Small Plane Hits Milan
Skyscraper In 'Accident'

By William Schomberg

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 the incident.

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