Germany’s air force blamed an electronic fault aboard Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plane for delaying her trip to the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires.
Radio communications and fuel dumping were disrupted while the flight was over Europe, prompting Airbus 340’s pilots to turn back after less than an hour and land safely in Cologne on Thursday evening, Air Force Colonel Guido Henrich told reporters. Investigators found no evidence of criminal tampering, a Defense Ministry spokesman said in Berlin.
“The investigation is concluded,” Henrich said Friday in Cologne, where Germany’s fleet of government planes is based. “The part has been replaced and the aircraft is ready to resume service.”
Merkel, the leader of Europe’s biggest economy, reverted to a commercial flight from Madrid and planned to arrive in the Argentine capital on Friday evening. The delay clouded plans for her meeting with President Donald Trump at the summit, though German government spokeswoman Martina Fietz said the chancellor will try to reschedule all of her bilateral talks.
When flight problems emerged near Amsterdam, the pilots couldn’t dump enough fuel, forcing the plane to land with a heavy load for a trans-Atlantic flight.
There were few early signs of trouble on board the flight, aside from a frozen video screen that would normally show the plane’s path. Then, as Merkel was speaking with reporters about the latest tensions between Russia and the Ukraine, the door opened and a crew member asked her to come out.
“Why now?”, Merkel asked. “It’s urgent,” the crew member replied. Later, Merkel would say she thought something bad had happened in Germany.
World of Problems
Scholz remained with the reporters until Merkel returned 10 minutes later. “The world is already full of problems,” Merkel said. “Now we have one more minor problem. The plane has a technical defect. We have to fly back.”
The captain announced the plane’s electronic systems had failed, rendering it unable to cross the Atlantic. Fire trucks with blue lights waited on the runway as the plane landed 30 minutes later before taxiing to the military area of the airport.
After landing at Cologne, the reporters were told they would switch to a substitute plane.
After 30 minutes on board as firemen inspected the plane, a spokesman told reporters the replacement plane would be unable to fly to Buenos Aires, because the crew had already worked too many hours.
In Argentina on Friday, Merkel had been scheduled to meet Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and their Argentine host, President Mauricio Macri. She is due to arrive in time for the summit leaders’ dinner on Friday.
After disembarking, Merkel, her husband Joachim Sauer, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and her security officers sat for some time at a desk in the airport restaurant. Leaving shortly after midnight, she told reporters there had been a “serious problem.”
“I’m glad we had the most experienced captain of the German Air Force in command,” she said.
It’s not the first time German officials were left stranded. Scholz experienced a mishap last month returning from Bali, Indonesia, when rodent damage incapacitated the same government plane. Last year, Merkel was delayed on a trip to Egypt because a windshield heater malfunctioned.
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