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Acrid smell of paraffin in the air: Two dead after aircraft crash in Siebengebirge

Acrid smell of paraffin in the air : Two dead after aircraft crash in Siebengebirge

On Monday morning, a small aircraft crashed and burst into flames not far from the Löwenburg fortress ruins in Königswinter. Two people were killed. The reason for the crash is still unclear.

Two people died in a plane crash in the Siebengebirge on Monday morning. They died on board a twin-engine aircraft that had taken off from the Sankt Augustin-Hangelar airfield at 8.17 a.m. with destination Hamburg. Not far from the Löwenburg, more precisely on the south-western slope of the Merkenshöhe near the Lohrberg, the multi-seat aircraft touched the treetops in dense fog, crashed over impassable slope terrain and broke into several pieces. The Bonn police and investigators from the Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation in Braunschweig (BFU) have begun their investigations into the cause of the accident.

The smell bites the nose. It settles on the jacket, the skin, in the hair. Already on Löwenburger Straße - the main route leading from the car park on Margarethenhöhe towards Löwenburg - the smell of kerosine and burning is in the air. Trees, bushes and meadows to the right and left of the paths are barely visible in the dense fog. Shortly before 9 a.m., the volunteer fire brigade of Königswinter, the German Red Cross and the police are on the scene in front of the entrance to the Löwenburger Hof forest restaurant. More and more emergency vehicles arrive. Most of them have to walk to the crash site about 300 metres away, not far from the Lohrbergrundweg, which is popular with walkers - to the place where the plane crashed in the early morning.

"All of a sudden there was a terribly loud bang," says a local resident. "I still have that sound in my ears." For years, the Ittenbach resident has been meeting up with acquaintances several times a week early in the morning for a Nordic walking round the Lohrberg. This was also the case on Monday. "At first I thought it was a rock fall, because we hadn't heard any flying noises or anything like that before," she says. "But then suddenly there was this acrid smell of paraffin in the air and my friend called the fire brigade.“

That was at 8.24 am. The fire brigades of Ittenbach, Uthweiler, Altstadt and Oelberg, about 60 men and women in all, were called out under the keyword "small plane crash". "At first it was completely unclear what kind of aircraft was involved: Gyrocopter, helicopter or a larger machine after all?", Marc Neunkirchen, deputy spokesperson of the Königswinter fire brigade, describes the situation in the morning. "Thanks to the emergency call we made, we were able to orientate ourselves quickly on site and coordinate the operation." Firelight is visible in the forest, but the wind also played into the firefighters' cards, he said: Since the smell of paraffin could already be perceived from the Margarethenhöhe, they concluded that the site of the accident must be on the windward side, i.e. the rear side of the Lohrberg.

The fire brigade set out with smaller vehicles to search the impassable area. "The steep slope terrain and the dense fog did not make the search any easier, of course," said Neunkirchen. The rescue control centre of the Rhein-Sieg district ordered two rescue helicopters. "This is an automated process in the case of such an alert, in order to be able to explore the situation from the air as well," explains the fire brigade spokesman.

Walkers and cyclists who are already on the road this early morning will have to find another way: The police have secured the slope, including the Franz-Schultz-Weg below it, and the hiking trails have been cordoned off. Later in the morning, the Bonn police's task force arrives to systematically investigate the crash site.

It was too late to help the two occupants of the plane, which broke into countless pieces on impact. The search is extended to rule out the possibility that other people were on board. The debris is spread over an area of about 1,000 square metres, trees were blown down by the force of the impact, and firebreaks are visible in the forest. The firefighters were able to extinguish fires and embers quickly, Neunkirchen said. At noon, the firefighters rescued the two accident victims from the steep slope with a drag basket and a stretcher.

The Criminal Investigation Department 11 of the Bonn police is taking over further investigations at the scene of the accident. Investigators from the Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation are coming from Braunschweig to the crash site in the Siebengebirge to get a picture on site and to clarify the question of why the plane crashed. Despite the bad weather conditions, the requirements for a take-off had been met, Nadine Pilgram from the Hangelar airfield company told the GA. In addition, she said, the aircraft was equipped with flight instruments, which should ensure flying and navigating even in poor visibility conditions. "This was not one of the very small machines," Pilgram said. The machines of the Luftsportgemeinschaft Siebengebirge, also based in Hangelar, on the other hand, were not equipped for instrument flight, for example, said Stefan Koch, a member of the board, when asked. Pilgram adds that aircraft equipped for instrument flight can only be controlled with the help of the instruments on board and the support of the air traffic controllers on the ground; this presupposes that the pilot also has the appropriate authorisation for instrument flight. That was the case in this instance.

It is currently unclear whether the propeller plane was a private or charter flight. The criminal investigation department was also on site at the airfield in order to obtain information about the possible identity of the victims, for example through cars parked there. Robert Scholten, spokesman for the Bonn police, said late this afternoon that the two deceased had been taken to forensic medicine to establish their identities beyond doubt. He expects this to be the case in the course of Tuesday.

Until late Monday evening, the investigators of the AAIB examined the accident site, "meticulously", as Scholten says. The area remains closed, the police are also securing the accident site during the night. "It will take some time before the actual cause of the accident can be determined."


Original text: Heike Hamann and Claudia Sülzen

Translation: Mareike Graepel