Thursday, April 18, 2002
|Thursday: Smoke billows from the
Pirelli building after a small plane crashed into it.
MILAN, Italy A small plane
smashed into the tallest building in Milan Thursday evening,
causing smoke to pour out of the heavily damaged top
floors of the skyscraper. At least five people were
reported killed and 60 others were injured.
There were initial fears that the midtown
crash was a terrorist attack it was the second time since
Sept. 11 that a plane has struck a high-rise building but
officials later said that it appeared to have been a tragic
"It sounded like a bomb. The pavement shook
like an earthquake," said a woman identifying herself only as
In Washington, a senior Bush administration
official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Italian
officials had told the United States that a mechanical problem
not related to terrorism caused the crash. The pilot had sent
out a distress call, saying he had landing gear problems.
Some eyewitnesses reported that the plane
was on fire before crashing into the 30-story Pirelli
building, Milan Police Office Celerissimo De Simone said.
The Rockwell Commander plane, en route from
Switzerland on a 20-minute flight to Milan, punched a hole in
the 25th floor of the building, sparking a smoky fire
that was quickly put out. Rescuers helped bloodied men in
business suits evacuate the building.
The weather was clear at the time of the
crash, which occurred near the end of the work day and left
gaping holes on both sides of the slim skyscraper. A large
section of an entire floor lost its walls, and smoke and
liquid poured from the gash in one side of the building.
"The initial information that the Interior
Ministry has leads us to lean toward an accident," Interior
Minister Claudio Scajola said.
The pilot, identified as 75-year-old Luigi
Sasulo of Pregassona, Switzerland, had sent out a distress
call at 5:54 p.m. just before the crash near Milan's main
train station, said De Simone.
RAI state TV reported that the pilot said
he was experiencing engine trouble.
"We believe it isn't a terrorist attack,"
said police Sgt. Vincenzo Curto, who was reached at the
Carabinieri headquarters in Milan. "The pilot might have taken
ill or it was an engine problem."
In Rome, a spokesman for the senate
president, Marcello Pera, said the interior minister had
informed him that the crash didn't appear to be a terror
attack. Earlier, Pera had said it "very probably" was an
The plane had taken off from Locarno,
Switzerland, 50 miles northwest of Milan, and was heading to
Milan's Linate airport.
Patrick Herr, spokesman for the Swiss air
traffic control office SKYGUIDE, said the plane left Locarno
at 5.15 p.m.
A woman who worked on the eighth floor,
well below the crash, said she saw 10 people injured and
bleeding. News reports said at least 30 were taken to the
One Milan hospital, Fatebene Fratelli, said
it had received 20 injured, including a woman with burns.
"It was shocking," said Luccheta Antonio,
52, a barber down the block. "The windows shook, and the
"It was a violent explosion," said Stefano
Bottazzi, 35, who works in a skyscraper 500 yards from
building. "The clock fell to the floor."
On the streets, rescue workers in orange
uniforms helped the injured. Ambulances streamed into the area
and pedestrians peered upward.
As ambulance crews worked, a man with his
shirt splattered with blood and his hand covering a gash on
his head was rushed from the scene. Police cordoned off the
area as passersby gawked at the skyscraper.
At 30 stories high, the Pirelli structure,
located near the central train station, is Italy's first
skyscraper and one of the world's tallest concrete buildings.
It was built in 1958 and designed by architects Gio Ponti and
Pier Luigi Nervi. The building is one of the main symbols of
Milan, along with the city's cathedral.
The skyscraper, built of concrete and glass
with a diamond-shaped floor plan, has inspired design around
the world including the MetLife building in New York.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice
and White House chief of staff Andrew Card broke the news of
the crash to President Bush, White House press secretary Ari
"I think you can presume that we will be
if we are not already in touch with Italian authorities and
will ascertain precisely what the facts are," he said.
FBI personnel were assisting their Italian
counterparts in the investigation, an FBI official said.
U.S. authorities had no intelligence
suggesting any kind of terrorist attack was imminent in Milan,
a U.S. official said.
On March 27, the State Department issued a
warning for American citizens traveling in four Italian
cities, including Milan, during Easter.
The warning said the possible threat was
based on information about "extremist groups."
It was the second time since the Sept. 11
terror attacks that a plane has struck a high-rise building.
On Jan. 5, a 15-year-old boy flying alone crashed a stolen
plane into a building in Tampa, Fla.
The boy, Charles Bishop, left behind a
suicide note saying that Al Qaeda terrorists had tried to
recruit him, but police said there was no truth to the claim.
Relatives of the boy, who was the only fatality, have filed a
lawsuit claiming the acne drug Accutane was behind his
U.S. officials have called a mosque and
cultural center in Milan "the main Al Qaeda station house in
Since Sept. 11, several individuals have
been arrested in Milan as part of a crackdown on suspected
Islamic militants. Italian authorities uncovered an alleged Al
Qaeda plot in January, 2001, to attack the U.S. Embassy in
Rome and are investigating whether a second plot was in the
works earlier this year.
The Associated Press contributed to