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Three dead as plane hits Milan's tallest building

Plane impact
The impact punched a large hole in the side of the Pirelli building.  

MILAN, Italy (CNN) -- Italian investigators are trying to discover what caused a small private plane to slam into Milan's tallest building on Thursday, killing at least three people, injuring dozens more and carving a huge gash in the 32-story structure.

The aircraft -- a single-propeller Rockwell Commander 112 TC piloted by a 68-year-old Swiss man -- hit the 26th floor of the Pirelli Tower in an apparent accident at 5:48 p.m. (11:48 a.m. EDT), 18 minutes after taking off, Italian officials said.

An Italian law enforcement official said authorities had no evidence of a link to terrorism. Sources in Washington told CNN that, despite previous warnings, there was no intelligence about a terrorist attack targeting Italy.

Milan fire brigade officials said the aircraft -- containing only the pilot, according to the flight plan -- was on fire as it flew into the tower. There was an explosion in the building when the four-seat plane hit, but there was no danger the building would collapse, police said. (Full story)

A small private plane slams into Milan's tallest building on Thursday, killing at least three people and injuring dozens. CNN's Jim Clancy reports (April 18)

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Plane hits the 32-storey Pirelli building. (April 18)

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The Pirelli building 

The tower -- which once housed the headquarters of Italian tyre and cable manufacturer Pirelli -- now serves as the headquarters for the regional government. Italian Interior Minister Claudio Scajola said the pilot, a government official who was working inside the building and a third person who was not identified died in the crash.

Thirty to 40 people from the 415-feet-high (127-meter) tower in central Milan were taken to hospital with injuries, mostly broken arms and legs, a reporter on the scene told CNN. ( VIDEO: Crash sets top floor on fire)

One Milan hospital, Fatebene Fratelli, said it had received 20 injured, including a woman with burns.

The flight originated in Magadino Airport near Locarno, Switzerland, about 50 miles from Milan. Aviation officials identified the pilot as Luigi Gino Fasulo, a repairman and a resident of Pregassona, Switzerland, a small town just outside Locarno.

Luis Pedrolino, a flight instructor who called himself a friend of the pilot, said Fasulo would never have been involved in any terrorist attack or suicide attempt. Pedrolino said the route to Milan's downtown airport, Linate, typically excludes flying directly over the city center, speculating that the pilot had been trying to take a shortcut because of mechanical problems.

The pilot, flying in clear skies, had radioed the control tower at Linate to report a "small problem" lowering his landing gear as he was approaching the airport tarmac. The tower tried to put him into a holding pattern to the west of the tarmac, but the pilot turned north instead, the aviation authority said.

"He wasn't able to land, so he swung toward the city -- something he absolutely shouldn't have done," said Alfredo Roma, head of Italy's civil aviation authority.

When the tower told the pilot he was making "improper maneuvers," he said he was trying to fix the landing gear -- the last contact he had with aviation officials.

Fasulo held a commercial pilot's license, owned the plane and had more than 30 years of commercial flight experience, one of his relatives, who asked not to be identified, told CNN. The 210-horsepower aircraft itself was built in 1976 and can fly as high as 20,000 feet, RAI television said.

Plainclothes police guard a piece of the plane near the tower on Thursday.  

In the moments after the crash, onlookers gaped from the piazza at the smoking hole carved into the concrete structure. Firemen controlled the blaze within an hour of the crash.

The tower, located near Milan's central train station, is one of the world's tallest concrete buildings. Designed in the 1950s by architects Gio Ponti and Pier Luigi Nervi, the building is one of the city's most prominent symbols, along with the city's cathedral. (Chronology: Skyscraper tragedies)

The train station and Linate airport were both shut down after the crash as a precaution, Italian officials said. Malpense, the international airport about an hour outside Milan, halted flights for a brief time but did not close.


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