Source AP ©

Skyguide traffic control officers decide not to appeal against verdict of 2002 plane crash

Four traffic control officers of Swiss company Skyduide convicted in a plane collision that killed 71 people have decided against appealing the verdict because of the emotional toll further proceedings would cause, the firm said Thursday.

"Any appeal would have meant several more years of due legal process. We do not want to inflict this on ourselves, our families, the bereaved, our colleagues or our company," said a statement by the Skyguide employees, who received suspended sentences for negligent homicide in the trial earlier this month.

The district court in Buelach, near Zurich, found the four - three midlevel managers and a project manager - responsible in the July 1, 2002, collision that killed dozens of Russian schoolchildren and their families on a holiday trip to Spain.

"We hope that our decision enables us all to find sufficient closure and seek a new start," the employee statement said.

The collision of the Bashkirian Airlines plane and a DHL cargo jet occurred over southern Germany near the town of Ueberlingen in airspace controlled by the Swiss company. The two cargo pilots and everyone on the passenger plane were killed.

Four other Skyguide officials were acquitted of wrongdoing in the accident.

The company said the decision against appealing was made irrespective of the legal arguments and their prospects of success.

"This must have been a very difficult decision for our people to take," said acting Skyguide Chief Executive Francis Schubert.

Skyguide said two of the convicted individuals had since retired from the company, but that the other two - who had been reassigned to different jobs during the trial - would assume new positions and duties within the company by mutual agreement.

The three midlevel managers were given one-year suspended prison sentences, while the other employee - a project manager - was fined 13,500 Swiss francs (US$11,200; EUR 8,250), which also was suspended.

The prosecutor's office, which under Swiss law could appeal the verdict, said it would accept the court's decision, which it said was balanced.

"Even if we don't agree with all the details, we can live with it," said District Attorney Bernhard Hecht.

Urs Saal, a lawyer representing 30 of the victims' families, said he also would not appeal.

The air traffic controller at the time of the accident, Danish-born Peter Nielsen, was stabbed to death in 2004 by a Russian man whose wife and children died in the crash. Vitaly Kaloyev is serving a prison sentence of five-and-a-quarter years for the slaying.

Nielsen gave only 44 seconds of warning to both planes that they were getting too close to each other and he told the Russian plane to descend, which sent the jetliner straight into the cargo jet.

Some of the defendants, who have not been identified because of Swiss privacy laws, blamed Nielsen for not following proper procedures.

Nielsen was working alone at the time of the crash because a second air-traffic controller was taking a break. Maintenance on the air traffic control system had affected monitoring and communications.

The presiding judge at the trial said the three sentenced to suspended prison terms were responsible for ensuring that at least two air traffic controllers were on duty. They also should have informed the neighboring control centers of problems that were being caused by maintenance work. German officials tried to warn Nielsen, but could not reach him because the main telephone connection to Skyguide was out of order.

Prosecutors said a culture of negligence and lack of risk awareness at the company contributed to the accident.

Schubert said the accident was the result of a number of factors, including people, technology and procedures, and that the company had made changes to ensure that such an accident cannot happen again.

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