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Mid-air victims mourned in Germany

Russian relatives visited the crash scene last week and left flowers  

UEBERLINGEN, Germany -- A memorial mass is being held near the crash scene for the 71 victims of the mid-air plane collision over southern Germany 10 days ago.

Among the congregation was the prime minister of Bashkortostan, the mostly-Muslim Russian republic which lost 65 citizens including 45 youngsters heading to Spain on holiday.

Rescue workers who attended the crash of the Bashkirian Tu-154 and DHL Boeing Airlines a cargo plane on July 1 were among those present to remember the dead.

Hundreds of emergency personnel had worked in rotating shifts for more than a week on the grim task of retrieving bodies and aircraft parts from the wreckage.

Memorial for air crash victims. CNN's Stephanie Halasz reports (July 8)

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The work was made more distressing by the height -- 11,000 metres (35,000 feet) -- and intensity of the crash. Body parts and debris had spread over a 30-kilometre (20-mile) area.

Relatives of the Russian victims did not attend the remembrance service -- they have already held prayers at the crash scene and are to hold their own memorial service in the Bashkortosan capital, Ufa, on Saturday.

CNN's Stephanie Halasz said the Russian families had gathered soil at the site and laid flowers in some "very, very moving" moments and it seemed they felt they had made the trip already.

Also at the mass on Friday were government officials from Germany, Russia, Switzerland and Belarus, plus officials from Britain and Canada, the home countries of the Boeing 757 transporter's pilot and co-pilot.

Bodies returned

Bashkortosan is mostly Muslim and one of the clerics at the German service was from the Islamic faith. Another was Russian orthodox.

Police said Thursday that the bodies of 53 of the victims had been identified and that 33 had already been returned to relatives.

Although the Swiss transport minister attended the German service, Switzerland's President Kaspar Villager cancelled plans to travel to Ufa for the Russian service because of fears for his safety. (Full story)

There has been fury in Russia at the readiness of Skyguide, a private firm running Swiss air traffic control, immediately after collision to suggest the Russian plane's pilots were responsible for the crash.

It later turned out that a lone Swiss air traffic controller was on duty and his warning to the Russian pilots failed to avoid the crash -- and in fact may have contributed to it.

Flight voice recorder information released by German officials showed that about 45 seconds before the July 1 crash, automatic warning systems on the two planes simultaneously told pilots to take emergency manoeuvres, 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.

Earlier this week the controller involved was suspended and the number of controllers on duty increased on orders from the Swiss government.


• SkyGuide
• Eurocontrol

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