Hunt goes on for killer of crash controller

The victim was on duty on the night of the Überlingen crash

Police are still searching for the killer of an air traffic controller who was on duty at the time of a fatal crash in July 2002.

This content was published on February 25, 2004 minutes

Seventy-one people, mostly Russian school children, died when two planes crashed in Swiss-controlled airspace. Police have not ruled out a link between the two incidents.

"We are still pursuing our inquiries," said a police spokesman on Thursday, adding that the hunt had now spread abroad.

The 36-year-old air traffic controller was stabbed at his home on Tuesday evening after an exchange of words with an unidentified man.

Police said the killer spoke broken German and may have been from eastern Europe.

"We are looking for a man aged around 55... all we know is that he couldn't speak German well and had an accent," public prosecutor Pascal Gossner told swissinfo.

"The police now have a lot of work to do... the neighbours and the victim's relatives will have to be questioned and information has to be gathered," he added.

The victim, who has not been named, died at the scene after his attacker escaped on foot.

The authorities say they are investigating a possible link between the 2002 crash – in which 71 people, mainly Russian, died - and the stabbing.

A lawyer representing the parents of the dead said his clients were distressed by news of a possible connection.

"We reject any violent act... The families do not want to be associated with this," said Gerrit Wilmans.

The Danish victim had lived in Switzerland for seven years and was the father of three children.

Flights affected

Skyguide said flights had been scaled back temporarily out of consideration for staff and to ensure security.

Take-offs and landings at Zurich airport were also affected.

"Skyguide employees are in a state of shock and fury and are deeply shaken by the murder of their colleague and friend," the company said in a statement.

Skyguide’s director, Alain Rossier, told swissinfo that the incident had also affected other European airports.

“I heard this morning that some controllers in places like Denmark could not go to work today,” Rossier said.


A plane belonging to Bashkirian Airlines was carrying a large number of Russian schoolchildren to Spain on July 1, 2002, when it collided with a DHL cargo plane over Überlingen in southern Germany.

Swiss air traffic control gave confusing instructions to the Russian pilot, which contributed to the crash.

The Russian pilot followed the controller’s instructions to descend, despite onboard equipment telling him to climb, leading the aircraft to collide with the cargo plane, which was also descending.

Two weeks after the tragedy, the unidentified controller admitted in a statement that network errors had been to blame.

The Federal Office for Civil Aviation moved him to other duties after a period of psychological treatment.

Skyguide later came under heavy criticism when it emerged that only one person was on duty during the night of the crash.

Late last year, the first compensation payouts reached a number of victims’ families after Skyguide negotiated an out-of-court settlement with some relatives.

Talks are continuing with the relatives of other victims over compensation packages.

The German authorities are still investigating the Überlingen tragedy; their report is expected later this year.

swissinfo, Faryal Mirza with agencies

In brief

An air traffic controller has been stabbed to death by an unknown assailant.

The unnamed victim was on duty the night of a midair collision between a Russian jet and a cargo plane, which killed 71 people in July 2002.

His confusing advice is thought to have caused the crash.

Police are not ruling out a link between the two incidents.

End of insertion

Key facts

July 1, 2002: Bashkirian Airlines jet and DHL cargo plane collide in Swiss airspace, killing 71.
July 13, 2002: the air traffic controller on duty admits network errors were to blame.
June 2003: Switzerland, Germany and Skyguide agree to set up a compensation fund.
November 2003: a first round of compensation reaches the families of 12 Russian victims.
February 24, 2004: the air traffic controller on duty at the time of the crash is stabbed to death.

End of insertion
In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

Contributions under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Share this story

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?