German investigators are probing whether Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plane was sabotaged after her flight to the G20 summit in Argentina had to make a dramatic emergency landing last night.
Authorities are investigating whether the incident had a ‘criminal background’ after the Airbus A340 government plane was forced to land shortly after taking off from Berlin on Thursday.
Reports in Germany said the aircraft’s entire communications system broke down, forcing the crew to turn around over the Netherlands and land in Cologne using an on-board satellite phone to speak to air traffic control.
The mid-air drama was so ‘dicey’ that Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen had to be informed, and spent several hours trying to arrange a replacement plane, Der Spiegel reported.
The Chancellor’s office said in a statement that ‘following a technical problem, the official plane landed safely in Cologne.’
The German leader stayed the night in a hotel in Bonn, the former West German capital, where she paid tribute to the crew after what she called a ‘serious disruption’.
A backup plane was reportedly available in Berlin but the crew decided it was too risky to travel all the way back across Germany with a broken communications system.
The plane apparently faced further problems when it landed, as it was carrying so much fuel for the long flight that the brakes overheated, forcing the fire brigade to come out.
Security sources told the Rheinische Post that investigations would consider the possibility of a criminal act.
Merkel and German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz resumed their travel to Buenos Aires early on Friday.
The Chancellor flew to Madrid on a military plane on Friday morning and is set to take a scheduled flight from there to Buenos Aires, ARD reported.
However the 15-hour flight time means they will arrive after world leaders start their discussions.
The captain on last night’s flight told passengers aboard the plane he decided to switch aircraft at the Cologne-Bonn airport in northwestern Germany after the ‘malfunction of several electronic systems.’
He said there had been no security risk.
Merkel and other passengers initially remained on board the aircraft, called ‘Konrad Adenauer’, as mechanics inspected its brakes and several fire engines waited nearby, according to a Reuters reporter on board.
No details were immediately available about the cause of the technical issues.
The German military blog Augengeradeaus reported that the plane’s transponder was transmitting the code 7600 which refers to a radio malfunction.
Delegation sources said a different government plane would fly Merkel and Scholz to Madrid, where they would switch to a commercial carrier for the final leg of the trip.
The delay will complicate Merkel’s schedule at meeting where the G20 members already expect to face very difficult negotiations on myriad issues.
Merkel, who had planned bilateral meetings with the presidents of the United States, China, Russia and India, was unlikely to arrive in Buenos Aires until Friday evening, German government sources said.
Scholz was grounded on the same A340 aircraft last month after an International Monetary Fund meeting in Indonesia, according to German media reports.
They said the issue involved damage caused by rodents.