Skeleton Coast crash `one in a million'

Washington - Two military planes which disappeared on Sunday probably collided in mid-air over the south Atlantic off Namibia and there were no signs yesterday that any of the 33 people on board survived.

A senior American air force official said it appeared "most likely" that the US military cargo plane and a German transport plane were involved in a mid-air collision on Sunday night.

Major General Greg Gile, director of operations at the US Atlantic Command, said that the two planes, whose flight paths intersected over the cold waters off Namibia's Skeleton Coast, had gone missing at about the same time in the same air space.

The South African air force was yesterday heading a search and rescue mission but no survivors were found. A Namibian fishing vessel reported sighting what appear to have been pieces of wreckage from the German plane, a Russian-built Tupolev that used to belong to the East German air force. The vessel picked up part of an aeroplane seat and papers in German, about 100 miles from Moewe Bay.

The German plane was transporting 12 marines, two of their spouses and 10 crew members to Cape Town where the marines were due to take part in a regatta to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the South African navy.

The American plane, a giant C-141, had nine crew members aboard, all of whose identities were made known yesterday to their relatives in the US. The C-141, heading in an easterly direction, was carrying cargo from Ascension Island, a British possession, to Namibia.

While some of the blame is likely to fall on the air traffic controllers from South Africa, Angola and Namibia who jointly monitor air space in that part of the South Atlantic, it nevertheless appears to have been an extraordinary, one-in-a-million misfortune that the two aircraft should have collided.

Washington - The US Air Force said it had grounded its fleet of F-117A stealth fighters following the spectacular air show crash of one of the little bat-wing planes near Baltimore on Sunday. The service stressed there was no indication of any problem with other F-117s, all based at New Mexico.

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