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Merkel set for late G20 arrival after ‘serious’ plane malfunction

Shortly after takeoff from Berlin on Thursday, Merkel’s Airbus A340-300 was forced to turn back over Dutch airspace, and make an emergency landing in Cologne © dpa/AFP / Jörg BLANK

Berlin, Germany, Nov 30 – Germany’s air force on Friday was investigating a serious technical mishap on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plane that forced an emergency landing and delayed her arrival at the G20 summit by more than 12 hours.

The latest embarrassing glitch for the German military forced Merkel to instead take a commercial flight to Buenos Aires with a vastly reduced delegation and miss scheduled talks with several world leaders.

It was not yet clear whether Merkel could hold her planned talks at a later stage with US President Donald Trump, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping of China.

Shortly after takeoff from Berlin on Thursday, Merkel’s Airbus A340-300 was forced to turn back over Dutch airspace, and make an emergency landing in Cologne.

The plane had suffered a complete breakdown of the on-board communication system, a problem described as extremely rare, which forced the pilot to communicate via a satellite phone instead.

“It was a serious malfunction,” Merkel told reporters travelling with her aboard the “Konrad Adenauer”, a former Lufthansa airlines jet named after post-war Germany’s first chancellor.

The German air force on Friday ruled out sabotage, with a spokesman telling national news agency DPA that “there is absolutely no indication of a criminal act”.

Merkel had to spend the night in a hotel in nearby Bonn, the former West German capital, because no replacement plane with crew was immediately available.

Early Friday, after just three hour’s sleep, she was taken by a German air force plane to Madrid.

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After her plane’s mishap, German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) had to spend the night in Bonn, the former West German capital, because no replacement plane was available © dpa/AFP / Kay Nietfeld

From here, instead of flying her usual Airbus jet with bedroom suite, secure communications and an anti-missile system, she and her trimmed down entourage boarded an Iberia plane for the flight across the Atlantic.

Her husband Joachim Sauer opted to skip the event.

Merkel’s delayed arrival has thrown her schedule into disarray, and DPA reported she was to miss the traditional G20 “family photo” of attending heads of state and government.

– Dogged by problems –

For the German Luftwaffe or air force — and the wider military, known as the Bundeswehr — it was the latest in a string of mishaps that have made headlines in recent years.

In October, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz had to take a commercial flight home from a summit in Bali, Indonesia after rats had chewed through cables of the Konrad Adenauer, disabling the aircraft for days.

G20 leaders meeting in Argentina from November 30 to December 1 and a world map of the member countries. © AFP / Nicolas RAMALLO

In June, problems with the hydraulics system on the same plane forced President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to take an alternative aircraft to Minsk.

And in 2015, technical problems with the Konrad Adenauer forced Merkel and five ministers to make a flight to India on a A310 military troop transporter.

The armed forces, which complains of being overstretched and underfunded, has long been dogged by a series of equipment failures that have also grounded fighter jets and kept submarines and tanks out of service.

Its G36 assault rifle became the butt of jokes after reports it had trouble firing straight at high temperatures, and is being phased out.

In other setbacks of recent years, German Tornado surveillance aircraft scrapped night missions because of a glare problem involving cockpit displays and pilots’ goggles.

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Last year Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen took an Airbus A400M to Lithuania to show off the new transport aircraft, but engine trouble grounded it and forced her to return home on a decades-old Transall C-160 transporter.

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