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Pilot error may have caused Namibia crash

recovery team
Recovery teams sort through the wreckage

Remains found from collision of German, U.S. planes

December 12, 1997
Web posted at: 8:50 p.m. EST (0150 GMT)

From Military Affairs Correspondent Jaime McIntyre

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A collision in September between German and American military aircraft off the coast of Namibia was likely caused by errors by the German crew and poor air traffic control in the area, CNN has learned.

The mid-air collision between the German Tupolev-154 and the U.S. C-141 claimed 24 German and nine American lives. There were no survivors. On Thursday, salvage crews located the first human remains, trapped in the wreckage of the German plane under 3,000 feet of water.

Monica Cindrich, the wife of the pilot of the C-141, Capt. Greg Cindrich, says Air Force officials have told her that the German plane was at the wrong altitude and didn't stick to its flight plan.

A L S O :

Assigned courses of the two aircraft

Sources also tell CNN that faulty air traffic control operations in Namibia and Angola contributed to the crash.

vxtreme CNN's Jamie McIntyre reports

When they collided, the German plane was headed from Germany to South Africa. The U.S. plane had left Namibia for Ascension Island in the South Atlantic.

But Mrs. Cindrich and other critics say the Air Force, while finding fault with other parties, is refusing to admit its own mistake -- failing to equip U.S. plans with collision avoidance systems that are standard on commercial airliners.

Such a system would have sounded an alarm when the planes got too close, allowing pilots to take evasive action. But Pentagon officials won't concede that the alarms would have prevented the deadly crash.

"That's something we ought to be able to figure out, but it was not been figured out yet," said Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon.

A recent editorial, Aviation and Space Technology, citing 77 near misses by aircraft over Africa last year, asked, "Why would anyone even consider operating in a high risk area without a system that can catch a fatal error?"

Monica Cindrich
Monica Cindrich

Cindrich complains that Air Force officials have been dismissive about her complaints, writing her off as an "obsessed widow," and says she's heard that some officials refer to her "as being a nut."

"They can ridicule my efforts. I just think if it were their wife or their daughter, that they would have been more compassionate than what they have shown me," she said.

The Pentagon does have plans to install collision avoidance systems on all 1,400 of its planes that carry passengers. But the entire fleet won't be outfitted until 2006, and cargo planes, such as the C-141, are last on the list.

Last month, salvage crew found fields of debris on the ocean floor from both planes. Earlier this week, a small unmanned submarine fitted with a video camera located the two flight data recorders.

While remains were spotted Thursday, Air Force Maj. Keri Humphrey said none have been recovered and it was not clear how many people the remains accounted for. It was also unclear when they might be brought to the surface.


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