Crash prompts air control shake-up
BERLIN, Germany -- A Swiss air traffic controller involved in last week's deadly midair collision over Germany has been suspended and the number of controllers on duty increased on orders of the Swiss government.
The nation's aviation authority ordered the private company that handles air traffic control, Skyguide, to have at least two people manning each flight sector.
A single controller was on duty when a Bashkirian Airlines jet en route from Russia to Spain and a DHL cargo plane collided July 1 over Lake Constance near the German-Swiss border, killing 71 people.
Skyguide also agreed to suspend "until further notice" but not dismiss the air traffic controller involved and to put three controllers on duty whenever warning systems are down for maintenance.
The collision occurred at 11,000 feet over Ueberlingen in southern Germany near the Swiss border. German air traffic controllers in Munich had handed over monitoring the Russian jet to the Swiss controller five minutes before the accident.
Many of those who died when the Russian Tupolev 154 passenger plane collided with the Boeing 757 cargo plane were children from the Russian republic of Bashkortostan on their way to a holiday in Spain.
Funerals have been held for the victims and Russian President Vladimir Putin made an unexpected visit to the region on Monday pay his respects. (Full Story)
The statement by the authority said that Skyguide "may not allow one person to monitor radar air transit sectors alone until further notice."
It added: "The office came to the conclusion that precautionary measures were needed even though it had yet to complete its investigation."
The aviation authority stressed that the directives should not be seen as an accusation of guilt while an investigation is ongoing.
Spokesman Rene Aebersold said the suspension of the controller should not be interpreted as assigning blame but as only recognizing "his psychological burden."
Christian Weiss, a Skyguide official, said the controller remained on medical leave and was receiving psychological counseling. Aebersold said the office had issued the suspension just to be certain he remained off duty.
It is not clear how many controllers should have been on duty as a result of the warnings system being down for repairs.
Reuters reported Skyguide as saying two controllers were normally required when the warning systems were down, but not when traffic was light, for instance at night.
The Swiss aviation authority said it had told Skyguide in May to allow "single manned operations" only in very unusual circumstances during the day, and Skyguide had agreed to this.
In addition, air traffic control is only supposed to turn off safety systems for maintenance when this is compensated by other measures, such as having more staff on hand, it said.
The civil aviation authority had directed Skyguide to only take safety equipment out of service for maintenance if it compensated with other measures, such as putting on extra control staff, AP reported.
Skyguide said Saturday it was taking additional measures to avoid a similar incident.
It is to temporarily reduce by 20 percent the number of flights it can handle because of the stress on controllers since the crash, even if it leads to delays.
Skyguide's reputation suffered a setback on Monday when German air traffic controllers revealed they had tried to warn their Swiss colleagues about the impending collision but could not reach them by telephone it was also down as a result of the software repairs.
It has emerged conflicting information was given to the Russian pilot as to whether to descend or ascend in an attempt to avert collision. (Full Story)
Flight voice recorder information released by the German agency showed about 45 seconds before the July 1 crash, the planes' automatic warning systems simultaneously told pilots to take emergency maneuvers, directing the Russian plane to climb and the DHL International cargo plane to descend.
But one second later, Swiss air traffic control told the Russian plane to descend. Faced with conflicting orders, the Russian pilot hesitated until the order was repeated by air traffic control 14 seconds later.
The Russian then acknowledged in English that he had received the air traffic controller's order, and overrode the computer directions.
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