Investigators Seek Answers to Crash | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 03.07.2002
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Investigators Seek Answers to Crash

Investigators near Lake Constance are sifting through a corridor of wreckage ten kilometers long and one-kilometer wide as they try to find answers to Germany's worst plane crash in nearly 30 years.

Searching for bodies and answers in the Lake Constance crash

Searching for bodies and answers in the Lake Constance crash

Two days after a spectacular jet collision in southern Germany, officials are questioning why air traffic controllers took so long to issue a warning to the pilots of the two jets destroyed in the mid-air collision and why a terrestrial collision warning system in the area had been taken out of service for maintenance work.

On Wednesday morning, a spokesman for Skyguide, the Swiss air traffic controllers body, confirmed that the alarm system used by Swiss controllers to prevent collisions was being serviced at the time of the accident. The system must undergo maintenance occasionally, and this is usually done during hours when there is little air traffic.

At 11:35 p.m. Monday night, a Bashkirian Airlines charter jet carrying 71 people, including 52 children, collided with a DHL Boeing 757 cargo jet 36,000 feet above Lake Constance near the German-Swiss border. The children, from the Russian republic of Bashkortostan, were en route to a two-week beach vacation near Barcelona.

Surviving families arrive in Germany

So far, workers have recovered 28 bodies from the wreckage, including the two pilots of the DHL plane. The corpses are being delivered to a facility in nearby Friedrichshafen for identification. The surviving families of the children are also starting to arrive at the site.

Finger pointing over response time

The investigation has spurred recriminations from the German, Swiss and Russian officials who are all pointing fingers at each other. The Swiss say the 50-second warning given to the Russian pilot was sufficient, but the Germans say it was hastier than the usual warning. At a press conference, a spokesman for the German pilots' association said that five to ten minutes' warning is normally expected by pilots.

Speaking to German public broadcaster ARD, Flug Review (Flight Review) editor-in-chief Volker Thomalla described the order for the Russian plane to change its course as "very short notice."

Foreign investigators given observer status

German authorities are cautioning people not to draw hasty conclusions. German Transportation Minister Kurt Bodewig said German investigators would carry out their probe as "precisely" and "quick as possible." Experts from all of the countries involved in the crash will be given observer status in the investigation - including Russia, Switzerland, the United States, where the Boeing jet was manufactured, and Bahrain, the point of origin of the DHL jet.

Authorities from the German Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Investigation (BFU) will review the contents of the jets' four black boxes, which have all been recovered from the scene. The first data from the study of the flight voice and data recorders is not expected for several days, if not weeks.

Meanwhile, residents along the shores of Lake Constance, a popular tourist destination surrounded by the Alps, turned out Tuesday night for a vigil service - a show of sympathy in the aftermath of Monday night's tragic events. Many are all too aware of how narrowly they themselves escaped injury. Indeed, a school and several buildings caught fire after being struck by burning debris Monday.

Experienced pilots, quality equipment

The Russian airline whose passengers were casualties in the crash is defending the pilots of the plane, who had logged thousands of hours of flight time, and the safety equipment on board the jet.

"The airliner was equipped with all necessary communication instruments," said Nikolai Ogedov, "The pilot was very experienced in international aviation."

A group of Russian aviation experts arrived in Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance Tuesday to assist German investigators in the inquiry into the cause of the accident.

Swiss aviation authorities say the pilot of the Russian plane was ordered to lower altitude about 50 seconds before impact. The Russian pilot took action 25 seconds before the crash. By then, the internal warning system that was designed to prevent accidents had prompted the Boeing to reduce altitude - a move that placed the two planes on a collision course.

Schröder: We're all shaken

Like the families of victims left behind in Russia, German politicians are also mourning the tragedy. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said he was "disconcerted" by the collision of the two aircraft. He also called for caution in drawing conclusion about the cause of the crash. "It is too early to guess the cause of the crash," he said. "Regardless, what happened has shaken all of us. Those were children on vacation, full of hope and joy."