- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 7, 2002

BERLIN German investigators have revealed that the telephone system in the Swiss air control tower controlling air space over Lake Constance was out of action in the crucial minutes before the accident that killed 71 people last week.
The disclosure by Germany's air accident control authority (BFU) in Brunswick adds to a catalogue of personnel and equipment failures at the Zurich air traffic control tower when the Russian Tupolev Tu154 slammed into a Boeing 757 on Monday.
According to German investigators, a lone air traffic controller was monitoring five flights in the minutes before the crash because his colleague had broken regulations and taken a break. He tried in vain to ease his workload by repeatedly calling air controllers at Germany's Friedrichshafen airport to get them to take over the job of guiding an incoming aircraft.
BFU officials have established, however, that the Zurich air control tower's telephone system was shut down for routine repairs from 11:25 p.m. to 11:33 p.m. Monday night and that the controller's attempts to contact the other airport were in vain.
"He made his last attempt to call Friedrichshafen 98 seconds before ordering the Tupolev to start diving," said a BFU spokesman. The failure of the tower's telephone network coincided with other crucial system breakdowns.
Jean Overy, a spokesman for the BFU, said in an interview that the tower's radar system appeared to have been working at the time of the crash, but its collision warning system was not showing on the tower's computer screens.
"Normally, aircraft flight paths show up in red in the event of an impending collision, but the air traffic controller appears to have only seen green," he said.
Mr. Overy said that the BFU had warned Skyguide, the partially privatized Swiss company that runs Zurich's air traffic control, as early as 1996 that such system failures were unacceptable.
The BFU severely criticized Skyguide last week for failing to give enough advance warning to the Tupolev, which altered its flight path in an attempt to avoid the Boeing only 44 seconds before the crash. Skyguide has offered conflicting explanations for the disaster.
German and Swiss state prosecutors are preparing a lawsuit against Skyguide on the grounds of negligence. On Friday, the Zurich-based company imposed a news blackout and refused to respond to more questions.
As Germany's accident investigators began evaluating the contents of the aircrafts' black box recorders yesterday, a legal dispute erupted between the German government and lawyers in the southern state of Baden-Wurttemberg over air control rights in the crash region.
Bernhard Wutz, a lawyer for Baden-Wurttemberg, accused the German government of breaking constitutional law by having allowed the Swiss air authorities to assume sole control of flights in the region, based on an agreement that had not been ratified.
A spokesman for the German government said the rules governing airspace over southern Germany were based on an agreement between Skyguide and the German air traffic controllers' association reached more than 10 years ago.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide