Ghost flight over the Baltic Sea Family crashed in plane had connections to region

Cologne/Wachtberg · Many questions remain unanswered after the crash of a small plane in the Baltic Sea. On board was the Cologne entrepreneur and carnivalist Peter Griesemann and his family. They acquired the Dreilindenhof site in Wachtberg in 2021.

This Cessna 551 crashed into the Baltic Sea on Sunday.

This Cessna 551 crashed into the Baltic Sea on Sunday.

Foto: Markus Schmoll

The first reports on Sunday spoke of a "ghost flight" when a private aircraft apparently flew across Europe without being steered by a pilot. The Cessna 551 was still flying over the Baltic Sea and then crashed into the water off the coast of Latvia.

On Monday, the story of the mysterious flight shifted to the Rhineland and shocks the Cologne Carnival: on board the plane was Cologne businessman and carnivalist Peter Griesemann with his wife and daughter. Griesemann is said to have flown the plane. The daughter's partner was also said to have been there. The family was supposed to have landed at Cologne/Bonn airport that evening.

There is little hope of recovering the pilot and passengers alive. On Monday night, only the wreckage and debris of the plane were discovered, according to the Latvian Sea Rescue Coordination Centre.

Family wanted to realise their idea of a riding stable in Wachtberg-Niederbachem

The last time the Griesemann family was in the public eye was in May 2021, when they acquired the extensive Dreilindenhof estate in the highlands of Wachtberg-Niederbachem from Baron Edouard de Rothschild for a seven-figure sum through the Sotheby's auction house. Lisa Griesemann and her partner Paul Völlmer wanted to realise their ideas of a riding stable on the approximately 20-hectare riding facility with 16 horse stalls.

The focus of the handling of the horse should be on competitive sport, but not on high-performance sport, explained the then 23-year-old controller with a Bachelor's and Master's degree in electrical engineering and management. Because the well-being of the animal was to be cared for and be the focus of the efforts with extensive riding stable equipment, the twelve free boxes were to be allocated hand-picked. Four boxes were earmarked for their own four horses. According to Lisa Griesemann's and Paul Völlmer's wishes, the personal attitude towards horse keeping and care of the stable owners should harmonise with that of the owner family.

In order to put the plan into practice themselves, the couple moved into the large residential house centrally located on the grounds. Dirk Schneider from Broichhof, a long-established equestrian farm on the Rodderberg in Wachtberg-Niederbachem, said that in the short time they had developed a very good neighbourly relationship. They exchanged ideas and occasionally helped each other. That is why he and his son Karl Schneider have offered support if it is needed at the Dreilindenhof. "We are all deeply shocked. This is a tragedy," said Dirk Schneider.

Family wanted to fly to Cologne/Bonn

The family wanted to fly from Jerez de la Frontera airport in Andalusia to Cologne/Bonn on Sunday. According to media reports, they have a holiday home on the coast there. According to authorities in various European countries, the Cessna 551 changed course on its way to Cologne for an unknown reason. "Already in French airspace, the aircraft was escorted by a French Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) formation, a German Eurofighter then took over," an air force spokesman told our editorial team. A QRA response usually consists of two Eurofighters. They take off when an aircraft cannot be reached by radio to clarify the situation. One Eurofighter then stays next to the cockpit of the aircraft and tries to make contact. This is done by means of internationally standardised visual signals between crews, as the air force spokesman explains.

Already in France, however, the fighter pilots could not see anyone in the cockpit. It is possible that the occupants were already unconscious at that point. An expert in aviation safety, Hans Kjäll, told a Swedish news agency that pressure problems could have caused the passengers to lose consciousness. He said this could happen quickly, especially at altitudes where small planes were flying. "The plane was flying on a straight line through the airspace, the pilot must have engaged the autopilot," the air force spokesman said. In Danish and Swedish airspace, other fighter planes took over the escort. As long as there is the option that someone in the cabin could become active and intervene, the Eurofighters can do nothing more than escort the aircraft. In the case of the Cessna 551, the plane finally crashed when it ran out of fuel.

Christoph Kuckelkorn, President of the Cologne Festival Committee, told our editorial staff when asked: "I am stunned by the sudden death of Peter Griesemann, his wife and daughter, my deepest sympathy goes to the family. Peter made a lot of difference in the city over decades, as an entrepreneur and as a carnivalist." Griesemann had led the Blaue Funken into a new age as president for many years. In the Festkomitee, the 72-year-old was chairman of the supervisory board for the past five years. "Peter not only had expertise and entrepreneurial spirit, he also had a lot of heart for the people and Fastelovend," said Kuckelkorn. "Carnival and also I personally lose a valuable advisor and a loyal friend in him." On social networks, carnival bands such as "Cat Ballou" and the "Funky Marys" expressed their shock. Presenter Guido Cantz also reacted with a "RIP" to a photo of Peter Griesemann. The Latvian authorities are responsible for investigating the accident.

Original text: Claudia Hauser and Petra Reuter

Translation: Mareike Graepel

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