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71 Feared Dead in Mid-Air Plane Collision Over Germany - 2002-07-02

At least 71 people - many of them children - are feared dead after a Russian passenger airliner and a cargo plane crashed over Southern Germany, late Monday. Swiss air traffic controllers say the pilots were warned of their proximity, but one failed to respond.

Hundreds of police are searching the wreckage of the two planes which crashed at more than 12,000 meters, near Lake Constance on the Swiss-German border close to midnight, Monday - strewing bodies and debris over a large area. Some bodies have been found in the city of Constance itself and others in the countryside. Since daylight, the Waterways Police have been searching the murky waters of the lake. It is believed part of one planes may have crashed into the water.

It is still unclear exactly how many children were among the Russian holiday-makers aboard the Bashkirian Airlines Tupolev-154, on a charter flight from Moscow to Barcelona, Spain. The cargo plane had only its two pilots on board.

It is unclear what led to the crash, although the German police are blaming pilot error. Traffic controllers in Zurich, Switzerland, say they warned the pilot of the Russian plane, several times, about his proximity to the cargo plane, but he did not respond.

The other plane - a Boeing 757 operated by the cargo forwarder DHL - was on a flight from Bahrain to Brussels. It was equipped with the latest electronic systems designed to avoid mid-air collisions and did try to maneuver out of the way at the last moment. But the crew acted too late and the two planes crashed in a ball of fire and with an explosion that shook the ground for many kilometers around.

Searchers have found the "black box" flight recorder from the passenger plane.