‘No indication of a criminal act’: Merkel set for late G20 arrival after plane fault

Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to arrive in Buenos Aires on Friday evening, far later than planned but still in time to attend a G20 dinner after "serious" technical problems forced her plane to make an emergency landing, prompting questions of sabotage.

'No indication of a criminal act': Merkel set for late G20 arrival after plane fault
File picture of Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA

The government Airbus A340-300 made an unscheduled landing in Cologne shortly after leaving Berlin on Thursday, causing a delay that means Merkel will miss the start of the two-day G20 summit in the Argentine capital.

“It was a serious malfunction,” Merkel, who had to spend the night in a hotel in nearby Bonn because no replacement plane was immediately available, told reporters.

The plane, which took off from Berlin around 7 p.m had to turn back over the Netherlands after about an hour in the air. It landed in Cologne around 8:30 p.m.

SEE ALSO: Bumpy start to G20 summit for Merkel after plane forced to make emergency landing

The pilot, who Merkel called “the most experienced captain of the flight crew”, informed passengers of a technical problem that had caused the failure of some electronic systems.

German media reports said the plane, named Konrad Adenauer after Germany's first post-war chancellor, suffered a complete breakdown of the on-board communication system, a problem described as extremely rare.

The German air force, however, ruled out sabotage, with a spokesman saying “there is absolutely no indication of a criminal act.”

According to information from the DPA, large parts of the electronic system urgently needed for flight operations had failed.

Finance Minister and Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz was also aboard the plane.

Staff beside the 'Konrad Adenaur' plane on Thursday. Photo: DPA

'That was close'

A reporter from RP Online described the dramatic situation that unfolded. She said that passengers felt a “jolt” while up in the air and were told to fasten their seat belts.

Merkel's husband Joachim Sauer, the publicity-shy quantum chemist, was also travelling on the plane. He reportedly was not due to join Merkel and the other delegates for the continuing journey to Argentina on Friday.

The RP Online reporter described how Merkel learned around 8 p.m of the technical problems. Soon after, the aircraft turned back. It was a “hard” landing in Cologne, she said.

“Only when the fire trucks and the blue light are visible on the runway does it dawn on some that a major drama can't be ruled out,” the reporter added.

The newspaper then details that the brakes were examined and no-one, not even Merkel, was allowed to leave the plane for 70 minutes.

The delegation found accommodation at the Hotel Maritim in Bonn. Bread rolls and drinks were served to everyone.

Merkel was asked by journalists what it was really like and she shared her feelings on the “serious disturbance”.

“Fortunately” there was an experienced pilot, she said.

Scholz expressed himself in a similar way and said he was glad that nothing bad happened.

The Chancellor is said to have phoned Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen directly, the paper reported. There was talk of the government investigating if the situation had a criminal connection.

“Who could have manipulated the plane? When, where and how? Was there really a danger that the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor would crash with their delegation?” asked RP Online, indicating the tense situation felt by all the delegates surrounding Merkel and her team.

Although all possible situations are being investigated, on Friday authorities said there was no indication of a criminal act.

Some of the delegates reacted by saying: “That was close,” reported the newspaper.

Merkel leaving the plane Thursday night. Photo: DPA

Commercial flight to Argentina

Merkel is now travelling to the G20 meeting with a vastly slimmed-down delegation.

The group flew to Madrid in a German air force plane in the early morning on Friday, a government spokeswoman told DPA.

From there, the delegation boarded a regular commercial flight to Buenos Aires.

Merkel was due to hold bilateral meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and US leader Donald Trump on the sidelines of the summit on Friday, but her delayed arrival has thrown her schedule into disarray.

She will also miss the traditional G20 “family photo” of attending heads of state and government, according to DPA.

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.