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Airport Chiefís Suicide Said Not Related to Croatian Air Crash
No Connection, Says U.S. Investigating Team
Air Crash Site (DUBROVNIK, Croatia—AP) A U.S. team investigating the plane crash that killed Commerce Secretary Ron Brown focused on the Dubrovnik airportís navigation system Monday, and ruled out any link between the crash and the suicide of the systemís maintenance chief. Niko Jerkic shot himself in the chest at his home Saturday, three days after Brownís plane slammed into a hilltop near Dubrovnik in a windy rainstorm, killing all 35 people aboard. Brown and a group of U.S. business leaders were looking into business and investment opportunities in the Balkans.

Jerkic Not Working Day of Crash
The Croatian Interior Ministry issued a statement Monday saying Jerkic was not working Wednesday, the day of the crash. He "neither had any connection with the operational service of the control tower, nor did his death have any connections with the tragic crash of the U.S. aircraft," it said.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ray Shepherd, spokesman for Brig. Gen. Charles Coolidge who is investigating the crash, said the U.S. team had received the statement and was satisfied Jerkic was not responsible. "Thatís enough for us," he said Monday. Jerkic, whose duties included keeping the navigation system working properly, died before the U.S. team got a chance to question him in an interview Shepherd has described as routine.

The team will probably spend two days examining the navigation equipment, Shepherd said. The system relied on technology that is about 50 years old, but both U.S. and Croatian officials have described it as reliable. The Yugoslav army stripped the airport of a more sophisticated landing system in 1992 and the equipment never was replaced.

Croatian Police Refuse to Release Details
Police, who originally reported the maintenance chiefís name as Niko Junik, have refused to release any details of the suicide. Jerkicís family refused to talk to reporters Monday. Airport officials also declined to be interviewed about Jerkic, but neighbors described him as serious and somewhat reclusive and said they hadnít seen him since the crash. Jerkic shot himself about an hour after the bodies of the 33 Americans killed in the crash were flown out of the airport back to the United States.

The 46-year-old bachelor lived on the ground floor of his parentsí three-story home overlooking Dubrovnikís harbor. He almost always used a private garage exit rather than the main house entrance to come and go, said the neighbors, who would not give their names.

The T-43, the military version of a Boeing 737, veered off course on its final approach, raising questions about whether the airport is equipped for safe landing in bad weather. Visibility was poor and the pilot was using the planeís instruments to land when air traffic controllers lost contact. Dubrovnik does not have an Instrument Landing System, which is standard at most busy European airports. The device sends signals to approaching aircraft from the ground, so when the plane gets to 200 feet from the ground, the pilot will know if it can safely land.

The withdrawing Yugoslav army plundered the airportís instrumental landing system in October 1992. The airport reopened in spring 1993 but never got a new system. Defense Secretary William Perry said Thursday that the plane may have had an instrumentation problem, but the cause of the crash is far from clear.

Investigators do not yet have copies of radio tapes of conversation between the control tower and the plane because transcripts have to be verified by several people, said Tom Haueter, an investigator from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. The plane was not outfitted with flight data and voice recorders, commonly known as black boxes.

Additional resources
Apr 8 · Dubrovnik Airport Chief Commits Suicide
Apr 7 · Crash Victims Return Home
Apr 6 · Crash Victims Honored at Memorial Service in Croatia
Apr 5 · All Bodies Removed from Mountain Crash Scene
Apr 3 · Passenger List for Brown's Plane

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