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Parents Grieve As Swiss Weigh Charges in Air Collision

BY Admin  July 4, 2002 at 12:25 PM EDT

The inquiry, which may lead to charges of manslaughter or negligent disruption of public transport, is focusing on whether Skyguide controllers acted negligently in the moments leading up to the crash of a Russian airliner and a DHL cargo jet.

“The subject of the probe… is carefully investigating the exact chain of events during the time Skyguide was tracking these two aircraft from Zurich airport, and clarifying open questions on whether Skyguide staff made errors for which they could be held criminally liable,” Buehlach district attorney Christoph Naef said in a statement.

The Swiss move came as German investigators announced that a thorough investigation into the radio traffic at the time showed that the Russian Tupolev-154 jet was told to descend only 44 seconds before the crash – less than the minute reported yesterday and the two minutes alleged the day after the crash.

According to Peter Schlegel, the head of Germany’s air accident investigation office, “the Tupolev should have begun descending at the latest 1 1/2 minutes before the crossing point. In fact… the Tu-154 was only ordered to start descending 44 seconds before the crossing point, and the descent only began 14 seconds later — 30 seconds before the crossing point — after a second request.”

Just 16 seconds later, the collision alarm sounded aboard the DHL cargo jet, prompting the pilot of that jet to also dive, putting the two planes back on collision course.

The two planes rammed one another some 35,000 feet above the German resort area on Lake Constance, near the Switzerland border. The collision between the Bashkirian Airlines Tupolev jet with 69 people aboard and a Boeing 757 cargo jet left the area strewn with bodies and burning debris.

As investigators probed who was at fault in the crash, some 120 relatives of the Russian children and other passengers lost in a deadly air collision this week gathered at the site the wreckage fell Thursday to weep and pray for those lost.

Many of the parents of the 45 children who died laid wreaths and flowers at the site where the tail section of the Tupolev jet landed in a field. A Russian Orthodox priest and a Muslim cleric lead prayers at the site.

The victims’ bodies were in such a bad condition that authorities had been advised by psychologists to turn down requests by parents to view the corpses. Local German authorities said the families were deeply distraught.

“It is clear that many of the relatives, especially those who were parents of the children on board, are very distraught,” Thomas Schaeuble, interior minister of the German state of Baden Wuerttemberg, told a news conference. “Physically, some of them could almost not bear it.”

Six doctors, including physicians and psychiatrists, traveled with the families from the Russian region of Bashkortostan on a chartered flight. A 30-member grief counseling team and interpreters also were on hand in Germany.