Switzerland: 20 killed in WWII plane crash

ZURICH – An aircraft manufactured in Germany some 80 years ago has crashed into a mountainside in eastern Switzerland, killing all the 20 people on board.

The plane – a Junkers JU-52 HB-HOT – was carrying 17 passengers and three crew on a sightseeing flight when it took off on Saturday afternoon.

The doomed aircraft had departed from Ticino in southern Switzerland and was bound for Duebendorf military airfield near the city of Zurich when it crashed into the mountainside at an altitude of 2,450 meters (8,000 feet) above sea level on the west side of the Piz Segnas mountain shortly before 5 p.m. local time (1500 GMT).

The aircraft was in possession of JU-Air, a company with links to the Swiss Air Force. The operator said it was saddened by the news and it had set up a helpline for relatives. It has suspended all flights until further notice.

JU-Air runs a small fleet of four Junker planes, all built in 1939 and operated by ex-military and professional pilots.

The cause of the crash is not known.

Swiss police said five copters were involved in the search and rescue operation and the airspace over the crash site was to remain closed until late Sunday.

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The crash followed another fatal incident on the same day, in which a tourist plane carrying a couple and two young children crashed in a forest in central Switzerland and immediately burst into flames. No survivors have been found in that incident.