Mourners pay respects to German air crash victims

Grieving relatives and friends gathered in the Ural Mountains city of Ufa today to pay their final respects to 28 people killed in last week’s air crash over Germany.

Grieving relatives and friends gathered in the Ural Mountains city of Ufa today to pay their final respects to 28 people killed in last week’s air crash over Germany.

More than 1,000 people came to Ufa’s central square where Muslim and Russian Orthodox ceremonies were held to mourn the victims, including 26 children, who died in the collision over Germany between a Russian Tu-154 and a DHL cargo plane piloted by Briton Paul Phillip.

The July 1 crash left 71 people dead, including 60 residents of Russia’s constituent republic of Bashkortostan, 49 of them children who were headed to a summer holiday in Spain.

Earlier today, the Swiss air traffic controller who was on duty at the time of the collision, expressed his condolences to the bereaved.

‘‘As a father I sense that this loss leaves a gap that will hurt,’’ the man, identified only as Peter N, told the German news magazine Focus.

Regina Khamatov, holding 10 red carnations in her hand and holding back tears came to mourn for her 10 year-old brother, Artur. ‘‘It is a stupid, absurd mistake,’’ she said. ‘‘He wanted to live so much.’’

Sergei Mironov, speaker of the Russian Federation Council, parliament’s upper house, visited Ufa, about 750 miles east of Moscow, to offer condolences on behalf of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

‘‘Your pain is immeasurable and your loss irrecoverable,’’ he said in a short, but emotional speech.

"And no matter whose fault it finally will be of air traffic controllers, the crews, tourist firms or evil fate we the adults are to be blamed that we have not saved our children, and they left us, as angels, for heaven.’’

Juergen Chrobog, a deputy foreign minister from Germany, said, ‘‘we will never forget your compatriots, German people crying together with Russians at the side of a charred wheat field.

He said Germany will erect a memorial at the crash site, ‘‘to serve as an eternal remembrance.’’

Swiss President Kaspar Villiger, who had originally planned to attend the ceremony, cancelled his visit after Russian officials warned that his presence might cause strong emotions among the mourners, many of whom blame the Swiss air traffic controllers for the crash.

But Bashkirian officials insisted that the Swiss president would have been welcome.

‘‘The guilt of one person is not the guilt of the whole state,’’ said Mars Kalmetov, head of the local administration.

Following the Muslim and Russian Orthodox services, where the mourners wept over zinc-lined wooden coffins lined up on the city’s main square, a procession of buses bearing portraits of victims in their windscreens carried their coffins for burial to the cemetery in southern Ufa.

Twenty-six victims, all of them children, were interred at the cemetery. Two other victims were buried elsewhere.

The procession, which stretched for almost one kilometre, was escorted by police across the city to the cemetery on a road strewn with flowers thrown by mourners who lined the streets.

The 28 coffins were brought to Ufa from Germany Saturday morning on a special cargo plane.

During the trip from Ufa’s airport to the main square, people lined the route throwing flowers along the procession’s path.

A similar service for 31 of the victims was held in Ufa last Monday.

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