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German Residents Shocked by Crash

July 2, 2002

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UEBERLINGEN, Germany (AP) _ Margarete Lenz was lying awake when she heard a chartered Russian airliner slam into a cargo plane over southern Germany: ``I heard the thud when it hit, and then the explosion and the fireball.″

A wing and the six-wheel landing gear of the Russian plane landed in her neighbor’s yard, clipping off the tops of four silver birch trees and coming to rest against a fir tree. Yards away, a large section of charred fuselage lay against the garden wall.

The neighbor’s house caught fire. The awning on the side was burned as were the roof of the garden shed, patches of lawn and some apple trees in the orchard next door.

But the family, like Lenz’s household and others on the ground, were unharmed by the accident late Monday that killed 71 people on the two planes, including 52 children.

Stunned residents of the lakeside resort in southern Germany counted themselves fortunate Tuesday even though large pieces of debris fell to earth from the chartered Russian jet and a DHL cargo plane.

Traffic crawled along the north shore of Lake Constance Tuesday, held up in many places by police barricades to protect areas where debris or remains were found. Schools in the lakeside resort town of Ueberlingen were closed because buses were unable to pick up many children.

Police in helicopters scoured an area 19 miles long and in places 3 miles wide in search of debris, while officers on the ground seached for remains.

Later Tuesday, about 400 people crowded into Ueberlingen’s 16th-century Cathedral of St. Nicholas for an ecumenical memorial service, at which a psalm was read out in Russian.

``We just have to do our part,″ said Gaby Schmidt, a vacationer from the southwestern city of Tuebingen who attended the service. ``The Russians are our neighbors.″

Large pieces of aircraft fell among houses at Owingen, just north of Ueberlingen. A police cruiser on a routine night patrol saw the flash from the collision and the first bodies fall on the road only 50 yards ahead seconds later, police director Hans-Peter Walser said.

``Our house shuddered,″ Lenz said. Her husband ran next door with a fire extinguisher, but it was useless.

``It was as bright as day. I thought that whole house was in flames,″ she said.

Police spokesman Harald Wanner refused to identify the family, but said they were able to call firefighters in time to save the house.

``One or two roof tiles may have been hit, but there was no serious damage,″ said Wanner. ``All the windows are still there.″

The house was about two miles from the farmer’s fields where the tail section of the Russian plane landed _ about half a mile away from the nearest houses.

The DHL cargo plane, a Boeing 757, was found in woods on a hillside near Taisersdorf, about five miles from Ueberlingen.

Much of the fuselage sliced through a stand of pine trees, cutting through trunks up to a foot thick and landing on a country lane. Another large chunk lay among the trees.

Charred fragments and DHL packages littered the scene, which was still smoking in places Tuesday amid a heavy odor of jet fuel. An engine could be seen in a meadow a few hundred yards away.

``As widely scattered as these pieces were, it is truly a miracle that nothing happened here on the ground,″ Wanner said.

Lenz was still shaken as she walked her dog Tuesday.

``We had a good guardian angel,″ she said.

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