Marine pilot not guilty in ski lift deaths
March 4, 1999
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.
Trial nears for pilot in Italian cable-car deaths
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