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Marine pilot not guilty in ski lift deaths

ashby
Ashby was at the controls of an EA-6B Prowler jet when it struck an Italian ski gondola's cable, causing all 20 people inside the car to plunge to their deaths  

March 4, 1999
Web posted at: 11:55 a.m. EST (1655 GMT)

CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina (CNN) -- A jury of eight Marine officers has found Capt. Richard Ashby not guilty Thursday of involuntary manslaughter and two related charges for the deaths of 20 people in an Italian ski lift accident last year.

Ashby, who was at the controls of an EA-6B Prowler aircraft when it sliced through the cable holding up a ski gondola on February 3, 1998, was charged with 20 counts of involuntary manslaughter.

Prosecutors charged that Ashby was flying too fast and too low when the Prowler dove into an Italian valley in midafternoon, striking the Mount Cermis ski lift near Cavalese. The gondola plunged 370 feet (113 meters) to the ground, killing 19 skiers and the gondola operator.

Ashby's attorneys contended that the ski lift wasn't on the captain's military maps -- a point on which both prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed. The defense also argued that his altimeter was malfunctioning and an optical illusion made it appear the jet was flying higher than it was.

Additionally, witnesses testified that Ashby's crew may not have been told that the area's flight altitude restriction had been raised from 1,000 feet to 2,000 feet (305-610 meters).

The 31-year-old Ashby, of Mission Viejo, California, faces another trial on obstruction of justice charges for allegedly destroying a videotape of part of the fatal flight.

Navigator Capt. Joseph P. Schweitzer, 30, of Westbury, New York, faces charges similar to Ashby's and a separate trial. Charges against two other crewmen were dropped.

Correspondent Tony Clark contributed to this report.

RELATED STORIES:
Trial nears for pilot in Italian cable-car deaths
February 3, 1999
2 Marines face more charges in Italian ski-lift crash
August 29, 1998
Family seeks $10 million from U.S. in Italian ski disaster
July 20, 1998

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