Officials cite human, technicalerrors in air collision
19 May 2004 , BRAUNSCHWEIG - German investigators Wednesday cited a chain of human and technical errors which led to the horrific mid-air collision of two planes over Lake Constance which claimed 71 lives in July 2002. The German federal aviation accident investigative office BFU in Braunschweig, in a 123-page report to wrap up the results of its inquiry, stressed that its conclusions did not cover questions of guilt and liability. These issues would be left to the courts. The BFU report summarised the col
19 May 2004
BRAUNSCHWEIG - German investigators Wednesday cited a chain of human and technical errors which led to the horrific mid-air collision of two planes over Lake Constance which claimed 71 lives in July 2002.
The German federal aviation accident investigative office BFU in Braunschweig, in a 123-page report to wrap up the results of its inquiry, stressed that its conclusions did not cover questions of guilt and liability. These issues would be left to the courts.
The BFU report summarised the collision at 11,000 metres between an air cargo Boeing jet of the DHL company and a Bashkir Airlines Tupolev-154 passenger jet shortly before midnight of 1 July 2002.
The crew of three in the Boeing, as well as all 68 persons on the Tupolev - including 45 schoolchildren heading for a summer holiday in Spain - perished in the fiery crash.
The BFU report listed a chain of five factors which helped to cause the collision, with the BFU said the catastrophe might have been avoided if any of the events had been averted.
Among others, the report cited gaps in the security system of the Swiss air control company Skyguide, the Russian crew's inadequate know-how in using the Tupolev plane's own anti-collision gear known as TCAS, and additional special contributing factors on that particular night.
"The accident certainly could have been avoided," BFU chief investigator Joerg Schoeneberg said.
The report said that Skyguide for years had permitted having only one air controller on duty during the low-traffic periods at night, with the controller constantly having to switch back and forth between two radar screens.
On the night of 1 July 2002, the air controller also had not been informed that the collision warning system was only partially functional due to technical maintenance work, the BFU report said.
Also, a program which should have lit up the planes' radar screen positions in red 120 seconds before a potential collision was not working that night. The Skyguide controller therefore was not aware of the impending danger.
When the controller saw the danger, he gave instructions to the Tupolev plane to descend to a lower altitude.
On board the Tupolev, the Russian cockpit crew obeyed the Skyguide instruction. But instead, they should have obeyed their TCAS anti- collision system which called on the plane to fly higher.
At that point, the Boeing's TCAS was telling its crew to fly lower. When both planes descended at the same time, they ended up colliding.
The BFU investigators noted that the co-pilot of the Bashkir Airlines plane saw the discrepancy between what the air controller had ordered and the TCAS system, but was unable to convince the two flight captains.
Besides these technical and human mistakes, other factors played a role, the BFU report said. For example, an air controller in the southern German city of Karlsruhe saw the impending danger and tried 11 times to place a phone call to his Skyguide colleague in Zurich.
But with technical maintenance work going on in Zurich, the telephone lines were not working that night, the report noted.
The BFU report appeared not to contain any major new details about the cause of the catastrophe, but it did provide a number of recommendations on improving air control operations and on the use of the TCAS anti-collision equipment.
In Russia, a spokeswoman for the relatives of the victims on board the Bashkir Airlines plane welcomed the BFU report, saying it would serve as the basis for damage claims suits in court.
"We relatives have been waiting very much for this final report so that the guilty can be named and be made responsible," Julia Fedotova told Deutsche Presse-Agentur, dpa by telephone.
She said that so far only EUR 3,000 per victim had been paid, a tiny amount compared to usual indemnification for international air crashes.
"The case will be resolved sometime from the legal side of things. But the psychological wounds will forever remain open," said Fedotova, who lost a 15-year-old daughter in the catastrophe.
Last February, the chief Skyguide official on duty on 1 July 2002 was shot to death at his home in Zurich. A Russian suspect who lost his entire family in the catastrophe is in investigative custody.
Subject: German news