World Air Photography Blogs

SAS (Scandinavian Airlines System) Disaster in Milan

In 2001 a McDonnell-Douglas MD-87 from SAS and a Cessna Citation CJ2 collided in thick fog at Milan’s Linate Airport. There were a total of 118 casualties.


SAS MD-87 Photo: Alexander Jonsson

Cessna Citation 525-A

Cessna Citation 525-A. Photo: Alan Radecki

The Linate Airport disaster occurred on 8 October 2001 at Linate Airport in Milan, Italy, when Scandinavian Airlines Flight 686, a McDonnell Douglas MD-87 airliner carrying 110 people bound for Copenhagen, Denmark, collided on take-off with a Cessna Citation CJ2 business jet carrying four people bound for Paris, France. All 114 people on both aircraft were killed, as well as four people on the ground. Investigation revealed that the collision was ultimately caused by a number of non functioning and non conforming safety systems, standards and procedures at the airport.

The Linate Airport disaster is the deadliest air disaster to ever occur in Italian aviation history.Two aircraft were involved in the collision. The larger of the two aircraft was a McDonnell-Douglas MD-87. The jet was piloted by Captain Joakim Gustafsson (36) and First Officer Anders Hyllander (36). The captain, a highly skilled pilot, was hired by SAS in 1987 and he had more than 5,800 hours of flight experience to his credit. He had logged approximately 230 hours in the aircraft type. The first officer, also an above average pilot, was hired by the airline in 1997. At the time of the accident he had more than 4,300 total flying hours. He was more experienced in the aircraft type than his captain, having logged 2,000 hours in it.

The second aircraft was a Cessna Citation 525-A. There were two German pilots aboard. The captain was 36 years old. He had approximately 5,000 total flight hours, of which roughly 2,400 were accumulated in the aircraft type. The first officer was 64 years old. He had approximately 12,000 flight hours under his belt. He had logged roughly 2,000 hours in the aircraft type. One of the passengers was Luca Fossati, chairman of Star – Stabilimento Alimentare S.p.A. and owner of the Cessna Citation.

The Accident

The accident occurred in thick fog, with visibility reduced to less than 200 metres (656 ft). The Cessna Citation was instructed to taxi from the western apron along the northern taxiway (taxiway R5), and then via the northern apron to the main taxiway which runs parallel to the main runway, a route that would have kept it clear of the main runway. Instead, the pilot taxied along the southern taxi route (taxiway R6), crossing the main runway toward the main taxiway which lay beyond it.

Disaster Map

Disaster Map from Pikappa at Italian Wikipedia (click map for larger version)

At 08:09:28, the SAS MD-87 was given clearance by a different controller to take off from runway 36R. Fifty-three seconds later, the SAS aircraft, traveling at about 270 kilometres per hour (150 kn; 170 mph), collided with the Cessna.

Artist rendition of collision between SAS MD-87 SE-DMA and Cessna Citation 525

Artist rendition of collision between SAS MD-87 SE-DMA and Cessna Citation 525

One of the four passengers in the Cessna was killed on impact; the remaining three were burned alive. The MD-87 lost its right engine; the pilot, Joakim Gustafsson from Sweden, attempted to take off, reaching an altitude of approximately 12 metres (39 ft). The remaining engine lost some thrust due to debris ingestion, and the plane, having lost the starboard landing gear, came down. Gustafsson applied thrust reverser and brakes, and tried to guide the plane through its control surfaces. This was insufficient to halt the jet’s momentum, and it crashed into a luggage hangar located near the runway’s end, at a speed of approximately 251 kilometres per hour (136 kn; 156 mph). In the impact, all the MD-87’s crew and passengers were killed. The crash and subsequent fire killed four Italian ground personnel in the hangar, and injured four more.

 Remains of SAS MD 87

The remains of the crashed Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS)

Remains of SAS MD-87

Remains of SAS MD-87


The accident occurred less than a month after the September 11 attacks and the day after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan began, but SAS was quick to rule out a terrorist attack as the cause. This was subsequently confirmed by the investigations that followed.

The accident was investigated by the Agenzia Nazionale per la Sicurezza del Volo (ANSV), whose efforts were hampered by the actions of Italian police, with investigative pre-eminence under Italian law. They neglected to recover the cockpit voice recorder, and (having refused access for inspection by the ANSV) removed the aircraft debris from the site without regard for the investigative process and its requirements. The ANSV’s final report was published on 20 January 2004, and concluded that the “immediate cause” of the accident was the incursion of the Cessna aircraft on to the active runway. However, the ANSV stopped short of placing the blame unequivocally on the Cessna pilots, who had become lost in the fog: its report identified a number of deficiencies in the airport layout and procedures. Linate Airport was operating without a functioning ground radar system at the time, despite having had a new system delivered some years beforehand. The previous system had been decommissioned, but the replacement had not been fully installed.

The new system finally came online a few months later. Guidance signs along the taxiways were obscured or badly worn, and were later found not to meet regulations. After mistakenly turning onto the R6 taxiway that led to the runway, there were no signs by which the Cessna pilots could recognize where they were. When they stopped at a taxiway stop-marking and correctly reported its identifier (S4), the ground controller disregarded this identification because it was not on his maps and was unknown to him. Motion sensing runway incursion alarms, although present, had been deactivated to prevent false alarms from vehicles or animals. The ground controller’s verbal directions used terminology to designate aprons, taxiways and runways which did not match the way they were designated and labelled. Lastly, neither pilot of the Cessna was certified for landings with visibility less than 550 metres (1,804 ft), but had landed at the airport anyway a few minutes before the disaster.

On 16 April 2004, a Milan court found four persons guilty for the disaster. Airport director Vincenzo Fusco and air-traffic controller Paolo Zacchetti were both sentenced to eight years in prison. Francesco Federico, former head of the airport, and Sandro Gualano, former head of the air traffic control agency, received sentences of six and a half years. In the appeal trial (7 July 2006), Fusco and Federico were discharged. Another four people were sentenced. The pardon law issued by the Italian Parliament on 29 July 2006 reduced all convictions by three years. On 20 February 2007 the Corte di Cassazione upheld the decision of the Appeal Court.



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