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A small plane has ran into a skyscraper in Milan.
April 18, 2002 9:34 AM   Subscribe

A small plane has ran into a skyscraper in Milan.  CNN is reporting that a small plane has struck the 25th floor of the Pirelli building. The skyscraper apparently houses government offices. Details are still coming in.
posted by bshort (64 comments total)

 
...post.
posted by jonmc at 9:37 AM on April 18, 2002


Thank you for that jonmc. Of course, it probably won't make any sense when the other posts get deleted.

Also, the U.S. consulate is being evacuated.
posted by insomnyuk at 9:42 AM on April 18, 2002


Skyscraper page looks like its flaking out. You can get more information on the Pirelli building at Vitruvio.ch (also here).
posted by bshort at 9:44 AM on April 18, 2002


Also:

posted by bshort at 9:45 AM on April 18, 2002


Terrorism, accident, or Acutaine?

CNN is saying the pilot radioed an SOS just before the crash. That doesn't make sense. If he could opperate the radio he could certainly steer it away from the building.
posted by bondcliff at 9:47 AM on April 18, 2002


not if the steering was the problem causing the sos.

It's gonna turn out to be an accident, folks.
posted by jpoulos at 9:48 AM on April 18, 2002


Typical. You wait for years and then three come along all at once.
posted by niceness at 9:49 AM on April 18, 2002


How do the ability to use the radio and controling the aircraft have anything to do with each other?
posted by anathema at 9:49 AM on April 18, 2002


Remember last week when Mary J Blige cancelled her concert in Milan due to terrorism fears?

She looks pretty smart now, eh?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:49 AM on April 18, 2002


If he could opperate the radio he could certainly steer it away from the building.

There are all sorts of mechanical things that could go wrong that would keep him from steering but still allow him to use the radio. Cf. Sioux City 1989.
posted by aaron at 9:50 AM on April 18, 2002


The steering wouldn't be a problem in a small plane. If for some reason the ailerons didn't work you can always use the rudder in a pinch or vice versa.

Most accidents like this happen because the pilot panics and does something wrong. In this case, calling in an SOS instead of flying the plane away from the building.
posted by bondcliff at 9:52 AM on April 18, 2002


If this is the designated thread, I'll put my comment here, too: The story was posted at 12:30 eastern time, and says it hit at 5:50 pm Italy time. Is that 11:50 am eastern time (U.S.)? (i.e., about an hour ago now?)
posted by yhbc at 9:52 AM on April 18, 2002


yes, yhbc
posted by jpoulos at 9:56 AM on April 18, 2002


ABCnews had this one:



The damage in this image looks rather more extensive as it seems to span several floors.
posted by bshort at 9:58 AM on April 18, 2002


I'm curious what kind of plane this was. Seems like alot of damage for a "piper tourist plane."

To clarify my above post, the only thing the radio and "steering" have in common is the pilot. The steering on a small plane (assuming the current reports are right and it's a small prop plane) is about as complex and prone-to-failure as a bicycle. If the engine fails he would still have enough control of the plane to, if not glide to a safe landing, at least turn away from a skyscraper. The fact that he was able to radio an SOS is an indication he was awake. If you have a choice between calling in an SOS and turning the plane, you turn the plane.

A skyscraper is pretty hard to hit in clear weather. Unless you do it on purpose.

Anyway, I've known about this for two whole minutes and I'm probably jumping to conclusions. I feel like Tom Brokaw.
posted by bondcliff at 10:07 AM on April 18, 2002


I'm sorry, but this doesn't look like an 'accident'. The pilot reported losing control of the plane, perhaps he meant losing control of it to another person. The Pirelli building is very hard to miss, and it looks like a very clear evening in Milan. How in the world could this happen? The only accidental plane crash into a skyscraper I can think of is that one in the 40's into the Empire state building, but that was in thick fog...

This is too much...
posted by evanizer at 10:07 AM on April 18, 2002


The TV says he radioed to say he had lost control of the plane before it hit. Eyewitnesses say it was on fire before it hit.

It looks like an accident but it seems remarkably coincidental. It even hit the same part of the building as the WTC.
posted by dydecker at 10:08 AM on April 18, 2002


It even hit the same part of the building as the WTC.

What? The side of the building? You mean as opposed to the top?
posted by eyeballkid at 10:17 AM on April 18, 2002


It even hit the same part of the building as the WTC.

What, the middle?
posted by jennyjenny at 10:19 AM on April 18, 2002


Oh boy, here we go again. Any news of the Pentagon being evacuated, just for kicks?
posted by betobeto at 10:20 AM on April 18, 2002


Oop! eyeballkid, you beat me to it.
posted by jennyjenny at 10:20 AM on April 18, 2002


Radio says the pilot was the only one on the plane.

