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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Germany Ordered to Pay in Crash

APA police officer taking photos of the tail and the engine of the crashed Tu-154 in southern Germany on July 2, 2002.
BERLIN -- A German court ruled Thursday that Germany must pay damages to a Russian airline over a 2002 collision that killed 71 people, including 45 children on their way to a summer vacation in Spain.

German authorities had argued that Swiss air traffic controllers should be liable because they were guiding the Bashkirian Airlines plane when it collided at 10,700 meters with a DHL cargo aircraft near the Swiss-German border.

But the court ruled that although SkyGuide controllers in Zurich were guiding the plane, Germany remained legally bound to provide compensation because the accident occurred in German airspace.

"The sovereign task of securing air space has never been effectively transferred to Switzerland," the court said in its ruling. "This means Germany cannot say that it should be SkyGuide's liability."

Germany's Transportation Ministry declined to comment immediately on the possible implications of the ruling on air traffic control procedures.

Bashkirian Airlines had sought $3.3 million in damages from Germany. The court declined to rule on the sum that should be paid, however, saying it was awaiting a ruling from Russian legal authorities. The airline was seeking the damages for the cost of its plane, a Tu-154M, as well as release from being liable to third parties, such as families who lost loved ones in the July 1, 2002, accident.

SkyGuide was operating with a single air traffic controller who told the pilot of the Tu-154 to descend to avoid a collision, even though early warning instruments aboard the plane had told the pilots to climb. The DHL Boeing 757's automatic anti-collision system also instructed its pilots to descend to the same level. The plane's tail fin sliced open the passenger jet and both aircraft disappeared from radar screens 15 seconds later. Sixty-nine people on the Russian jet as well as two pilots on the cargo plane were killed.

SkyGuide operated with "severe organizational deficiencies" while controlling air space over much of southern Germany, the court said.

"This would have led eventually to the overload of the only air traffic controller working at the time and ultimately would have caused the collision between the planes," it said.

(AP, Reuters)