- MILAN (Reuters) - A small
tourist plane smashed into a skyscraper in central Milan Thursday setting
ablaze the top floors of the 30-story building in an apparent accident,
the Italian Interior Minister said.
- Transport officials said the plane's pilot reported technical
problems shortly before plowing into the office block, killing at least
one person and injuring some 20 others.
- "We heard the sound of propellers as if from a small
aircraft and then there was a huge bang. Everything was flying through
the air -- paper, furniture," said a female office worker who declined
to give her name.
- The Interior Ministry said it was probably an accident,
scotching initial fears that the crash was a repeat of the September 11
suicide attacks on U.S. cities.
- "The first information we have points to an accident,"
Interior Minister Claudio Scajola told reporters.
- The skyscraper, which dominates the skyline of Italy's
financial capital, was torn open across at least two stories. It houses
local government offices, and towers above the city's central train station.
- An official at the local air transport office said the
pilot, who was believed to have taken off from the Swiss town of Locarno,
had reported problems with his plane's undercarriage as he approached Milan
in bright, late afternoon sunshine.
- Air traffic controllers lost contact with the pilot as
he was circling the city ahead of trying to land at around 5:45 p.m.
- Immediately after the incident, the president of the
upper house of parliament said the building was "very probably"
the target of a terror attack, but soon afterwards his spokesman said it
was probably just an accident. The skyscraper, which stands 400 feet tall,
is known as the Pirelli skyscraper, but the Italian tire and cable company
no longer operate from it.
- "I heard a strange bang so I went to the windows
and outside I saw the windows of the Pirelli building blown out and then
I saw smoke coming from them," said Gianluca Liberto, an engineer
who was working in the area.
- Since the September 11 hijacked airliner attacks on New
York's World Trade Center and in Washington, Italy has been at the forefront
of the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Europe.
- In October, U.S. officials said they believed Milan's
Islamic Cultural Institute was al Qaeda's main European base. Muslim leaders
in Italy have denied that charge.
- Italy has arrested around 30 people on suspicion of links
to extremist Islamic groups since September 11 and has frozen around $300
million of suspected assets.
- Milan's stock exchange suspended share trading after