On July 1, 2002, Bashkirian Airlines Flight 2937 took off from Moscow, Russia with 60 passengers and 9 crew members on board.
The plane was headed to Barcelona, Spain. Amongst the passengers were 45 school-aged children on a field trip. Other passengers included Svetlana, Konstantin and Diana Kaloyev.
Svetlana’s husband, Vitaly, was eagerly awaiting their arrival at the Barcelona Airport. The plane was delayed, but no one could seem to tell Vitaly why. Then, a reporter approached him. He asked Vitaly if he knew someone aboard Flight 2937. When Vitaly said that he did, the reporter told him that the plane had crashed over Germany.
DHL Flight 611 had taken off from Bahrain carrying cargo and 2 pilots.
Both planes were flying at an altitude of 36,000 feet. They entered German airspace. The flight control was managed by a private company called Skyguide.
That night, Peter Neilson was alone at his work station. His partner had gone on break and was asleep. This happened often, despite being against protocol, and was tolerated by management. Maintenance work was being done on the radar equipment, so a backup system was in use. Peter wasn’t informed of this.
Peter was going back and forth between two workstations. Then he realized that Flight 2937 and Flight 611 were about to collide. Peter’s usual radar system would have notified him with more than 2 minutes to provide instructions to the pilots to avoid collision. The backup system gave him less than 40 seconds.
Peter instructed Flight 2937 to descend because there was another plane coming at him in his 2 o’clock position. The pilots couldn’t see the other plane because it was dark and the plane was coming in at their 10 o’clock position. Peter had made a mistake.
Both planes were equipped with a traffic collision avoidance system, called TCAS. TCAS instructed Flight 2937 to ascend. They confirmed with Peter who repeated his instructions to descend.
At the same time, TCAS instructed Flight 611 to descend. The pilots followed instruction, but attempts to reach air traffic control went unanswered.
The pilots of Flight 2937 finally saw Flight 611 to their left, not to their right as Peter said it would be. 8 seconds later the planes collided.
All 71 people in both planes died. Bodies and plane parts fell from the sky. The planes collided over the German city of Überlingen. Vitaly and family members of other victims arrived at the sight and began to search. Vitaly found Diana’s body under a tree that had broken her fall.
The crash became known as the Überlingen Mid-Air Collision.
Peter was treated for traumatic stress after the incident. He left his job as an air traffic controller, but continued to work for Skyguide.
Skyguide initially denied responsibility for the crash, but, eventually, paid $34,000 to the family of each victim. 4 managers at Skyguide were convicted of manslaughter. 3 were given suspended sentences and one was fined.
After the deaths of his wife and 2 children, Vitaly was inconsolable. He quit his job and spent his life savings on an elaborate headstone for their gravesite.
On February 24, 2004, two years after the crash, Vitaly tracked down Peter. He felt as though Peter had killed his family.
He waited in Peter’s garden. When Peter saw Vitaly, he went outside to see what he wanted. Peter’s 3 children followed him outside. Vitaly stabbed Peter and ran away. Peter died surrounded by his wife and children.
Vitaly was arrested and sentenced to 8 years in prison for murder. He was released in 2007, having served just over 2 years.
He returned to his homeland of Russia, where he was given a hero’s welcome. He was appointed deputy construction minister, a high paying political position.
Vitaly has since remarried and the couple has twins.
When asked, Vitaly said that he does not regret killing Peter. He did say that killing Peter didn’t make him feel any better and he felt sorry for Peter’s children.
Vitaly attempted to attend the 10 year anniversary vigil in Germany. He was detained upon entering the country because he had been flagged. He missed the ceremony and was told that he was not welcome at the event.
A video summary of this week’s post can be found at