Airliner crashes near Zurich airport

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A Swiss regional airliner from Berlin crashed on its landing approach to Zurich last night. At least 10 people were killed, while nine more walked away from the wreckage, officials said.

The plane - an Avro RJ-100 Jumbolino belonging to Swissair subsidiary Crossair - was carrying 28 passengers and 5 crew members. The toll was expected to rise.

"We have seen additional bodies but have not yet recovered them," Zurich police chief Peter Grueter told a news conference. He refused to speculate about the final number of dead.

Rescue workers with sniffer dogs worked through the bitterly cold night for the 14 missing occupants, having issued an urgent appeal for local people to help find possible survivors in a wooded area near Birchwil, a Zurich suburb some 3 kilometers (2 miles) east of the airport.

All the nine confirmed survivors made their own way on foot to rescue workers, said Zurich airport's chief medical officer Remo Reichlin. Three had serious burns while the other six had less severe ones.

There was no indication whether the pilot and crew - all Swiss nationals - were among those who escaped. Neither was there any breakdown of nationalities of the victims.

The cause of the crash - the second to strike Crossair in less than two years - was not immediately known. Weather conditions were poor at the time of the accident at 10:08 p.m. (2108GMT), with rain and some snow.

Crossair chief Andre Dose said terrorism did not appear to be to blame.

While authorities refused to speculate on the cause of the tragedy, several aviation experts hinted at pilot or navigational equipment error.

Olav Brunner, a former pilot, told Swiss state-run television that the plane was in the right position for landing - but too low.

A fireball engulfed the middle part of the plane after the crash, but the cockpit and tail areas were left largely unscathed, local police and airport officials said.

Crossair chief Dose said the all-important flight recorders had been recovered from the crash site, which was relatively flat and easily accessible.

The Jumbolino was not among the newest of the Crossair fleet, but it was considered highly reliable and there had never been any known problems with the plane. The plane was manufactured by Britain's BAE Aircraft Services Group.

The Jumbolino is a small, four-engine jetliner, which Crossair flies in two versions, one with 82 passenger seats and the other with 97.

The tragedy happened as the plane was approaching runway 28, a new night landing strip brought into operation four weeks ago following agreement by the Swiss transport ministry to limit overflight noise above nearby Germany.

Sepp Moser, an aviation expert, said runway 28 was more difficult than previous landing approaches - but Crossair and airport officials declined to comment on this.

The crash looked set to add to the woes of Swiss airlines.

Crossair, a subsidiary of the ailing Swissair Group, flies routes between Swiss cities and to other destinations in Europe. It is taking over parts of the Swissair operations in complicated, government-financed bailout that is meant to be completed next spring.

"It's come at a very difficult time," said Crossair chief Andre Dose.

Swissair, the once proud national flag flyer, last month suffered the indignity of having its planes grounded because they could no longer meet fuel and landing fees. Although the government and industry has since stepped in, the airline has filed for bankruptcy protection and is still struggling to recover customer confidence and to fill empty seats pending the takeoff of the new airline next year.

A Crossair Saab340 crashed shortly after takeoff from Zurich to the German city of Dresden Jan 10, 2000, killing all ten people on board.