Mystery shrouds death of Osama’s family members in UK crash

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LONDON: The death of Osama bin Laden’s three family members, said to include the slain al-Qaeda chief’s stepmother and half-sister, remains shrouded in mystery as questions are being raised over the cause of the plane crash in UK despite normal weather and runway conditions.

The Phenom 300 jet arriving from Italy that crashed while attempting to land at Blackbushe Airport in Hampshire, some 65 kilometres from here, is equipped with fly-by-wire electronic system that is supposed to make it easy to control.

The 7 million pound Embraer jet was also a regular visitor to the airport, The Guardian reported, citing pilots who use Blackbushe.

The Saudi Arabia-registered plane had ploughed into a car auction site and burst into flames, killing all four persons on board and believed to have been carrying Osama’s stepmother Rajaa Hashim and sister Sana from the bin Laden family, a prominent Saudi clan with vast business interests.

Media reports said Sana’s husband Zuhair Hashim and a Jordanian pilot were also among the dead. The family were “visiting the UK on vacation”, according to police.

Questions are being raised over the cause of the Friday crash, given the aircraft had used the runway, which is fitted with hi-tech safety features, regularly in recent months.

The state-of-the-art plane believed to be flying from Milan-Malpensa Airport in Italy came down after overshooting the runway and clipping a fence, then flipped over and landed on a number of cars in an adjacent auction site, sparking a huge blaze.

The four indicators, which can be seen from more than half a mile away, all flash white if the pilot is coming in too high and red if too low.

“It doesn’t make sense to me as an ordinary pilot why something that advanced and easy to fly would bury itself in the auction ground at the end of such a long runway,” said Simon Moores, a flight instructor and pilot who has flown from Blackbushe many times.

Meanwhile, The Independent quoted aviation expert Julian Bray as saying that the Phenom 300 was a “reliable jet”, and that the perfect flying conditions on the day of the accident suggested pilot error was more probable.

Phil Giles, a former air accident investigator, told the PAPER today that a brake failure would be “unusual” and the pilot might have miscalculated the landing.

“He may have misjudged it and landed too far down the runway, and then couldn’t stop it. Or he may have touched down, realised he wasn’t going to stop and put the power on to GO around again. But it doesn’t look as if it was going very fast when it ended up in the car park – it’s not ploughed a furrow through millions of cars.”

Eyewitnesses have said the plane’s engines were “screaming” as it approached the runway and that it “went up in a ball of flames in about 60 seconds”.

The Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation has sent investigators to the scene of the crash and are liaising with the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), which is looking into the causes of the crash.

The plane was owned by Salem Aviation, a company which is part of the bin Laden conglomerate based in Jeddah.

If the deaths of members of the bin Laden clan are confirmed, it would be the third time the family had fallen victim to a plane crash.

On September 3 1967, Osama’s father Mohammed bin Laden was killed when his Beechcraft 18 crashed on a landing strip near Usran in Saudi Arabia, while Mohammed’s eldest son, Salem, died when an ultralight aircraft he was piloting hit power lines in the US in 1988.

Osama, the 9/11 attack mastermind, was killed in 2011 by US Navy SEALS in Pakistan.

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