School plane crash horror
FIFTY-TWO children were among more than 70 people killed today when two planes collided in mid-air over Germany.
The youngsters, on a Russian charter jet, were on their way to Barcelona when the aircraft crashed into a cargo plane at 36,000ft.
Both planes were diving in an attempt to avoid hitting each other when the accident happened. Witnesses saw a huge orange fireball explode in the air, scattering flaming wreckage over 20 miles.
Swiss air traffic controllers said the pilot of the Bashkirian Airlines Tu-154 from Moscow ignored instructions to change course before the crash. The pilot started a steep dive only after Swiss controllers had instructed him to do so three times, Anton Maag, an official at Skyguide, said.
He said it was unclear why it took so long for the jet to respond to increasingly urgent instructions.
British pilot Paul Phillips, who was at the controls of the Boeing 757 cargo plane operated by the DHL delivery service, put the plane into a dive when its on-board warning system instructed the pilot to drop altitude to avoid a crash, Mr Maag said.
If the Boeing had maintained its course, "there certainly would not have been a crash", he said.
The planes came down near Ueberlingen on the northern shore of Lake Constance, which borders Switzerland and Austria. The authorities said there were no survivors.
Witnesses described hearing a noise like thunder and saw a fireball erupt in the night sky from which three large pieces of wreckage plunged to the ground.
Klaus-Dieter Schindler, janitor at a school in the village of Owingen, said: "I was lying in my bed, saw a ball of fire in the sky and ran out on to the balcony. Behind the forest it looked like a firework display was going off.
"In the glow of the fire I saw wreckage falling out of the sky. It looked like black rain."
Dirk Diestel, 47, was changing his child’s nappy shortly before midnight when he looked up through a skylight and saw a huge fireball in the sky.
"Immediately I thought that something horrible had happened," he said.
When he went outside, landing gear from one of the planes was lying a few feet from his home.
Ulrich Mueller, transport minister in the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg where the accident occurred, said Swiss air traffic control had repeatedly told the Russian Bashkirian Airlines Tupolev 154 to reduce altitude to avoid a crash. Mr Mueller said: "Ground control demanded that the Tupolev lower its altitude. Despite several calls, it did not react. We have to assume right now that this was a misunderstanding."
A spokeswoman for German flight control said one of two reasons would explain such a crash - either ground controllers had entered incorrect data for the flight paths or one of the two planes had failed to follow its approved flight path.
Hundreds of rescuers worked through the night locating wreckage and bodies, while helicopters equipped with infra-red cameras flew overhead looking for burning or other visible parts of the planes.
Some 15 boats criss-crossed the lake as part of the search.
By daybreak, rescue workers had recovered 11 bodies from smoking wreckage.
They also found the Tupolev’s flight data recorder.
Officials warned locals that human remains could be strewn across a wide area of the resort region on the Swiss border.
Scattered fires were sparked in the area and a school was said to be on fire, but there were no casualties on the ground.
Regional official Siegfried Tann said the falling wreckage damaged houses, which caught fire. A section of forest in the Lake Constance region was also set aflame.
The children who were on the plane had flown into Moscow’s Sheretmeyevo airport on Saturday, but missed their connection to Spain and requested that the airline organise a special flight to Barcelona.
Tatiana Ostapenko said her Moscow travel agency helped organise the school trip. One adult killed in the crash worked for her Soglasiye Tourist company, she said.
"We are in shock. I haven’t lost a single child for 20 years in my work in this business."
Ms Ostapenko said she and her colleagues in their Moscow office were in tears.
The youngsters from the mainly Muslim region of Bashkortostan, about 1000 miles east of Moscow, were heading for a Unesco festival in Barcelona.
Most of the victims were children of the oil-rich region’s political establishment. "The majority of the 52 killed were children of elite parents," said an education department spokeswoman in the regional capital Ufa.
"They were not from the same school, they came from all over the republic. The children were going on holiday in Spain on a trip organised by the local UNESCO office."
Aircraft had been chartered for the group only at the last minute because they had missed their original flight.
The cargo plane, operated by DHL Worldwide Express, had taken off from Bergamo in Italy en route to Brussels.
The flight had originated in Bahrain, police said. DHL said Mr Phillips, who died in the crash along with his Canadian co-pilot Brant Campioni, had lived in Bahrain for some time.
"He had a long history of service at DHL and was based in Bahrain. He did not work from our London office," the spokeswoman added.
The Russian plane, operated by Bashkirian Airlines, had made a stop in Munich before heading for Barcelona.
The airline, based in Russia’s oil-rich Muslim republic of Bashkortostan, was one of many to emerge from the break-up of state airliner Aeroflot after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It relies mainly on a fleet of Tu-154s, one of the most common Russian planes used for medium-range flights.
The airline has its headquarters in Ufa, the capital of the Russian republic of Bashkortostan in the southern Ural Mountains.
It has eight Tu-154s in its fleet of 39 Soviet-designed planes. It mainly serves Russia and former Soviet republics, with some charter flights to other destinations.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 15 C
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