The bodies of the two occupants of the Swiss Air Force fighter that crashed near Lake Lucerne on Wednesday have been recovered near the accident site, the Office of the Armed Forces Attorney General said on Thursday.
The pilot's body was found on Wednesday evening, but his passenger, a doctor with the Air Force's Aeromedical Institute, was not discovered until the next day – the searchers' work being hindered by the difficult terrain. The crash victims will be autopsied.
The plane’s data recorder, the so-called black box, has been retrieved. It could help determine the cause of the crash; however, it could take weeks to analyse warned the attorney-general's office.
The pilot of the other plane taking part in the training mission, who was able to land safely back at the base in Meiringen after making an emergency manoeuvre, still has to be questioned by investigators.
Experts are currently recording details of the site, which will be forwarded to the forensic institute in Zurich. Only once this has been completed will the wreckage be cleared.
The defence ministry had already warned there was little hope that either of the occupants had survived. The Armed Forces chief André Blattmann spoke on Wednesday of a “black day”.
The F/A-18 jet flew into a cliff overlooking Lake Alpnach, one of the branches of Lake Lucerne. It was one of two planes that had taken off from a base in Meiringen around 1.30pm. The other plane performed a 180-degree emergency manoeuvre near the crash site and returned safely to base.
Air Force fleet
Switzerland’s frontline Air Force currently consists of 32 F/A-18 Hornet and 54 F5 Tiger aircraft.
The Air Force also includes Pilatus trainer aircraft and more than 40 Eurocopter helicopters, as well as drones and special transport planes.
A political debate has been raging over government plans to replace the Tiger fleet with 22 JAS39 Gripen jets.
Pacifists and centre-left political parties are challenging a parliamentary decision to acquire the Swedish jets.
Swiss voters will likely have the final word in a nationwide vote on the purchase next year.
The air force acquired a fleet of 34 F/A-18 in the mid-1990s. Another plane of its type crashed in the Swiss Alps in 1998, killing two people, including the pilot.
"It was a normal emergency manoeuvre often used in bad weather conditions," Pierre de Goumoëns, a Swiss fighter jet pilot, told the media.
It remains unclear whether the manoeuvre was used because the plane was in a real emergency situation or whether it was part of a training exercise.
The pilot was experienced, with 1,500 to 2,000 flight hours under his belt. The Tages-Anzeiger newspaper reported on Thursday that planes are equipped with warning systems that should inform pilots when they are too close to the ground, but that they are regularly switched off in the mountains to avoid constant alarms.
The weather in the region had grown progressively worse over the course of the afternoon, with rain and wind gusts of up to 50 kilometres per hour recorded at high altitudes. However, Air Force Commander Aldo Schellenberg told the media that the weather forecast would not have led to the mission being cancelled.
Parts of the plane fell onto the overhead line of the railway linking Meiringen and Lucerne, forcing the cancellation of trains. The line will remain shut until Friday.
The Air Force suspended all flights in the aftermath of the accident, but announced on Thursday that they had been resumed. The Air Force spokesman said the task of protecting the air space took priority. The suspension had been for "psychological reasons", he explained.