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Fatal Crossair crash blamed on pilot error

The Crossair plane that crashed was a Saab 340 turboprop like this one Keystone Archive

The crash of a Crossair aircraft in January 2000 near Zurich was due to a series of pilot errors, according to a soon-to-be-issued report.

This content was published on August 18, 2002 - 16:01

Investigators found that the pilot was flying under the influence of medication.

"The pilot's capacity to analyse and judge a critical situation was diminished by the effects of a medication," said the report from Switzerland's aircraft accident investigation bureau. Two Sunday papers, the "Sonntagsblick" and "dimanche.ch", published parts of the still-confidential report.

The Moldovan pilot had taken Phenocepan, a tranquilliser made in Ukraine, and commonly used to treat insomnia or depression. This medication, which is a relative of Valium, can induce blurred vision, confusion and vertigo.

The report refuses however to say to what extent the tranquilliser affected the pilot's capabilities. Under safety guidelines, pilots are not supposed to fly when taking such medication.

The investigators believe the pilot may have lost his sense of direction, suffering from spatial disorientation, and flipped the plane onto its back without realising it.

Eastern European pilots

He then proceeded to turn the aircraft right instead of left, driving the Saab into the ground near the village of Nassenwil shortly after taking off from Zurich's Kloten airport for Dresden on January 10, 2000.

The co-pilot is also believed to have mis-programmed the flight management system of the Crossair aircraft, a turboprop Saab 340.

A spokeswoman for the transport ministry has confirmed the newspaper reports, but refused to comment the investigators' findings. The ministry will present the findings on Friday.

Both the pilot and the co-pilot were from Eastern Europe, hired at a time when Crossair, which now forms the backbone of Swiss, was suffering from a personnel shortage. The investigator's report says the airline did not inform its new pilots sufficiently about the aircraft systems and cockpit procedures.

The crash killed seven passengers and three crewmembers. The findings were expected at the end of last year, but the crash of another Crossair plane in November has delayed their release.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Pilot used medication related to Valium.
Investigators are talking of diminished capacity, spatial disorientation.
Crossair hired foreign pilots to cover personnel shortage.

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In brief

A still-confidential report by Switzerland's Aicraft accident investigation bureau says the crash of Crossair plane in January 2000 is to blame on pilot error.

Investigators found that the Moldovan pilot was taking medication related to Valium, which may have affected his judgement as well as his physical well-being.

The Saab 340 turboprop crashed shortly after takeoff from Zurich's Kloten airport on its way to Dresden.

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