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Charges brought against Skyguide staff

Seventy-one people died in the Überlingen air crash on July 1, 2002

(Keystone Archive)

A Swiss court has indicted eight employees of the Swiss air traffic control authority, Skyguide, for their involvement in the 2002 Überlingen plane crash.

The Skyguide staff are charged with negligent manslaughter for their role in the air crash in which 71 people died when two jets collided over Swiss-controlled airspace in southern Germany.

In the charges read before Bülach district court in canton Zurich, the public prosecutor called on Monday for suspended sentences of between six and 15 months in jail.

All of the accused – three managers, three employees and two maintenance staff – deny any responsibility for the collision between the Russian airliner, which was carrying mostly children, and a DHL cargo aircraft.

They have also been charged with negligent disruption of public transport.

The defendants were accused of organisational shortcomings that led to a single air traffic controller being left in charge of the area where the crash occurred on July 1, 2002, and with providing insufficient information to him about technical work in progress that decisively affected the communications and radar systems. Skyguide director, Alain Rossier, has not been charged.

"In the opinion of the district attorney, the failures to carry out their duties led to the collision and crash of the two aircraft," the statement said.

The charges were brought after an extensive investigation in cooperation with the district attorney of Constance, Germany, Zurich cantonal police and the Swiss Office for Aircraft Accident Investigations, the statement said.

They are based on the conclusions made by German investigators, who discovered similar errors and claimed the accident was due largely to negligence on the part of Skyguide.

No radar

In their May 2004 report, German investigators stated that Skyguide's main control tower radar had been switched off and the main telephone line was down.

However, according to the public prosecutor, the trial is unlikely to take place this year.

Criminal proceedings have also been opened against the same eight Skyguide employees in Constance, which are to be integrated into the Swiss case.

In a parallel development, a German court ruled on July 27 that Germany wrongly subcontracted its airspace control to Skyguide and was partly liable for the air crash. The ruling was in response to a civil lawsuit filed by the Russian airline, Bashkirian.

"The sovereign task of securing air space has never been effectively transferred to Switzerland," the court said in its ruling.

The court did not specify the amount of compensation due.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

On July 1, 2002 a Russian passenger plane collided with a cargo jet over Swiss-controlled airspace above Überlingen in southern Germany, killing 71 people.

Skyguide subsequently admitted partial responsibility. A relative of three victims took revenge on the controller on duty at the time of the accident by stabbing him to death at his home in Zurich in February 2004.

A Zurich court found Russian architect Vitaly Kaloyev guilty of the intentional killing of the controller and sentenced him to eight years in prison. The final verdict is still pending.

In their October 2005 report, German investigators said the accident was due largely to negligence on the part of Skyguide, and partially the fault of the two Russian pilots.

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