Four SkyGuide staff guilty in Russian plane tragedy

Four employees of the Swiss air traffic control company SkyGuide have been found guilty of manslaughter. A court ruled their actions had led to a disaster over Southern Germany when 71 people were killed, 49 of them children, as a Russian passenger aircra

Four other employees were acquitted.

During the court hearings in May this year, prosecutors said the SkyGuide employees violated a number of air safety rules and insisted they should be given suspended sentences ranging from six to fifteen months.

Meanwhile, three of those found guilty are going to face twelve months’ suspended sentences and the fourth will have to pay a fine. The four employees who have been found guilty were in higher managerial positions than those who have been acquitted.

But it seems unlikely that those who have got suspended sentences will spend any time in prison. Those punishments may end up being more psychological than literal as they are going to take the blame for that 2002 air disaster. 

The judge has reportedly said that it was wrong to put too much blame on Peter Nielsen, the only air traffic controller who was on duty at the time of the crash, and the responsibility should be shared between all the parties.

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The investigation into the crash revealed serious shortcomings at the privatised Swiss air traffic control service SkyGuide. After the report was published, SkyGuide admitted responsibility for the accident. 

Meanwhile, in February 2004 Peter Nielsen was killed by a Russian citizen, Vitaly Kaloyev, who lost his family in the air disaster.

Vitaly Kaloyev is currently in a Swiss prison serving his sentence for the murder and his legal team continues the fight for his release. 

Mr Kaloyev had called the murder of Nielsen 'his second tragedy'.

For a man from Russia’s Republic of North Ossetia, who lost his wife and two children in the disaster, the sole air traffic controller on duty that night – Peter Nielsen – was to be blamed for their deaths. Back in Russia, the 50-year-old spent the year after the incident practically 'living' at the cemetery where he buried his family.

On the first anniversary of the tragedy, he asked SkyGuide to arrange a meeting with the air traffic controller. He was allegedly ignored by the company and refused compensation.  

Vitaly Kaloyev found Peter Nielsen's address in Switzerland and went to confront the man he blamed for his family's death. After a short argument on Nielsen's doorstep, he stabbed his victim several times.  

At his trial in October 2005, Vitaly claimed to have no memory of what happened. However, he was convicted of murder and given an eight-year jail term.  

In June this year, the term was cut to five years and three months by a Zurich Canton court, which offered to release him on parole. But an appeal by the prosecution to the Swiss Federal Court overruled the parole.  

While Kaloyev's legal team mounts yet another appeal, he can expect to spend the next three years in a Swiss jail.