The building is the Milan Government building. It is 30 storeys tall. The plane hit about 24 storey up, on the side.

They say the building won't collapse.

I don't understand this.
posted by dydecker at 10:22 AM on April 18, 2002


you beat me to it, yhbc
posted by adampsyche at 10:22 AM on April 18, 2002


BBC reports that the Italian interior minister considers it an accident and that: "BBC transport correspondent Tom Symonds says Pipers have a history of safety problems to do with systems failures."
posted by talos at 10:23 AM on April 18, 2002


adam, you should've posted it anyway, then we could have pointed at each other and gone "JINX!"
posted by yhbc at 10:24 AM on April 18, 2002


I don't understand this.

Ok, a long time ago, a guy named Bernoulli came up with something called fluid dynamics...
posted by bondcliff at 10:24 AM on April 18, 2002


perhaps he meant losing control of it to another person.

sorry, ev, but that's a huge stretch. "Damn! I knew I shouldn't have picked up that swarthy hitchiker!"

It looks like an accident but it seems remarkably coincidental.

This kind of thing happens. Christ, the same thing happened a few months ago in Miami, remember?
posted by jpoulos at 10:29 AM on April 18, 2002


Some reports are saying there were flames coming from the plane before it hit. If there was a fire onboard, that could explain why he didn't see the building.

Still though, it does seem kind of strange. Especially with recent warnings about terrorism in Italy.
posted by bondcliff at 10:31 AM on April 18, 2002


Apparently the plane was on fire before it hit the building, according to an Italian Government Minister who witnessed the crash. It's an accident, innit?
posted by boneybaloney at 10:31 AM on April 18, 2002


i hardly know whether to rampantly speculate or wildly overreact.
posted by zoopraxiscope at 10:33 AM on April 18, 2002


This kind of thing happens. Christ, the same thing happened a few months ago in Miami, remember?

Actually, the thing in Miami was a suicide. Kid left a note. This, though, does look more and more like an accident.

*on preview, zoopraxiscope made me spit up coffee*
posted by eyeballkid at 10:34 AM on April 18, 2002


cough. (radio controlled steering.) cough.
posted by clavdivs at 10:34 AM on April 18, 2002


....not saying I didn't shit meself initially, though. God, my girlfriend's flying to Roma tomorrow morning as well. I know it's stupid but I'm sure the atmosphere'll be tense even if this is conclusively shown to be an accident.
posted by boneybaloney at 10:35 AM on April 18, 2002


In times like these I prefer to rampantly speculate.

Especially when I know enough about airplanes to ACT like an expert but not enough to actually know what the hell I'm talking about.
posted by bondcliff at 10:35 AM on April 18, 2002


Actually, it was Tampa, not Miami.
As a former Tampan, I feel the need to correct.
posted by bshort at 10:38 AM on April 18, 2002


The Pirelli building is very hard to miss...

Indeed, apparently this is true. :-)

Accident, folks.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:40 AM on April 18, 2002


whoops. fact-checking has never been my strong suit. tampa.
posted by jpoulos at 10:40 AM on April 18, 2002


Not terrorism. Terrorists want you to know it wasn't an accident so it wouldn't be made to look like one. Maybe it was attempted terrorism, but the bomb he was carrying detonated too soon and caused the accident? ...there I go rampantly speculating.
posted by plaino at 10:41 AM on April 18, 2002


Not that I'm an engineer, but the relative size of the plane to the building, as well as the amount of fuel left, would, I think, mean the difference between the building falling or standing. Thankfully, for whatever reason, they say it won't fall, and they have time to get people out.

Also the building is relatively 'thin' for lack of a better description, well one that I could come up with anyway. I wonder how this affects its stability.
posted by birgitte at 10:46 AM on April 18, 2002


Revenge for Burlesconi's comments about Islam?
posted by dydecker at 10:46 AM on April 18, 2002


If you can call an accident some kind of revenge between warring gods, sure. Go with that.
posted by eyeballkid at 11:04 AM on April 18, 2002


it's be like A Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
posted by eyeballkid at 11:06 AM on April 18, 2002


i mean "it'd"
posted by eyeballkid at 11:08 AM on April 18, 2002


The Pirelli building is very hard to miss, and it looks like a very clear evening in Milan. How in the world could this happen?

Geez, I didn't realize clear evenings in Milan were that rare...
posted by alumshubby at 11:15 AM on April 18, 2002


this changes everything.
posted by lotsofno at 11:21 AM on April 18, 2002


If he could opperate the radio he could certainly steer it away from the building.

