Pilot's son says Milan plane crash 'was suicide'

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The day after a small aircraft flew into Milan's tallest building, sending shudders of fear around the world, the Italian authorities were grappling with widely conflicting theories on the cause of the crash.

Luigi Fasulo, the pilot, and two lawyers working in the building died on Thursday when his plane flew into the 25th and 26th floors of the Pirelli tower. After initial panic at what seemed to be a European re-run of 11 September, an Islamic terrorist attack has been ruled out.

Milan's head prosecutor, Gerardo D'Ambrosio. said: "One thing is clear. It was not a terror attack. The theories are that it was a sudden illness, suicide or technical breakdown."

Mr Fasulo's son suggested his father had financial problems and had killed himself. "It was a suicide, a suicide, do you understand?" Marco Fasulo told La Repubblica newspaper yesterday.

But the pilot's wife and nephew denied he killed himself and fellow pilots and friends scoffed at the idea. "I saw him yesterday before he took off and he seemed very normal to me. The idea that he committed suicide seems absurd," said one pilot, Pino Scossa.

But Pietro Lunardi, the Transport Minister, told parliament he had serious doubts that it was an accident. "If this had occurred before 11 September you could talk of fate, but the way it happened and the precision of the target raise many doubts that it is an accident" he said. He announced inquiries into the pilot's family, his financial state and his health.

He said Mr Fasulo could have fallen ill because, after making radio contact, he did not operate any of the plane's controls in the last two minutes. Mr Fasulo, an Italian who has lived for decades in Switzerland, was an experienced pilot with more than 5,000 flying hours.

At 5.40pm (4.40pm British time), he reported trouble with the undercarriage of the aircraft and asked for an emergency landing. The control tower told him he was not in line for the right runway and to circle the airport again.

Then came a potentially tragic error. The air-traffic controller told a helicopter – also planning to land – to move away and Mr Fasulo took that as an order for him. He veered off towards the city of Milan, which is forbidden to air traffic. Subsequent attempts to make radio contact with him failed and minutes later he crashed into the centre of il Pirellone, as the skyscraper is known.

Local people and television crews stepped on shards of glass and wreckage yesterday to peer up at the twisted steel rods hanging from the tower.

"Looking at it, one realises that it could have had an even more tragic effect in terms of human life," said Gabriele Albertini, the Mayor of the city.