Skyguide flight control officers deny responsibility for killing 45 Russian children

Seventy-one people, including 45 children, were killed in the midair collision of DHL’s cargo Boeing and Tu-154 passenger jetliner of Bashkirian Airlines in 2002. Employees of the Swiss flight control company Skyguide were charged with negligent murder of a large amount of people. A spokesman for the local court said that sentences on the case would be brought down in July of 2007. The midair collision over Lake Constance became the second air crash in the area. However, Skyguide has not taken any measures to improve flight security.

The trial of eight employees of a Swiss air traffic control company blamed for the deaths of 71 people in a midair collision five years ago began Tuesday with three of the accused denying all responsibility.

Prosecutors have called for the employees of Skyguide to receive suspended prison sentences of six to 15 months for their role in the 2002 crash involving a DHL cargo plane and Bashkirian Airlines plane.

The accident, which happened near the south German town of Ueberlingen, killed the two cargo pilots and all 69 people aboard a passenger jet taking Russian schoolchildren on a holiday trip to Spain.

An investigation by German and Swiss authorities concluded that a series of technical and organizational failures as well as negligence on the part of Skyguide were responsible for the crash.

On the first day of the trial three middle managers at the company appeared before the court to deny the charge of negligent homicide, saying that it was not unusual for a single air traffic controller to supervise up to 15 planes at once.

The lone controller at the time of the incident, Danish-born Peter Nielsen, was stabbed to death in 2004 by a Russian man who lost his wife and children in the crash. Architect Vitaly Kaloyev was sentenced to eight years in prison for premeditated homicide in 2005, but the decision is currently being appealed by both the defense and prosecution.

Nielsen gave the two aircraft only 44 seconds' warning that they were getting too close to each other. He also mistakenly told the Russian plane to descend - sending the jetliner straight into the cargo jet.

Before his death Nielsen told investigators that he had been working under stressful conditions on the night of the crash due to maintenance work being carried out on the air traffic control system, and the fact that his colleague had taken a break.

Skyguide's director of operations, the head of the area control center and the chief of the air navigation service told the court that working conditions at the time were normal, and blamed Nielsen for not following proper procedures.

Five other Skyguide employees are due to appear before the district court in Buelach in the coming days. The trial is scheduled to last until May 30.

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov