Death plane flew without permission

PHIL DAVISON

Miami

and SIMON CALDER

An unauthorised charter flight, carrying German tourists home from the Caribbean, plunged into shark-infested waters off the Dominican Republic yesterday, killing all 189 people aboard.

Last night the cause of the crash was still a mystery. But German authorities said that the aircraft had been switched at the last minute and did not have their permission for the trip - raising broader questions about airline safety.

Aircraft and boats searching the waters off the Dominican Republic's north coast yesterday found bodies, empty life-rafts and debris scattered over two square miles. Most of the passengers on the plane, bound for Frankfurt and Berlin, were German holidaymakers, The crew were mainly Turkish. At least100 bodies were recovered - some of them mangled by sharks.

The plane apparently sank quickly but reports of empty, inflated life- rafts floating among the debris suggested some passengers may have escaped, only to be tossed to the sharks by stormy winds and 8ft waves.

The aircraft was a Boeing 757, the second to be lost within two months; an American Airlines jet crashed on the approach to Cali in Colombia in January. The 757 is well-regarded and widely used by UK airlines.

There were doubts last night about the way the flight was organised. Bonn said the 757 had no formal permission to land in Germany. The Dominican Republic's charter airline, Alas Nacionales, had chartered the aircraft from Birgen Air of Turkey, but only decided to use it at the last moment. Alas was shut down temporarily in 1993 after safety failures.

German pilots raised the possibility that a cut-price package deal had led to reduced safety standards. "We were almost waiting for such a crash," said the German airline pilots' association, Cockpit.

A spokesman for Hamburg-based Oeger Tours said the airline switched planes from a planned Boeing 767 to a Boeing 757 shortly before take-off, because the 767's hydraulic pump was not functioning properly. But a spokeswoman at Schoenefeld airport in Berlin, said a smaller plane was found as the flight was underbooked.

The practice among tour operators of buying in aircraft and crews from third countries is widespread, and British holidaymakers could find themselves travelling on aircraft leased from little-known airlines this summer. Britain's leading charter airlines - such as Britannia and Air 2000 - operate well-maintained aircraft. But some other operators do not finalise the aircraft to be used until close to the departure date.

At mercy of sharks, page 15

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?