Pilot Obeyed 1st Order in Air Crash

BERLIN -- The pilot of a Russian passenger jet that collided midair with a DHL freight plane responded immediately to orders from a Swiss air traffic controller to descend, despite conflicting warnings from his onboard computer, German investigators said Monday.

Germany's air accident investigation agency had previously said the pilot of the Bashkirian Airlines Tu-154 only responded to a second order to descend from Swiss air traffic control.

The information led to speculation that the Russian pilot was unsure whether to obey the air traffic controller, or his Traffic alert and Collision Avoidance System, or TCAS, which told him to climb.

Western experts have said pilots are always taught TCAS orders take precedence but Russian aviation officials have insisted their pilots are told to obey air traffic control orders in case of conflict.

The DHL International Boeing 757-200 pilot followed his TCAS command to descend, but did not alert ground control he was bringing the plane down until 13 seconds before impact, the report confirmed.

The two planes collided over a strip of southern Germany controlled by Swiss towers on July 1, killing 71 people.

It had been unclear from the flight data recorder exactly when the Russian plane began its descent into the DHL jet's path, but more detailed information was uncovered in examination of the Tu-154's TCAS computer, said Frank Goeldner, a spokesman for the German agency in charge of the investigation.

The report said both aircraft were equipped with the same TCAS systems, and neither malfunctioned. It noted that "both operators had provided training programs for TCAS and the crews had completed the corresponding training."

Goeldner said investigators are still looking into who the Russian crew was trained to obey. Accident investigations usually take about a year to complete, Goeldner said.

The crash killed 69 people on the Russian plane, including 45 pupils heading for a Spanish beach vacation, and the two DHL pilots.

Investigators have so far focused on the role of Zurich controllers, who had command of the planes even though they were in German airspace.

Swiss prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation to see whether charges of negligent homicide are warranted. That investigation will not proceed until German authorities have finished their report, Swiss air traffic control spokesman Patrick Herr said.