‘I am at odds with God’: Avenger for kids & wife never regretted murder

Vitaly Kaloev (Reuters/Sergey Karpukhin)
The man whose wife and kids were killed in a horrible tragedy when two planes collided over Germany 10 years ago says he has never regretted murdering the air traffic controller who let it happen, but that it has not granted him any relief either.

­Architect Vitaly Kaloev is back in Germany, the land that saw the death of his family. He is only allowed to stay for two days – until commemoration ceremonies are over. He is not a welcome guest as the Swiss delegation believes he shouldn't be there.

Ten years ago a passenger plane from Russia collided with a DHL cargo plane in mid-air, killing all 71 people on board both aircraft, most of them children. Long investigations proved Swiss-based air traffic controller Skyguide was to blame for neglect, human errors and technical mishaps, all of which rolled up to the tragedy. In the public eye it all came down to one man, Peter Nielsen, who was on duty that night and whose ultimate failure cost so many lives.

Swiss company Skyguide, however, tried to push the blame onto the pilots, and was slow to accept responsibility or offer an apology. The behavior caused outrage on the part of the relatives of the victims.

Two years after the crash Peter Nielsen was stabbed to death by the grief-torn Vitaly Kaloev, although he denies the fact he remembers the act of murder itself. He says he only wanted an apology, which he never got, and then things went wrong. He only remembers showing pictures of his dead family to Nielsen, who pushed him off and told him to leave. The rest Kaloev describes as a blackout.


A family portrait shows Vitaly Kaloyev′s with his wife Svetlana and son Konstantin, from their family home in Vladikavkaz (Reuters / TV CRB)
A family portrait shows Vitaly Kaloyev's with his wife Svetlana and son Konstantin, from their family home in Vladikavkaz (Reuters / TV CRB)

Kaloev was convicted of murder and sentenced to eight years in a Swiss jail, but was released almost three years early. He returned to Russia and was hailed as a hero. His 'revenge' was seen by many as an act of justice the law failed to perform.

Now, ten years down the road, Vitaly Kaloev is back and has answered some questions from the Russian daily Moskovsky Komsomolets.

MK: Have you had any contact with Skyguide after being released from the Swiss prison?

Vitaly Kaloev: No, I haven’t had any contact with Skyguide, but the court has forwarded me a document stating I owe Switzerland 150,000 Swiss francs for staying in their jail.

MK: Have you paid it?

VK: Even if I had this money, I would have given it to an orphanage or some other charity – definitely not to Switzerland.

MK: What’s best memory of your family?

VK: It’s not just one memory. The whole life with my family was very good. Still, I was particularly happy when my children were born.

MK: Back then, ten years ago, as you were waiting for the plane with your family to arrive, did you have a feeling that something was about to happen?

VK: When you’re about to see your family a long time, you don’t expect anything bad to happen. You are just happy. I believe neither in bad presages nor in signs from above. I only believe in what I see. After all that happened, I am at odds with God.

MK: Do you think your life would have been different had you not avenged yourself on Nielsen?

VK: I don’t think so. Killing him didn’t make me feel any better.

MK: Does he ever come to you in your dreams?

VK: No.


An undated family portrait shows Vitaly Kaloyev with his daughter Diana, from a set of family photos seen in their family home in Vladikavkaz (Reuters / TV CRB)
An undated family portrait shows Vitaly Kaloyev with his daughter Diana, from a set of family photos seen in their family home in Vladikavkaz (Reuters / TV CRB)

MK: Has anybody ever told you in your face that what you did was wrong?

VK: Apart from the prosecutor in court, no one has. Even in the Swiss jail nobody ever condemned or reproached me. After the first two years I got into the medium-security jail where I could communicate with other convicts, and when I went out for a walk into the prison yard for the first time, almost everybody there came up to me to express their respect for what I did.

MK: Did you have friends among fellow-convicts?

VK: No, never. My fellow-convicts were there for drug-trafficking or other similar things. What could I have in common with them? Though of course, when you get into such an environment, you have to build a certain line of relationship whether you want it or not. Many got into prison simply because they were too young or stupid…

MK: What were your thoughts and dreams when in prison?

VK: I had no illusions about life. I didn’t have any dreams, nothing. The only thing I wanted was to visit my family’s grave.

MK: You said you are at odds with God. What about the law?

VK: I’ve never had any issues with the law.

MK: Over recent years, there have been many cases when people went to jail over some minor things, while others got away on parole with murdering someone. Do you think a person is entitled to punish the wrongdoer if the law doesn’t appear to have done it properly?

VK: Life is more complicated than the law. I only speak for myself: I had exhausted all legal ways to find justice. I believe any person in such a situation gets the right to be the law and perform justice.

MK: What’s your joy in life?

VK: I enjoy my work, it distracts me from things, makes me feel involved. I work a lot, and people ask me for help a lot, too -not only with construction, but anything. Some need advice, others need a hand. Whenever I am able to help, I feel warm at heart.

MK: You are a deputy minister for construction and architecture. What does your job involve?

VK: I am in charge of investment programs of Russia’s Republic of North Ossetia.

MK: Do you ever think of having a new family or adopting a child? One can be happy without betraying those who are no longer with them.

VK: Life is life. I do not rule out I may have a happy family one day.

The grave of Vitaly Kaloyev′s family showing portraits of his wife Svetlana, son Konstantin and daughter Diana, is pictured in Vladikavkaz (Reuters / TV CRB)
The grave of Vitaly Kaloyev's family showing portraits of his wife Svetlana, son Konstantin and daughter Diana, is pictured in Vladikavkaz (Reuters / TV CRB)
A portrait of Vitaly Kaloyev′s daughter Diana is surrounded by toys and flowers in her bed in the family home in Vladikavkaz (Reuters / TV CRB)
A portrait of Vitaly Kaloyev's daughter Diana is surrounded by toys and flowers in her bed in the family home in Vladikavkaz (Reuters / TV CRB)
A portrait of Vitaly Kaloyev′s son Konstantin is surrounded by belongings on his bed in the family home in Vladikavkaz (Reuters / TV CRB)
A portrait of Vitaly Kaloyev's son Konstantin is surrounded by belongings on his bed in the family home in Vladikavkaz (Reuters / TV CRB)
Vitaly Kaloyev cries at the grave of his family which he lost in a 2002 mid-air collision at a cemetry in his home town of Vladikavkaz in southern Russia November 14, 2007 (Reuters / Eduard Korniyenko)
Vitaly Kaloyev cries at the grave of his family which he lost in a 2002 mid-air collision at a cemetry in his home town of Vladikavkaz in southern Russia November 14, 2007 (Reuters / Eduard Korniyenko)