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Swiss air crash controller killed

Wreckage of DHL cargo plane that collided with Russian jetliner in 2002.
Wreckage of DHL cargo plane that collided with Russian jetliner in 2002.

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Air and Space Accidents
Murder Investigations

ZURICH, Switzerland -- Swiss police are investigating whether revenge was behind the stabbing death of the air traffic controller on duty during a midair collision in which dozens of Russian children were killed.

The 36-year-old man was stabbed at his home in the Zurich suburb of Kloten on Tuesday night after a brief exchange of words with another man, who police said spoke broke German.

The air traffic controller -- whose identity has never been made public -- was attacked in front of his wife, police told The Associated Press.

Investigators refused to rule out a connection between the slaying and the July 1, 2002, collision of a Russian charter airliner with a DHL cargo plane in air space over southern Germany controlled by Switzerland.

Public prosecutor Pascal Gossner told Reuters: "We are looking into whether there is a link between the killing and the air accident."

However, Gossner said a connection between the crash and the stabbing "is really speculation."

"You have to say he (the suspect) spoke broken German. But you cannot say he was from Russia," he said.

Seventy-one people, most of them Russian schoolchildren, were killed in the midair collision.

The air traffic controller, described as a Danish citizen and the father of three children, had lived in Switzerland for five years at the time of the crash.

Air accident investigators have said the controller told the pilot of the Russian plane to descend when its onboard collision warning equipment was demanding it climb.

The pilot followed the instructions of the controller, which put the jetliner on collision course with the cargo plane, which also was descending in accordance with its collision-avoidance equipment.

Skyguide, the Swiss company for the which the air traffic controller worked, said it was appalled by the slaying and that its employees "were in shock."

Air traffic control center in Zurich
Air traffic control center in Zurich

In response to the killing, Skyguide said flights crossing through Swiss air space and takeoffs and landings at Zurich's airport would be temporarily reduced by 40 percent.

"The staff of Skyguide are shocked, appalled and deeply bewildered by the murder of their colleague and friend," it said in a statement.

"The capacity will be gradually raised as soon as conditions allow."

The employees and the controller's family are receiving special counseling, and Zurich state police have helped organize special protection, AP reported.

Copyright 2004 CNN. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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