One week after the air crash over southern Germany, in which 71 people died, investigators say one of the pilots received contradictory instructions just before the collision. Investigators say they learned the information from the airplane's flight recorder.
As grieving parents in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan received the first bodies of children killed in the midair crash, the German air accident investigation agency released early findings from flight recorders aboard the two planes.
Agency officials say the damaged tapes show that, 45 seconds before the crash, the on-board accident warning system on the Bashkirian Airlines plane told the Russian pilot to climb immediately. One second later, Swiss air traffic control told him to descend. Swiss air traffic control was in charge of the airspace just north of the Swiss-German border.
The pilot failed to respond. At the same time, the automatic warning system on the other plane, a Brussels-bound Boeing 757 cargo jet, gave its pilot the urgent instruction to descend.
After another 14 seconds, the Zurich control tower repeated the order to the Russian plane to descend. At that point, the Russian pilot did descend, bringing his aircraft directly into the path of the cargo plane.
German officials also said that air traffic controllers in the German city of Karlsruhe saw the two aircraft were on a collision course. They tried to contact the Swiss controller, but could not get through on the telephone.
Swiss authorities admitted last week that the air traffic control office's main telephone was not working, the emergency warning system was shut down for routine maintenance, and there was only one controller on duty at the time.