Maybe that was the problem. He was too busy steering the radio to get the plane back under control?
posted by dwivian at 11:48 AM on April 18, 2002


lotsofno: this changes everything.

Best. Verbal Irony. Ever. And by best, I mean totally sweet.
posted by Danelope at 12:23 PM on April 18, 2002


Is there anybody here with some more then Flight Simulator experience ? I'd like to know

a)if it's so easy NOT to see the tallest building in the city
b)if it is standard procedure to fly low-level on a (densely)
populated area
c) why is a plane that declared an emergency circling
over a city, assuming that it doesn't have steering
problems ?

On italian news some witness said the airplane was
on flames, somebody speculated the hydraulics oil
came in contact with some fire(?) or hot surface,
burned and created a cloud of smoke which reduced
pilot visibility to zero.

Shouldn't the pilot climb to a safe altitude in such conditions ?
posted by elpapacito at 12:29 PM on April 18, 2002


Here in Spain TV networks say that perhaps the pilot was unconscious because the smoke going into the cabin.

Yesterday was a day of general strike in Italia (Berlusconi is as bad as our own Aznar) so the timing seemed perfect for a terrorist attack.

Also the Brigate Rosse seems to be again at work.

But this seems an accident.

Real life is getting more and more suspicious every day that passes.
posted by samelborp at 12:38 PM on April 18, 2002


Expect French conspiracy theorists to boldly state that the Pirelli building never existed.
posted by brownpau at 1:00 PM on April 18, 2002


we know this to be an accident because the terrorists have already won.
posted by donkeysuck at 1:11 PM on April 18, 2002


elpapacito: Just talked to one of the guys that I work with who does fly somewhat regularly. In response to your questions he says...

b)if it is standard procedure to fly low-level on a (densely) populated area
Normally you maintain a 1,000 ft buffer between your plane any structure within 2,000 feet...so no, that's not normal. This rule does not apply, however, when a pilot declairs a state of emergency for his/her plane. If an emergency is declaired, the pilot may do whatever he/she deems neccessary to safely land the plane.

c) why is a plane that declared an emergency circling over a city, assuming that it doesn't have steering problems ?
According to my coworker, there is no good reason for a plane to head torwards a densely populated area when in a state of emergency as there is (generally) no place to crash land a plane in the middle of a city.

From the conversation I just had, my coworker seemed pretty convinced that it was no accident. He echoed the previously stated posts that said a plane does not become a big rock when the engines go and that you do in fact maintain much control. He said that in a Rockwell Commander you'd have a minute or two of glide time before you couldn't do anything. He also suggested that the guy flying the plane couldn't have been just any idiot as the Commander is not the easiest plane to fly and as such the pilot should have known enough to stear the plane away from the building.
posted by darainwa at 1:19 PM on April 18, 2002


fwiw, darainwa, reuters has reported that the pilot was 67 year old Gino Fasulo, supposedly an experienced pilot.
posted by zoopraxiscope at 1:32 PM on April 18, 2002


Is their defense on top off things enough that he would have feared being shot down? If it was intentional, maybe that's why he called the SOS, to be sure he would make it there?
posted by allpaws at 1:48 PM on April 18, 2002


On special live version of Italian TV "Porta a Porta" (much watched cross between Politically Incorrect, Larry King Live, Ted Koppel)
-the VP of Regione Lombardia (official from the regional government domiciled in the Pirelli building) appears live in person to sadly state that 2 dead are confirmed, both were working on the 24 floor in the building. She appears after just having spoken to President Ciampi by phone.
-the nephew of the pilot states by phone that his 67 year old uncle had no mental health problems, financial problems, or any other problems.
-an uncofirmed report states the pilot had just taken 2 million Swiss Francs out of his Swiss bank account.
-the father of Laura, the woman who was heroicaly carried down the stairs by 4 co-workers, sends an email to the TV station to thank everyone
-100 firemen dispatched will work through the night.
Over and out.
posted by Voyageman at 2:23 PM on April 18, 2002


Massively more than FlightSim experience. I fly for a living and could train any of you monkeys to fly. That being said.
a. Normally, no. However the smoke coming from the plane makes the oil leak or hydraulic leak theory a possible one. Oil leaks have a very nasty habit in piston singles of coating the windscreen with black instantly.
b. What darainwana said. There are many rules for varying kinds of terrain, but over densely populated areas 1,000' higher than anything in a 2,000' radius is the rule, except for takeoff and landing. Was this building anywhere near an airport? Many downtowns are very close and under the approach paths.
c. Unless there was an airport near the city center or the city was on the way on a straight-line route to one, flying towards a city is very odd. You head for an airport. That's rule 1.
d. Actually, no. With engine trouble, especially fire, the troubleshooting procedure will lead you to shut down the engine and therefore stop the fuel very quickly. Even if the engine was still running, you want to head for an airport. Descending is not good because you want to preserve altitude for a power-off glide, but climbing will only slow your progress to an airport and add time to descend with an engine on fire.

