TCAS was resolving the conflict for both planes then they would also have been sent in opposite directions. Does this not highlight the problem where some craft have (or use) TCAS to overrule ATC instructions whereas others do not? Thus bringing about a situation where aircraft are brought into conflict instead of avoiding it?
Paul Goodwin, Winchester, UK

There should be standard instructions to ATC to handle as many as five to six crafts on a collision course.
Prakash Krishnamoorthy, USA


Let's do something positive

Peter Sylvester, England
We cannot allow this to continue. Airlines and air traffic controllers should face corporate manslaughter charges if it's shown that they or their employees were instrumental in the lead up to an accident where there is loss of life, no matter how small. I can't say just how sad it makes me feel to see such waste and loss if such young lives. Let's do something positive, not just blame dead pilots and continue as if the system is 100% ok. Let's push our governments to increase the safety margins and just don't give in to big airlines and profit-based decisions.
Peter Sylvester, England

Let's stop the blame game and await the results of the investigation. Let us instead mourn for the unfortunate victims that died so horrifically.
C. R. Whitten, St. John's, Canada

I would like to know what the TU-154 TCAS was saying to the crew? If the 757's TCAS Resolution Advisory message was "descend", the TU-154's RA should have been saying "climb".
Capt. Colin Penny, Bideford, England

My deepest condolences to all the families and the Russian people on this terrible tragedy. May God be with them during this time.
D. Patel, Washington, DC

No commercial or larger private aeroplanes should be allowed over European airspace without collision detection and avoidance systems. The workload of managing air traffic has reached levels not supportable by humans alone and in this case I think automated systems would have done a better job.
Matt P, London, UK

It is worrying and rather distasteful, that even while the full events are not known, the blame is seemingly being apportioned solely to the Russian pilot. Full details have yet to emerge and it seems that numerous factors may have played a part, it is not the moment to apportion blame or even to attempt to avoid possible responsibility.
Barry B, UK


Would a single European sky have prevented two planes being on a collision course?

Peter Bowes, Durham, UK
This is truly shocking and calls back into question computer control on planes which cannot be overridden by pilots, or which make "recommendations" without knowing the bigger picture. It is a possibility that the air traffic controllers instructed the Russian plane to dive, expecting the DHL plane to stay in level flight. If the DHL computer came to a unilateral "decision" to recommend diving at the crucial moment, the disaster was inevitable. Would a single European sky have prevented two planes being on a collision course?
Peter Bowes, Durham, UK

I don't think that a single European sky would have prevented the accident at all. It would have to be divided into different sectors, each one controlled by a different air traffic controller. The planes might be in the same single air space, but in different radio frequencies. It doesn't matter whether these frequencies are German, Swiss or just "European". I am a Spanish air traffic controller and my procedures are the same to work with the French, the Portuguese or the rest of my Spanish colleagues.
Anon, Spain

I think everybody involved in this tragic accident should have our deepest sympathy. As dead, so the living. The air traffic controller involved probably won't have peaceful living ever again, whether they are to blame or not. My opinion is that single sky project will solve most of conflicts in the air, because if you see something on the radar screen, it's much quicker to shout over the operational room for other controller to release aircraft to your frequency than to pick up the phone and make a call.
Alica, Austria

I send my condolences to the families of the victims from Barcelona. I know the place were they were heading in Salou and I am very sorry for all.
Jose, Barcelona

I was involved with DHL in setting up this route between Bahrain and Brussels and for two years dedicated myself to developing all commercial aspects of the operation. For me, it's a very sad day. I would like to convey my condolences to the families and children on this tragic occasion.
Eamonn Caffrey, Dublin, Ireland

Capt Paul Philips (pilot on DHL plane) was a dear friend and a wonderful father. My thoughts are with his wife and three small children and of course the other bereaved relatives. He will be very sadly missed.
Steve Conroy, Petersfield, UK

I think Russia should scrap old models of planes such as Tu-154 and buy any new Boeing or Airbus with equipment to avoid accidents. Martin, Scotland


Set an international test for the standard of English

Paddy Hague, Oxford, UK
I feel strongly that International Civil Aviation Organisation should set an international test for the standard of English proficiency test for air crew. At the moment, ICAO only recommends English as the international aviation language, it doesn't mandate it. This leads to situations where the standard of English comprehension amongst pilots is less than ideal in certain areas of the world.
Paddy Hague, Oxford, UK

My heart goes out to all involved, family and also staff members of both companies. God bless.
Sam Smith, Melbourne Australia

Please send our condolences to the relatives, it really touches us as it reminds us of the recent train disaster in our country.
Marion Nkwera, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

The Boeing was fitted with TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System). This system gives the pilots a visual and/or audible warning of conflicting traffic. Perhaps a better question is how a TCAS equipped aircraft came to have such an accident?
Neil P, UK

My father was an RAF pilot killed in a mid-air collision. The families must be devastated; my respects go to all of them.
Derek Coleman, Powys, UK

Two years ago when I was doing some research into human factors in aviation accidents, an airline pilot I interviewed said to me that he guaranteed there would be an accident caused by the TCAS system in the future. To be fair, he also stressed that many more accidents would be prevented by it. Although it is early in the investigation, I suspect that his prediction has come true. Very little is truly unpredictable, most things have been foreseen by someone.
Andrew Knight, Sweden


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02 Jul 02 | Europe
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