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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lack of Radar Blamed for Disaster

MILAN, Italy -- Italians and Scandinavians were aghast Tuesday to discover that Italy's worst civil aviation disaster might have been avoided and 118 lives spared if Milan's Linate airport had only had its ground radar system working.

A Scandinavian Airlines System jet bound for Copenhagen collided on the ground with a light plane in heavy fog Monday morning, then crashed into a hangar and burst into flames.

All 110 passengers and crew on the SAS MD-87, all four on the small Cessna and four ground baggage handlers were killed.

While it appeared certain that the pilot of the light plane was at fault for making a wrong turn, angry politicians, editorialists and pilots laid the blame on bureaucracy.

The old ground radar system at Linate, an airport often shrouded in early-morning fog, was retired some two years ago.

Although a new system was delivered from Norway, it had never been operational because of various technical and administrative problems, which critics said should have been swiftly resolved.

The ground radar, known as Aerodrome Surveillance Monitoring Indicator, or ASMI, allows the control tower to keep track of movements of aircraft and other vehicles on the ground.

Editorialists were irate over the tragic episode, saying the blame could not be placed only on the pilot of the small plane simply because he apparently ran several stop signs in the fog.

Milan's leading newspaper, Corriere della Sera, ran a merciless editorial accusing officials of "intolerable negligence."

"Someone will have to explain to the sons, brothers and friends of the poor dead how it was possible that an airport like Linate was for two years left to its own fate," it said.

SEA, the company that runs the airport, and the air traffic controllers group ENAV differed on which of them should have been ultimately responsible for installing the system.

Interior Minister Claudio Scajola read aviation officials the riot act on national television Monday night:

"Any eventual penal responsibilities will be determined by the magistrature, but if there is anyone responsible they will have to pay. I think that it is shameful that in the year 2001, everyone is passing the buck."

SAS chairman and CEO Jorgen Lindegaard said the airline would continue to fly into Linate "with or without ground radar."

"We fly into many airports with and many airports without ground radar, therefore it is not our security arrangement to assume there is one," he told a news conference in Milan.

Vincenzo Fusco, director of Linate airport, said the controversy over the radar was exaggerated.

"Ground radar is neither indispensable nor necessary and is not required by European or Italian laws," he said. "A pilot must be familiar with the maps and layout of the airport where he is operating."

But pilots disagreed.

"If the radar was working the disaster certainly would have been avoided. The law says it is not obligatory, but logic says you need it," said Osvaldo Gammino, representative of an grouping of airline pilots that fly out of Linate.

The radar issue arose last year when a Singapore Airlines 747 turned onto a disused runway at Taipei, tried to take off and plowed into construction equipment. Eighty-three died.

Until now, the worst Italian aviation disaster was in 1972, when an Alitalia DC-8 crashed into a mountain near Palermo, Sicily, killing 115 people.

The worst-ever runway accident was in 1977, when 582 people were killed when a KLM Boeing 747, attempting to take off, crashed into a Pan Am 747 on Tenerife in the Canary Islands, said Chris Yates, of Jane's Airport Security.

(Reuters, AP)