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Skyguide murder trial set for this year

The murdered controller was responsible for the airspace where a mid-air collision killed 71 people in 2002 Keystone Archive

Zurich public prosecutor’s office has confirmed that the alleged killer of a Skyguide air traffic controller will stand trial later this year.

This content was published on February 20, 2005 - 14:33

The controller was on duty during a mid-air collision between two jets over southern Germany in 2002, in which the suspect’s wife and two children died.

The prosecutor’s office announced on Thursday that Vitaly Kaloyev, a Russian architect, would stand trial for murder.

Officials said that the suspect had made a step towards a full confession shortly before the investigation ended, by saying that the court could consider that he had killed the Skyguide employee.

They added that a psychiatric evaluation of the 49-year-old had come to the conclusion that he was fully responsible for his actions at the time of the alleged murder.

Stabbed

The controller was stabbed to death in front of his wife at his home near Zurich in late February last year.

He was working alone during a night shift when a Russian charter aircraft carrying more than 40 children en route to Spain collided with a DHL cargo jet in Swiss airspace over the German town of Überlingen. 71 people were killed.

Kaloyev, from northern Ossetia, blamed the 36-year-old Dane for the crash.

He admitted a month after his arrest that he had visited the victim's home on the day of the attack and spoken to the controller. He had been hoping to extract an apology from him.

Kaloyev said that he could not remember exactly what happened next, but did admit that he had "lost control" and had "probably" killed the Skyguide employee.

Police found the murder weapon – a knife – near the crime scene and the alleged killer was arrested just one day later in a hotel nearby.

The investigation into the Überlingen crash is still ongoing. Swiss and German officials announced earlier this month that they had drafted in an Austrian expert to determine the exact role of Skyguide in the accident.

Blame

A separate report from Germany’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau published last year partially blamed Swiss air traffic control. But it also said that the crash was caused primarily by human error.

The report found that the controller gave the planes instructions to avoid a collision only 43 seconds before impact.

It added that the crew of the Bashkirian Airlines passenger jet obeyed the controller’s instruction to descend, but failed to listen to their on-board collision warning system, which advised them to climb.

Skyguide came in for criticism for having only one controller in charge of air traffic surveillance at the time of the crash.

The company has since admitted its responsibility for the chain of the events that led to the accident. It later reached a settlement with most of the families of the Russian children killed in the collision.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

On July 1, 2002, a Tupolev passenger plane collided with a cargo jet near Überlingen in southern Germany in Swiss-controlled airspace.

The Bashkirian Airlines jet was travelling from Russia to Spain, and the DHL aircraft from Italy to Belgium.

Both planes were flying on instruments and were being controlled by Skyguide in Zurich.

All 71 passengers and crew on both aircraft were killed in the crash.

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