Investigators say private jet thought it was on different approach path
MILAN, Italy (AP) – Investigators have traced Italy’s worst airline disaster to a wrong turn taken by the pilot of a business jet that taxied into the path of a speeding jetliner.
Investigators said Tuesday that communications recorded Monday between the twin-engine Cessna and the control tower at Milan’s Linate airport indicate the pilot, steering on the ground through dense fog, was convinced he was on the R5 taxiway, which loops around the airport’s only runway.
Instead the Cessna taxied down the R6 taxiway, which leads directly onto the runway, Milan Chief Prosecutor Gerardo D’Ambrosio said.
An SAS airliner accelerating down the runway hit the Cessna, careened into a baggage handling depot and exploded, killing 118 people.
”It is true there has been a human error,” D’Ambrosio said, ”that the Cessna turned onto the wrong path, convinced he was on the right one. But we need to go all the way to see what may have had an influence on this error.”
The details emerged as rescue crews recovered the last of the bodies from the wreckage and attention focused on whether ground radar, out of service for months while a new system was being installed, could have prevented the catastrophe.
The radar, which tracks the movement of aircraft on the ground, might have alerted controllers hampered by fog to the Cessna’s mistake, experts said.
The MD-87 bound for Copenhagen with 104 passengers and six crew members was accelerating for takeoff and had its nose wheel off the ground when the Cessna Citation II with four people aboard taxied into its path.
The head of SAS flight operations, Lars Mydland, told a news conference Tuesday that the SAS aircraft was going 155 mph and was about halfway down the runway when it started to lift off.
By Tuesday evening all 118 bodies had been recovered, 38 of them identified, the ANSA news agency said. DNA would have to be used for those burned beyond recognition, prosecutor Celestina Gravina said.
The dead included 62 Italians, 21 Swedes, 16 Danes, six Finns, three Norwegians, two Germans and a British national, officials said. Four of the Italian dead were airport workers in the baggage depot, and a fifth remained hospitalized in serious condition with burns over 80 percent of his body.
Experts from Italy, Sweden, Germany and the United States were helping with the investigation.
Gravina and D’Ambrosio said investigators would look beyond the absence of ground radar and to other possible safety issues, including signs on the taxiways that may have been hard to see.
Ground radar is not required at airports, and SAS President Jorgen Lindegaard told a news conference in Milan Tuesday that SAS doesn’t require airports to have it operating for its planes to take off and land.
Italy’s main pilot’s union, however, said radar was obligatory for them.
Premier Silvio Berlusconi promised a rigorous investigation, saying it was ”incomprehensible that the airport of one of the most important European cities be touched by suspicions of negligence, omissions, or worse.”
Two black boxes from the SAS plane were recovered: the flight data recorder and an another device that records equipment maintenance information. The cockpit voice recorder hasn’t been found, said Adalberto Pellegrino, a spokesman for ANSV, the national agency for flight safety.
He said the Cessna did not have flight recorders.
It was Italy’s worst aviation disaster, surpassing a 1972 accident in which 115 people died when an Alitalia DC-8 crashed into a mountain near Palermo, Sicily.
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