The West German air force chief said Friday the pilot of a U.S. Thunderbolt anti-tank plane that crashed into a city north of the capital Thursday may have become disoriented as he climbed his jet out of fog.
The pilot and four residents of Remscheid, a city 40 miles north of Bonn, died when the A-10 jet crashed into a row of 20 houses. One more body was recovered Friday, raising the death toll to five. One person was still missing.Police corrected an earlier report that two more bodies had been found Friday.
The pilot of the twin-engine jet, Capt. Michael P. Foster, 34, of the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, was found dead Thursday in his ejector seat, authorities said.
About 50 people were injured when the plane, known as a Thunderbolt, crashed into the city of 121,000, triggering fires that raged for hours, a police spokesman said. Nine people were still hospitalized, three with serious burns.
The West German air force chief-of-staff, Lt. Gen. Horst Jungkurth, said at a news conference that pilot error may have caused the accident because, he said, the Thunderbolt was the safest U.S. Air Force plane in service and chances of a technical fault were very small.
"The plane was climbing when it began to crash," Jungkurth said. "That is the usual procedure when encountering fog. The pilot in climbing might have lost his orientation. But that is just speculation."
He said he could not confirm statements by witnesses that the plane was on fire as it descended into Remscheid before it crashed.
The crash prompted new demands for a ban on low-level NATO training flights or their curtailment, but Jungkurth said the A-10 had been flying at a height of over 3,000 feet.
Remscheid Mayor Willi Hartkopf said he supported the growing campaign against low level training flights, which the government has said are necessary for defense.
"We have been fighting in vain against these training flights for three to four years," Hartkopf said. "Low-flying planes thunder over the city again and again."
Hans-Jochen Vogel, the chairman of the opposition Social Democrats, demanded Friday the banning of low-level training flights "without any qualification."
Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Winfried Dunkel said at the same news conference that U.S. Ambassador Richard Burt had assured Defense Minister Rupert Scholz the U.S. Air Force would accept the ministry's request to halt all low-level flights for the rest of the year.
Dunkel said Belgium and Holland also had agreed to halt their flights and he expected Britain, France and Canada to agree too. He said the training flights would resume Jan. 2.
He added Scholz already had ordered a reduction in West German flights.
Scholz was criticized by the Social Democrats for not banning the U.S. air show at Ramstein Air Base in August in which three Italian stunt planes crashed, killing 70 people.
A public prosecutor in the city of Wuppertal, near Remscheid, announced Friday he will investigate the crash to see whether the United States could be charged with responsibility for the death.