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"When will it end?"

Saturday's crash comes a month after the Gotthard tunnel fire Keystone

The crash of a Crossair jet near Zurich on Saturday is the latest in a series of disasters to have sent the normally unruffled Swiss reeling.

This content was published on November 25, 2001 - 19:07

The past few weeks have been some of the darkest in living memory in Switzerland and at a press conference on Sunday, a visibly shaken Swiss president, Moritz Leuenberger, encapsulated the thoughts of the country when he said: "When will it end?"

Leuenberger spoke of "five catastrophes" that had struck Switzerland in a short space of time, starting with the September 11 attacks on the United States in which two Swiss died.

But, for the Swiss, worse was to follow just a fortnight later when Friedrich Leibacher, a 57-year-old with a history of mental illness, walked into the cantonal parliament in the sleepy town of Zug and shot dead 15 people, including himself. It was the worst mass killing in Swiss history.

Then just as the nation was attempting to come to terms with the horror, a second savage blow struck deep at the heart of Swiss psyche. Swissair, the epitome of Swiss excellence and efficiency, announced on October 1 that it was technically bankrupt.

Swissair grounded

Over the next two days, the airline's entire fleet was grounded, leaving thousands of passengers stranded. Further embarrassment was heaped on the debacle when the government was forced to carry a begging bowl around private firms in Switzerland in order to keep planes flying until March next year.

Three weeks later came more misery in the form of the fire in the Gotthard tunnel, which left 11 people dead and crippled the country's main north-south traffic axis.

At the time commentators spoke of the sense of disbelief and helplessness running through this normally placid nation.

"The catastrophic fire in the Gotthard tunnel is another blow to how the Swiss see themselves," wrote Christof Wamister in the Basler Zeitung.

He said the disasters were unrelated "but they fit into the sense of catastrophe that reigns at the moment and, above all, demonstrate that this 'special case', this exemplary country, has had a rude awakening."

Unfortunately for the Swiss, this weekend's crash has ensured that the nightmare continues.

by Roy Probert and Adam Beaumont

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