- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 6, 2002

OWINGEN, Germany Residents of this picturesque village consider themselves lucky that they escaped injury when two airliners collided overhead this week.
But they can't escape the psychological horror of witnessing fireballs over their homes, metal shards in their fields and children's corpses in their yards.
"I have to think of the children flying down, burning," said student Yohanna Stegman, 15. "I saw the little fireballs. I didn't know what it was. I thought it was stones."
Yohanna, like many of her neighbors, was shaken from bed late Monday when a Boeing 757 cargo plane collided with a Russian Tupolev 154 airliner about 36,000 feet above a road that leads into the village. She recalled running outside with her family and feeling plane pieces the size of nickels raining down on her.
The two pilots aboard the cargo plane died, as did the 69 passengers and crew including 45 youngsters aboard the Russian jet. Authorities found most of the bodies less than a mile from Owingen near an industrial zone.
Other bodies, locals said, turned up shockingly close to where they live. One man slept through the crash, but discovered a burned little girl on his balcony the next morning. A farmer said a man fell through his barn and landed next to his cows. A woman told German radio that her son was shocked to see so many corpses.
Prosecutors in Switzerland, meanwhile, have begun a criminal investigation into the collision amid questions about whether air-traffic controllers warned the aircraft in time that they were too close.
With all but two of the 71 bodies recovered, German officials turned to clearing wreckage from fields and forests yesterday and to pinning down the cause of the disaster.
When the planes collided, there was only one air-traffic controller on duty in Switzerland, which had taken over both planes shortly before.
Initial results of a German-led inquiry found that the Russian pilot was given just 44 seconds' warning before slamming into the cargo plane. Swiss officials initially said they had given the plane 90 to 120 seconds' warning, then revised it to 50 seconds.
Monday began as a pleasant summer day in Owingen as high school students unwound from last week's final exams and a school ball held during the weekend.
"It was just a perfect day. All the people were happy. Nobody thought about anything like this," said Yan Betning, 19, who assists the priest at a Catholic church. "I think it's something you couldn't imagine. You think you are in a safe world, especially when you live here."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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