Wreckage found off Namibian coast

2000-12-13 13:41

Swakopmund - Pieces of wreckage from the worst air crash in Namibian air space in recent times were recovered at the weekend after a fishing vessel found aircraft parts and other items in its fishing net.

A fish trawler belonging to Blue Ocean Products was 155km off the coast between Cape Frio and Rocky Point on Saturday when wreckage from the collision between a US C141 and a German Tupolev transport aircraft, that claimed 33 lives, was brought to the surface.

The Windhoek daily, The Namibian, reported that aircraft pieces, including parts of the wings, and clothing items, among them a green aircrew overall in perfect condition, torn shorts, T-shirts, peaked caps and a tog bag, were picked up from a depth of 655m at two different places, about five nautical miles (eight kilometres) apart.

Both aircraft disappeared on 13 September 1997, after a mid-air collision.

The US Air Force C-141 Starlifter with nine crew on board was heading out of Namibian airspace having dropped a de-mining team and equipment in Windhoek.

The German Tupolev 154, with 24 people on board, was on its way to refuel in Windhoek before continuing to Cape Town for a naval sailing regatta.

Only one body, that of a woman flight attendant from the German plane, was ever recovered.

The Ocean Tide trawler captain, Gunnar Hardarson, was part of the search team at the time of the accident, and said they made their discovery at the same spot where the search was launched in 1997.

Hardarson followed normal procedures and immediately faxed news of the discovery to the port captain at Walvis Bay, who in turn notified the German and US embassies in Windhoek.

The Ocean Tide continued fishing and was back in the harbour on Tuesday morning where the wreckage and other items were offloaded.

Officials from the two embassies are expected to inspect the recovered items.

The German embassy acknowledged that a fax had been received in connection with the discovery, but by Tuesday afternoon could not comment on what the next step would be.

Likewise, the US embassy was unable to make any statement on whether a new search would be launched.

Hardarson said they had only been fishing in that area for about a month and had been starting to go deeper and deeper to find fish.

He said this was probably why the discovery had only been made now.

In the weeks following the collision search vessels found floating crash debris in the area, but since then no wreckage from the crash has been located.

It is not known if there will now be an effort to recover the remains of the missing 32 people on board the planes.

An investigation by the German government later found that the Tupolev had been flying at the wrong altitude placing it on the same flight path as the US aircraft. - Sapa