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Tower crash scare in Frankfurt

Frankfurt, Jan. 5 (Reuters): A man hijacked a light aircraft and threatened to crash into the European Central Bank tower in Germany’s financial capital Frankfurt today before landing the plane and being arrested, officials said.

The pilot told N-TV television he wanted to draw attention to a female astronaut who died in the US space shuttle Challenger which exploded shortly after takeoff in January 1986.

Frankfurt airport was closed down, tall buildings in the city evacuated and military aircraft patrolled the sky as the motorised glider circled the city for more than two hours before landing at the airport where he was arrested.

The incident was a chilling reminder of the September 11 suicide attacks on the US but a spokesman for Germany’s air traffic control authority said he did not believe there was a terrorist link to today’s incident.

“I want to make my big idol Judith Resnik famous,” the man, speaking what appeared to be native German, told N-TV after demanding to speak to the station. “I want to draw attention to the first Jewish female astronaut.”

Resnik, who died on board Challenger, was Jewish. The man did not say why he may have targeted the European Central Bank, based in Frankfurt, which sets interest rates for hundreds of millions of Europeans in 12 countries.

A spokesman for air traffic control said the armed man hijacked a plane at Baben-hausen airfield southeast of Frankfurt at 1355 GMT and had taken up contact with the Frankfurt airport tower.

A Reuters correspondent on the scene said the plane circled the banking towers in the heart of Frankfurt followed by a helicopter. Police had sealed off main roads, evacuated the city’s trademark tall buildings and closed bridges over the river Main.

The plane was flying just a few hundred metres off the ground and made one close pass of the Messeturm tower that houses the Reuters offices and the offices of Goldman Sachs.

Gunther Schepky, head of traffic at Frankfurt airport, said there were no flights into or out of the airport as of 1452 GMT and that it was not known when flights could be resumed.

The sight of an unauthor-ised plane flying among Fran-kfurt’s skyscrapers conjured up frightening images that recalled the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US involving hijacked planes and subsequent incidents.

On September 11, three planes crashed into New York’s twin World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon in the worst such attack in modern history.

A fourth hijacked plane crashed in Pennsylvania. About 3,000 people were killed.

Exactly a year ago, on January 5, 2002, a 15-year-old student pilot, Charles Bishop, flew a stolen single-engine Cessna into the 20th floor of the Bank of America building, a skyscraper in Tampa, Florida, killing himself and slightly damaging the building.

On April 18 last year, a small Piper aircraft crashed into the 127 metre-high Pirelli skyscraper in Milan setting the top floors of the 30-storey building on fire. Three people, including the pilot, died.

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