There are many facts still missing. The location of the plane when problem started. The route and proximity of airports. The condition of the engine upon impact, running or no. The weather appears great from photos but maybe the fog just burned off.
As for the SOS, that's also standard procedure but it does show that this pilot had some time. You turn towards an airport, troubleshoot, then call for help. Nobody on the ground can help you unless you get it down safely, preferably on a runway. I'm assuming, of course, that he didn't freak and start yelling, which has happened.
Allpaws, unless Italy had CAP overhead Milan there was no possible air defense. Like the WTC impacts that happened mere moments after the planes came into view over Manhattan, this probably happened very quickly.
If this was a terror attack, its a rather pathetic one. The Commander did little damage and caused little loss of life. There were surely larger and more powerful aircraft at the Swiss airport where the guy started his flight that he could have stolen if his intention was make a big impact. The only real reason for using a small plane is as a carrying vehicle for something like a WMD, which obviously was not onboard or Milan would be a crater by now.
The fact that he hit near the top could be evidence that he was trying to glide over the building (assuming the engine was kaput) and screwed up his estimation of the glide. This is a very, very common mistake. Of course, this is assuming there was an airport or at least a good open field on the other side that he was trying to reach. When gliding, turning causes a massive loss of lift and stepens the glide. A desperate pilot trying to stretch his glide would not turn away, he would fly perfectly level and try to slow down to eek his way over. This behaviour tends to cause a stall, which would result in a nearly vertical drop but I guess he managed to avoid that.

Faking smoke is easy. Anybody who's been to an airshow knows that. Fire is much harder. If witnesses saw flames, then there was something massively wrong that would be nearly impossible to cause intentionally.

As you can probably tell from the fact that I've used the word like 50 times already, we pilots tend to focus on one thing when stuff goes wrong: airport. The location and proximity of an airport to this building is something I'd like to know.

We need more info. I will withhold my conclusions until we get it. As someone used to the glacial progress of NTSB investigations, I've become used to waiting for an answer.

Hope I've been helpful.
posted by eszetela at 2:27 PM on April 18, 2002


"I fly for a living and could train any of you monkeys to fly."
I got a whole tree of banannas if you get help me with the Piper Cub:)
posted by clavdivs at 2:30 PM on April 18, 2002


Heh. I'll take that as a joke. :) I got out of flight instruction years ago when I moved on to bigger and better things. It was fun though, having people try to kill you for a living...
posted by eszetela at 2:38 PM on April 18, 2002


according to one of their websites :

Distance from airports:
Malpensa: 1 hour
Linate: 30 min

assuming by air it's much quicker
posted by Nauip at 4:03 PM on April 18, 2002


It's not like hasn't happened before.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:05 PM on April 18, 2002


The Metlife building in New York, (formerly the Pan Am building) is based on the Pirelli building in Milan. The Pirelli building was of course designed by Luigi Nervi, who was actually an engineer. His buildings were quite beatiful because they never hid structural elements, rather they emphasized and exposed the ribs and columns which held these things in the air. You'll notice that unlike certain other buildings, the Pirelli building hasn't fallen down.
posted by Settle at 7:22 PM on April 18, 2002


Not a fair point, Settle. What brought the WTC towers down, I think everyone agrees, was the intense burning of the huge amount of jet fuel in the planes that hit them. The single-engine plane that hit this building carried only a tiny amount by comparison.

Also, as bad as this was (and as scary as it was for a while), it seems very strange to think it's a "good" thing that it now appears to have been "just" an accident.
posted by yhbc at 7:48 PM on April 18, 2002


I find it interesting that there were so many news reports of "stock market reaction."

The TSE reacted with a 0.83% (less than 1%) reaction between the index fifteen minutes before the accident, and its ultimate low point during lunch-hour.

That's no reaction at all.

The American markets were a little jumpier -- I guess you guys are feeling hunted -- but even the NASDAQ only managed a 2% swing, and recovered most of it.

Trust the media to go all silly about the market.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:42 PM on April 18, 2002


Probably not worth starting a new thread over (or even making a link to one of the stories in this thread), but there is now speculation, fueled by the pilot's son, that this crash may also have been a pilot suicide, as in Tampa. If so, that would answer a lot of the questions from earlier in the thread of the "why didn't he miss the building" variety.
posted by yhbc at 9:19 AM on April 19, 2002


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