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Many feared dead in midair crash

Flaming debris scattered for miles

Wreckage from one of the planes rests in a German field.
Wreckage from one of the planes rests in a German field.  

UEBERLINGEN, Germany (CNN) -- At least 71 people are feared to have been killed after a midair collision between a Russian jetliner and a cargo plane over southern Germany.

Police and witnesses said the crash scattered "burning pieces like fire" over a 20-mile area.

All but two of those believed killed were aboard the Russian jet, a Tupolev 154 flown by Russia's Bashkirian Airlines.

The Russian Emergency Ministry said the Tu-154 was carrying 69 people -- 57 passengers and 12 crew members. The airline's deputy director, Vener Shakirov, said only eight of the passengers were adults and the rest were children.

A spokesman for German air traffic control said there were 80 passengers on the Russian jet and 13 crew members.

CNN's Stephanie Halasz reports from Germany.
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CNN's Jill Daugherty reports from Moscow.
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A Russian jetliner and a cargo plane collided over southern Germany, scattering debris across a 20-mile area. Dozens are feared dead. CNN's Stephanie Halasz reports.

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Map: Crash area in southern Germany 
Timeline: Recent plane crashes

German police initially had said they feared 140 to 150 people were aboard the Russian jet.

At daybreak on Tuesday search teams had recovered 11 bodies and the flight recorder from the Tupolev.

The cargo plane -- a Boeing 757 operated by the air freight carrier DHL -- had a two-person crew aboard, said DHL spokesman Axel Gietz.

The planes collided about 11:43 p.m. (5:43 p.m. EDT) Monday over the town of Owingen, near the German-Swiss border about 120 miles (190 kilometers) southwest of Munich, according to police. Debris from the crash was spread across a 19-mile (30-kilometer) radius.

Witnesses reported seeing pieces of the planes falling from the sky after the thunderous crash and that areas on the ground caught fire.

Heike Stark said she was reading a book when "all of a sudden there was a noise like thunder."

"The windows were kind of trembling. The walls were trembling. It seemed like the whole house was trembling. It was very strange," she told CNN.

She said there was a giant fireball in the sky and pieces of the planes were "falling down very slowly, turning around themselves -- burning pieces like fire."

Stark said she and her husband got in their car and drove to see what happened. Police and emergency vehicles were all over the countryside and many main roads were blocked off.

A large section of a plane was burning in a meadow, sending up "a lot of smoke."

A Boeing 757, top, and a Tupolev 154 similar to the planes that collided.
A Boeing 757, top, and a Tupolev 154 similar to the planes that collided.  

"The plane part was huge, and it was a terrible smell in the air," she said.

Paul Tanzer said he saw "three big fireballs coming down."

"There was a big noise, and then there was a very deep rumbling from above the clouds," he told CNN. "And then came three parts of the airplane."

Tanzer said the flaming wreckage came down in a forest near residential and industrial areas, and set several trees ablaze.

Police said the aircraft were believed to have been at an altitude of 36,000 feet (nearly 12,000 meters) when the collision occurred.

Authorities said the Russian jet was headed to Barcelona, Spain, from Moscow, originating in Ufa, Russia, and had just made a stop in the German city of Munich.

The cargo plane was en route to Brussels, Belgium, from the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain with a stop in Italy. Gietz, the DHL spokesman, said the captain of the cargo plane was British and the co-pilot was Canadian.

The aircraft was on a routine "nightly flight," he said, adding that there were no prior indications of "any problems with our plane."

U.S. officials said a representative of the National Transportation Safety Board would participate in an investigation of the crash involving the American-built cargo plane.

The DHL plane had a collision avoidance system on board, which U.S. regulators require for passenger aircraft and have ordered phased in for cargo planes.

European aviation officials require similar equipment aboard commercial jets.

The Tu-154 is Russia's domestic workhorse, but some aviation officials have contended the plane is unsafe due to a series of accidents over the last decade that have killed more than 600 people.

Among those accidents: In July 2001, 143 were killed when a Tu-154 crashed in Siberia after disappearing from radar screens; and in August 1996, a Tu-154 slammed into a mountain on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, killing 141 people.




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