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Tuesday, 2 July, 2002, 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK
Mid-air disaster claims 71 lives
crash scene
A flight recorder from the Tupolev has been recovered
A passenger jet and a cargo plane have collided over southern Germany, killing 71 people - most of them Russian children and teenagers.

The pupils were heading to Barcelona for a festival organised by Unesco, the cultural arm of the United Nations.

The crew and adult passengers on the Bashkirian Airlines' Tupolev 154 airliner also died.

A relative waits for news at Barcelona airport
Distraught relatives congregated at Barcelona airport
Both pilots aboard the Boeing 757 cargo plane were killed in the crash, which happened late on Monday night, 12,000 metres (36,000 feet) above Lake Konstanz on the German-Swiss border.

Witnesses described a huge fireball lighting up the night sky.

No-one on the ground was killed or injured, despite burning debris falling over a wide area near the town of Ueberlingen in southern Germany, setting several buildings alight.

Questions are being asked as to how two planes could hit each other in a clear and empty sky, when at least one was equipped with the latest collision avoidance system.

Disaster investigation

1. Bashkirian Airlines Tupolev 154 flying from Moscow to Barcelona
2. DHL Boeing 757 flying from Bergamo to Brussels
3. Planes collide at 2130 GMT on 1 July

Both aircraft were diving to avoid a crash when they flew into each other, said Anton Maag of Swiss air traffic controllers Skyguide.

But he added that the Russian pilot had started a steep dive only after controllers had repeatedly instructed him to do so.

Bashkirian Airlines has defended its pilot, saying it had been assured by the German authorities that he had not made a mistake.

Russian air ministry officials have also described the pilot and crew of the Tupolev as having enormous experience of international flying.

Axel Gietz, a spokesman for courier company DHL which operated the Boeing, said it had been built in 1990 and had been constantly maintained.

"We cannot explain the accident at this point. We can only send our condolences to the families of those involved."

He added that the plane was fitted with avoidance equipment that sounds an alarm or automatically changes course, if another plane is too close.

'Black rain'

The Russian plane had been flying from Moscow to Barcelona, carrying children from Bashkortostan in the southern Urals.

A three-day period of mourning has started in Bashkortostan, and President Vladimir Putin has sent his condolences.

The children were mainly the sons and daughters of the political elite.

I saw wreckage falling out of the sky - it looked like black rain

Klaus-Dieter Schindler
They had flown into Moscow at the weekend, but missed their original connecting flight to Spain. Bashkirian Airlines agreed to put on a special charter flight to ensure they did not miss the festival.

The company said its staff were devastated by news of the tragedy, and offered its condolences to the families of the dead.

Wreckage lies strewn around Ueberlingen
Eight of the children were under 12 years old, according to Russian officials.

A Tupolev "black box" flight recorder has been found and will be sent for analysis at the Bureau of Air Safety Investigation in Braunschweig in the hope of reconstructing the last fatal minutes.

Police boats have been deployed on Lake Konstanz to try to find both bodies and parts of the aircraft. The Boeing's flight recorder may lie on the bed of the lake.

Helicopters with infrared sensors are also circling the lake.

The federal department for criminal investigations has also set up a special commission to help with the identification of the bodies - only 15 have so far been found.

Bashkirian Airlines has eight Tu-154s in its fleet - the aircraft has for decades been the standard airliner across the former Soviet Union.

The DHL cargo plane was en route from Bahrain to Brussels, and had also made a stopover, at Bergamo in northern Italy.

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The BBC's Jonathan Charles
"The wreckage fell to earth at a rate of hundred miles an hour"
The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"The children were the sons and daughters of the Russian elite"
Aviation expert Chris Yates
"Swiss air traffic control has a very good safety record"
Eyewitness Alfred Knoedler
"There are many dead bodies around"

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26 May 02 | World
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