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Independent expert to investigate air crash

An overhead view of the crash site in southern Germany Keystone

Swiss and German officials have drafted in an Austrian expert to determine who was to blame for a collision in Swiss-controlled airspace in which 71 people died.

This content was published on February 10, 2005 - 21:30

The move is designed to ascertain the exact role of Swiss air traffic control agency Skyguide in the accident, which took place in July 2002 over Lake Constance.

Jens Gruhl, the public prosecutor for the German town of Constance, said on Thursday that the decision had been made in conjunction with his Swiss counterpart in Winterthur.

He said the aim was to find out if errors were made by Skyguide employees on July 1, 2002.

During the night in question, a Russian charter aircraft carrying more than 40 children en route to Spain collided with a DHL cargo jet over the German town of Überlingen. Only one air traffic controller was on duty at the time.

Human error

A report by German investigators published last May partly blamed Swiss air traffic control. But it also said that the crash was caused primarily by human error.

The report found that the controller gave the planes instructions to avoid a collision only 43 seconds before impact.

But it added that the Russian pilots were also partly at fault as they obeyed the controller's instruction to descend, but ignored their on-board collision warning system which advised them to climb.

Skyguide later accepted responsibility for the chain of events that led to the crash. It has since reached a settlement with most of the families of the Russian children killed in the collision.

The Skyguide controller on duty at the time was stabbed to death outside his home last February.

A Russian man who lost his wife and both children in the crash is the chief suspect and is currently being detained in a Swiss psychiatric unit.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The accident took place on July 1, 2002.
A Russian passenger plane collided with a Boeing 757 cargo jet.
71 people died, including more than 40 children.
The accident took place in Swiss-controlled airspace. But at the time of the accident only one controller was on duty.
According to a German report, the Swiss air traffic control agency, Skyguide, was partly to blame.
Skyguide has since reached a settlement with the families of the Russian children.

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