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Pirelli Tower Plane Crash, Milan and Me

Impressions on the Pirelli Tower - From two very different perspectives

View Italy 2002 on littlesam1's travel map.


Pirreli Tower - March 2019

I have a very unique relationship with the Pirelli Tower in Milan. It's important to me for several unique reasons that are important only unto me. But even without my own skewed opinions it is a remarkable structure in it's own rite. The construction of the tower started in 1955 I was three years old so it had no significance to me at that time or to my family. I doubt my parents ever heard of the tower in their lifetime. It was designed by a group of architects headed by Gio Ponti and Pier Luigi Nervi. Ponti was a designer and an architect. He created things ranging from coffee machines and chairs to houses and churches. Nervi is considered one of the greatest engineers of his time who specialized in concrete structures. Their combined knowledge and creativity led to the creation of a truly innovative skyscraper.

The most striking aspect of the tower's design is it's slender shape. With Nervi's technical knowledge it allowed Ponti to design a tower with a very narrow base. It is supported by concrete piers that decrease in size as the reach up to the top of the building. The tower rises up from it's small base to a height of 417 feet. Before it's completion there was no building ever in Milan that rose taller. At it's completion it was the tallest building in not only Milan but also all of Italy. Today in Milan alone there are many towers that are taller but for it's time it was a massive achievement.

So why is this tower significant to me? I was planning a visit to Milan in 2002. It would be my first trip to Italy. At that time the Internet was still relatively new to me and I was having fun "surfing the web" and learning all kinds of new things that I never had access to studying before. I was trying to do some research on Milan for the trip. In 2002 there were not many true social websites. But I did find a little Internet site named Virtual Tourist while researching Milan. And one of the first things I read about was the Pirelli Tower. I joined the web site and became a member of Virtual Tourist, loving referred to by it's members as VT. I had no idea at the time though that I would have my own personal story to share about the Pirelli Tower and something I could write about on this new fascinating web page. My introduction to VT was one of the turning points in my life. I met many wonderful people from all over the world never realizing that one day many of them would also become personal friends that I would come to know face to face. Virtual Tourist closed it's web site a few years ago. It's time had passed on and other communities like Facebook and Trip Adviser had taken it's place. But the friends have remained. And I still see many of these friends from time to time on a regular basis. So the Pirelli Tower has a very important emotional memory for me connecting me to that unique communities of travelers and good friends.

I was flying to Milan from Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC. It was my first time to fly from Dulles. It was in April 2002. Six months after the horrific attacks in the United States on 9/11. As I was sitting in the lounge area waiting to board the plane the TV monitor had a breaking news update. The announcer asked is this another 9/11? The Pirelli Tower in Milan has just been struck by an airplane. Everyone in the lounge went silent and stared at the TV. I had cold chills watching the news footage. It did look like a terrorist attack. And we were flying right into that city. Nightmares of the aftermath of 9/11 hit me and I was trying to decide if I really wanted to go ahead and fly into Milan on this trip. After lots of talking and thinking and soul searching my traveling companion and I decided we were going to go ahead and fly to Milan if the airport stayed open. But we were nervous.


Pirelli Tower after 2002 air plane crash. I took the photo on our arrival three days later

The Pirelli Tower sits directly next to Milan's Central Station, it's main train station. So when we arrived we would we be taking the train to that station from the airport and we would see the tower upon our arrival. When we did arrive we had a flight to Venice planned, We would be changing planes in Milan and headed to Venice for three days before eventually staying in Milan. There was much talk and speculation about the plane crash we when arrived at the airport in Milan. But neither of us spoke Italian so we did not know what all was being said. We did come to understand no one was sure yet what exactly had happened. It was still less than 24 hours since the crash.

While in Venice the more of the story started to be unraveled. On April 18, 2002 a Rockwell Commander 112 single engine airplane registered in Switzerland had hit the building. The aircraft was scheduled to fly from Magadino Airport in Switzerland to Milan. The plane was piloted by 65 year old Luigi Fasulo. As the plane flew over Milan the pilot radioed to the control tower at Linate airport in Milan that there was a problem with the retractable landing gear. The tower began arranging an emergency landing. There was a mix up in communications from the tower. The pilot's radio went off with another aircraft saying "No, they told you to land, not me!" Minutes later the small plane hit the Pirelli tower. Glass and debris littered the area and immediate surrounding. Shop windows nearby broke from the vibrations. The pilot and two lawyers inside the tower were killed. All total between thirty and forty people were taken to the hospital with moderate injuries. The nearby Central Train Station, the metro and Linate airport were shut down. We were flying on to Venice from Malpaso Airport in Milan so there were no delays or cancellations when we arrived later that day.

Three days later when we returned from Venice we walked out of Milan's central station and still saw debris and glass on the street. There was an active clean up still going on when we arrived.


My photo of the Pirelli Tower three days after the crash in 2002

When we came home I wrote my tip on Virtual Tourist about seeing the Pirelli Tower after the crash. I must have made it sound like I was an expert on Milan and the tower. A few years later "G" who managed the VT web site wrote to me after reading my Milan story and asked me to be the page editor for Milan. I knew very little about Milan other than my four day visit so I have no idea why I even accepted the offer to be an editor. But I did tag and organize photos for him. VT and my written story are long gone. But the tower and my memories of the day remain. I was very excited to return to Milan in March 2019. And very interested to see the building again after it's restoration.


Larry at Pirelli Tower - March 2019

Posted by littlesam1 13:52 Archived in Italy Tagged venice italy airports milan virtual_tourist pirelli_tower plane_crash Comments (4)

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