Defective radar was cause of Milan crash

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The Independent Online

As ermergency workers struggled to extract the remains of victims from the wreckage at Milan airport on Tuesday, controversy raged over the causes of Italy's worst civil aviation disaster.

Italians and Danes were outraged to discover that a ground radar system that could have prevented the collision on Monday, which killed 118 people, had been installed two years ago but was not functioning.

"Why was a radar system installed after a scandalously long procedure not working?" demanded a front-page editorial in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera. "Those who know should speak up, those who've made mistakes should pay. Let's not insult these corpses with inquiries and counter-inquiries, half-truths and even silence."

The buck-passing ballet had begun soon after the crash in which a Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) passenger airliner taxiing for take-off to Copenhagen collided with a private Cessna, ploughed into a hangar and erupted into flames. The conversation between the pilot of the Cessna and the control tower showed that in the heavy morning fog the German pilot believed he was on strip Romeo 5, when he was on Romeo 6, intersecting the main runway.

The Linate airport director, Vincenzo Fusco, said ground radar was not essential and anyway, it was the responsibility of ENAV, the national air traffic control association. The ENAV chief executive, Sandro Gualano, confirmed the radar was not working but said it was not vital for safe operations.

The Interior Minister, Claudio Scaloja, berated aviation officials on live television. "I think it is a disgrace that in the year 2001, everyone is trying to pass the buck," he said.

Roberto Vanelli, whose daughter Viviana died as she set off on her honeymoon, said: "Don't come and tell me that this was just fate nor that it was all the pilots' fault. Viviana and Simone died because someone was negligent and I want to know who."

Viviana and Simone Durante had cancelled their trip to Egypt because of terrorist fears and opted for a honeymoon in the safer climes of Copenhagen. They were married on Saturday.

All those on board the SAS aircraft died, as did the four on board the Cessna and four baggage handlers killed when the fully fuelled SAS jet smashed into their building. The Foreign Office confirmed that two British women were on board the SAS plane, but their names have not yet been released.

Last night most of the bodies had been recovered but fewer than 40 had been identified. A 72-strong team of doctors and psychologists was helping victims' relatives. The airport was due to reopen at 6am today.

The chief magistrate of Milan, Gerardo D'Ambrosio said human error was the main but not the sole cause of the crash. "There were other obvious lapses. This crash just simply shouldn't have happened," Mr D'Ambrosio said. "There is a safety problem that does not simply depend on the presence or not of a radar."

SAS said it will pay immediate compensation to victims' families, irrespective of legal responsibility for the tragedy.

The actress Brigitte Neilsen, the former wife of Sylvester Stallone, took the flight every Monday to visit her mother but was not on board this week because of work commitments.