Fire department: more than 100 dead after SAS airliner swerves off Milan runway

Monday, October 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MILAN, Italy (AP) _ An SAS airliner swerved to avoid a small private plane on the runway at Milan's Linate airport on Monday, crashing into a building and killing more than 100 people in a fire, a fire department official said.

Officials ruled out terrorism. The Interior Ministry said the accident was most likely the result of ``human error'' compounded by poor visibility due to heavy morning fog, a statement said.

The pilot of the taxiing SAS plane, an MD 87 with about 104 passengers and six crew members, had swerved off the runway to avoid the Cessna, fire officials said. The SAS aircraft rammed into a small baggage storage building, sparking a fire. Some of the dead and injured may have been airport workers in the building, the ANSA news agency said.

More than 24 bodies had been pulled from the wreckage, as firefighters worked to contain the blaze, said Domenico De Pinto, a provincial fire service official.

An official at the Linate fire department, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed more than 100 people had died. ANSA reported the same death toll. Four of the dead were aboard the smaller Cessna aircraft, which was destroyed by the fire, the official said.

SAS, or Scandinavian Airlines System, confirmed the fire from its offices in Stockholm. Spokeswoman Mimmi Hildebrandt said Flight SK686 had been scheduled to take off at 7:35 a.m. for Copenhagen. The crash occurred at 8:15 a.m.

``SAS is doing everything possible to help passengers and to assist Italian authorities at this time,'' the airline said in a statement.

Access to the fuselage and cabin of the jetliner was made difficult because it hit a cement beam as it plowed into the baggage storage building, county fire officials said.

At Copenhagen's airport, relatives of the passengers on board were being gathered and offered the opportunity to talk with psychologists.

There was no immediate cause, but there was early morning fog at the airport at the time of the crash.

SEA, the Milan airport authority, refused to comment on the accident pending an official statement. A spokesman for the Linate airport, Massimo Baravelli, confirmed the accident but said he couldn't give any details on the number of dead.

``There's a lot of confusion here,'' he said.

Fire crews were at the scene extinguishing the fire. Two of the injured from the baggage depot were taken to Niguarda hospital, spokesman Savino Bafati said. San Raffaele hospital, which is closest to the airport, sent its emergency crews to the scene but hadn't yet delivered any injured, said spokeswoman Anna Attoma.

Linate is Milan's second airport, after its main hub at Malpensa.