6 January 2003

Hijack pilot causes chaos in astronaut protest

By Kate Connolly in Berlin

An armed pilot caused air and road chaos yesterday when he stole a light aircraft and threatened to fly it into a skyscraper in Frankfurt.

Tornado fighters and helicopters shadowed the plane as it circled the city's tallest buildings for two hours. At one point it passed perilously close to the European Central Bank, which the pilot had threatened to ram.

Buildings were evacuated and parts of the city brought to a standstill. Air traffic controllers diverted passenger jets from the area.

The stolen motor glider buzzes high buildings in Frankfurt

The pilot, believed to be a German named Franz-Stefan Strammbach, 31, was arrested at Frankfurt airport after police psychologists persuaded him to land. He was said to have been in a confused state after landing.

He took the Super-Dimona motor glider at 3pm and remained in radio contact with air traffic controllers and the German media during his flight.

As he weaved the slow-flying aircraft between buildings he said that his aim was to draw attention to Judith Resnik, an astronaut on board the Challenger space shuttle when it crashed in January 1986, killing all seven astronauts on board.

"I want to make my great idol Judith Resnik famous," he told the German television channel N-TV. "She was the first Jewish astronaut."

He said that he did not want to harm anybody but planned to take his own life.