Sat, Feb 28, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Bereaved father allegedly stabbed air traffic controller


A man -- apparently a Russian -- who lost his wife and two children in an airplane collision has been arrested on suspicion that he stabbed to death the air traffic controller on duty at the time of the accident, officials said on Thursday.

Law enforcement officials declined to identify the man or give his nationality, but evidence they disclosed indicated that the 48-year-old man -- who spoke only broken German -- was a Russian on a visit to Switzerland.

Prosecutor Pascal Gossner said the man has denied killing the 36-year-old controller at the victim's home near Zurich airport on Tuesday night.

The Danish-born controller was working alone when 71 people, including 45 Russian schoolchildren headed for a vacation in Spain, were killed in the July 1, 2002, collision in the southern German area for which he was responsible.

The suspect in his death "had an alibi for the time of the crime, and that is now being checked," said Georges Dulex, Zurich criminal police chief. "The evidence so far, however, places the man in the center of the investigation."

Gossner said the man's wife, son and daughter were among the victims in the collision of a Russian charter airliner and a cargo plane.

Dulex and Gossner declined to give the identity or nationality of the suspect.

At least two Russian men lost a wife and two children in the crash, the Russian news agency Interfax reported, citing a lawyer for the crash victims' families.

Gossner said the suspect had attracted attention with his "angry demeanor" at a memorial service at the crash site in Ueberlingen, Germany, and that it was possible he made a first trip to Switzerland after the service 18 months ago.

He said the arrested man had been in Switzerland since Feb. 18 -- six days before the slaying.

Igor Petrov, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Bern, said that no Swiss officials had contacted the embassy about the arrest and that he was unable to identify the suspect.

"We, of course, are shocked by the killing," Petrov said. "We grieve with the family of the victim."

The air traffic controller, who had lived in Switzerland for more than eight years, had never been formally identified under Swiss privacy laws, but Danish media gave his name as Peter Nielsen. Police Captain Hans Baltensperger said he was survived by his wife, son and daughter.

The controller bled to death from numerous stab wounds and incisions, Dulex said. His heart, lungs and other internal organs were damaged.

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