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October 8, 2001: Linate plane disaster 19 years ago

Total victims of crash were 118

Four minutes and thirty-eight seconds: even when it is not written in numbers, this time span makes an impression because it refers to the interval between the first communication to the control tower and the disaster that took place at Milan's Linate airport exactly 19 years ago. It was October 8, 2001 and the world, including Italy, had not yet recovered from the dramatic events of September 11. Less than a month after the terrorist attack in New York, the first thought after the initial news about this serious accident at the Milan airport was related to yet another criminal matrix. In reality, the collision on the runway between a Scandinavian Airlines MD-87 and a small Cessna Citation CJ2 was the consequence of a series of sensational and avoidable errors.

Final toll was devastating: 118 victims, the second worst tragedy on the ground after the 1977 Tenerife disaster (583 people died). But what exactly happened nearly two decades ago? The aircraft of the Scandinavian company was taking off (flight SK686 to be precise) was headed for Copenhagen: it was morning and there was also a thick fog, without forgetting the absence of the ground radar. The Cessna was authorized to move and the pilot (on board together with three people) made a mistake to take the junction runway, taking the R6 instead of the R5 (also due to worn and barely visible signs). Thus he found himself in the middle of the runway where the MD-87 was taking off.

Latter was approaching in the opposite direction at 270 kilometers per hour, hit the smaller plane in full, killing the 4 occupants instantly. It was 8:10 am and the aircraft bound for Denmark was so damaged that it was unable to take off and crashed into a warehouse where baggage was sorted. The fire was immediate and of enormous proportions; 104 passengers and 6 crew members died, as well as four marshallers who could not avoid the flames.

Only one of their colleagues was saved: Pasquale Padovano is the only survivor of this tragedy, despite deep burns and many surgical operations that have made his life tormented. Exactly 19 years have passed and the various processes that have followed have highlighted the inadequacy of Linate's control systems of that day, in particular the all too common practice of making some aircraft take off from the wrong junction. The Bosco dei Faggi not far from the airport was dedicated to the victims of 8 October in 2002, a green area with 118 small beech trees, one for each person who no longer exists, the place of today's commemorations.

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AVIONEWS - World Aeronautical Press Agency