Suicide Suspected In Berlin Plane Crash

July 24, 2005

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A pilot who died when he crashed a small aircraft near Germany's parliament building in central Berlin had been questioned about the disappearance of his wife and was probably on a suicide mission, police said.

Officials said they had definitively ruled out the possibility that Friday's crash onto a lawn between the Reichstag building and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's office was in any way related to terrorism.

"Before taking off, the pilot supposedly spoke of his intention to kill himself," Gerd Neubeck, Berlin's deputy police chief, told a news conference. "Everything points to a suicide."

The single-engine, ultra-light aircraft crashed shortly before 8:30 p.m. (1830 GMT) on Friday a couple of hundred metres from the glass-domed Reichstag and about the same distance from the chancellery.

Witnesses said the plane, which burst into flames on impact, appeared to be flying out of control.

The pilot, a 39 year old man, gave conflicting statements to investigators when questioned on Thursday about his wife, who has been missing since Monday, police said.

Before taking off on Friday from an airfield in Brandenburg, the eastern state that surrounds the German capital, he handed over personal documents and car keys to his 14 year old son and told him of plans to kill himself, Neubeck said.

Prosecutors in Brandenburg are still investigating the disappearance of the pilot's wife.

The crash prompted calls by several conservative politicians for new rules banning flights over the German capital.

"It is very worrying that a plane can get so close to the center of power," said Wolfgang Bosbach, a member of the Christian Democrats (CDU), who is seen as a potential interior minister if the conservatives oust Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) in a September 18 election.

But Ehrhart Koerting, Berlin's interior minister and a member of the SPD, said it would be impossible to enforce a flight-ban over central Berlin without closing down airports in the capital and surrounding areas.

(Reuters)