The accident occurred some 35,000 feet above a German resort area on Lake Constance near the border with Switzerland. The collision between the Russian Tupolev jet with 69 people aboard and a Boeing 757 cargo jet being operated by the international delivery company DHL left the area strewn with bodies and burning debris.
Swiss air traffic controllers, who are charged with directing traffic in the region, said the accident occurred after the Russian pilots were slow to react to orders to lower their altitude.
According to reports, German air traffic investigators said the communications log between Swiss controllers and the Russian plane showed the Tupolev pilot did not react to a first warning approximately two minutes before the crash to descend to avoid the Boeing.
After the Swiss controllers issued another warning, the Russian jet began to descend some 25 seconds before the accident. At the same time, according to investigators, the DHL jet, responding to its collision warning alarm, also began to descend.
Sergei Rudakov, the head of airport where the Russian jet originated, denied the pilot of the Bashkirian Airlines Tu-154 had caused the collision and suggested it was perhaps the other plane’s pilot. He spoke on a report broadcast on Russia’s RTR television.
The Bashkirian Airliner was headed from the Russian region of Bashkortostan to Spain to take some 52 children and twelve adults to a UN-sponsored holiday for students, Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Bashkortostan Prime Minister Rafael Baidavletov as saying.
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov described the collision as a “terrible tragedy.”
“The scope of this tragedy is beyond understanding,” he told reporters after a meeting in France.
Axel Gietz, head of DHL corporate affairs in Brussels said both people aboard the cargo jet — the British pilot, Paul Phillips, and his Canadian co-pilot, Brant Campioni — were also killed. The DHL jet had originated in Bahrain and was bound for Brussels when the crash occurred.
Witnesses described a scene of devastation on the ground as wreckage plummeted around the edge of Lake Constance.
“In the glow of the fire I saw wreckage falling out of the sky. It looked like black rain,” Klaus-Dieter Schindler, a janitor at a school in the village of Owingen, told Reuters. “I was lying in my bed, saw a ball of fire in the sky and ran out onto the balcony. Behind the forest it looked like a fireworks display was going off.”