Swiss-owned plane with 42 aboard crashes in Libya

Posted: Thursday, January 13, 2000

BERN, Switzerland (AP) - A plane transporting oil workers from the Libyan capital, Tripoli, to an oil refinery crashed in the sea today with 41 aboard, officials said, adding there were unconfirmed reports of fatalities.

The plane, which belongs to Avisto AG air services, a Swiss company based in Zurich, went down this afternoon. It was carrying 38 passengers, apparently all oil workers, and three crew members.

Libyan officials said 18 of those on board had been rescued, according to the Libyan news agency Jana.

Swiss Transportation Ministry spokesman Hugo Schiltenhelm said the plane had taken off from Tripoli and was flying east to an oil refinery at Marsa el-Brega, halfway along Libya's Mediterranean Coast.

Shortly before the airport, the pilot reported that both engines had stopped working and he was going to try to make an emergency landing on the water.

``The plane hit the water just off the Libyan coast and sank,'' said Schiltenhelm. ``A search for survivors and for the aircraft is under way. Nothing can yet be said about the exact number of victims and there is no exact information about which countries the passengers came from.''

Schiltenhelm previously had said the ministry had unconfirmed reports that 15 people were killed. Avisto chairman Franz Fassbind told a Zurich television station that he had information there were up to 15 dead, but did not elaborate.

The plane was a Shorts 300-360, a twin-engined, propeller-driven plane manufactured in Northern Ireland.

Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman Livio Zanolari said he understood there were no Swiss among the victims.

The Swiss air accident investigation bureau, which confirmed the crash, said it would send an expert to Libya on Friday to investigate.

The investigator is flying from the United States, where he has been working on the investigation into the 1998 crash of a Swissair plane off the Canadian coast in which 229 people died, the ministry said.

Air traffic officials identified the plane as belonging to Avisto, a company that specializes in aircraft maintenance and repair. It concentrates its operations in North Africa and the Middle East, and operates service flights to oil platforms.

Calls to Avisto's headquarters were not answered.

On Monday, a twin-engine airplane belonging to the Swiss regional airline Crossair crashed in a field shortly after leaving Zurich's main airport en route to Dresden, Germany, killing all 10 people aboard.

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