Friday, September 07, 2007

Four in Switzerland convicted for 2002 crash

Skyguide logoFour employees of Skyguide, the Swiss air traffic control firm, have been found guilty of manslaughter for their role in failing to prevent a mid-air collision in 2002 that killed all 71 people aboard both aircraft. BBC News reports:
Three of the four managers convicted were given suspended prison terms and the fourth was ordered to pay a fine.

Another four employees of the Skyguide firm were cleared of any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors had said a "culture of negligence" at the firm contributed to the mid-air collision, which killed mostly Russian children.
The collision between a Bashkirian Airlines Tupolev 154M passenger jet and a B757 cargo aircraft operated by DHL occurred on the evening of July 1, 2002 in Swiss airspace. The accident came to be known as the Überlingen air disaster, since much of the wreckage came down in Überlingen, Germany. Many of the passengers on the airliner were Russian children on a holiday trip to Spain.

During the trial, it was confirmed that a single air traffic controller had been in charge of 15 aircraft at the time of the accident. That air traffic controller was later stabbed to death by the father of two of the children who were killed in the crash.

As the BBC News story points out, it is significant that the four Skyguide employees acquitted were all air traffic controllers, not managers. The BBC reporter covering the court proceedings says that "this shows the judges backed the prosecution's view that the managers at Skyguide were responsible for introducing negligent, potentially dangerous working practices."

In a statement about the court judgment on the Skyguide website, Francis Schubert, interim CEO of Skyguide says, "It is extremely difficult to rule in legal terms on such a complex accident and assign responsibility. We, for our part, are convinced that this tragedy is attributable primarily to systemic causes in the interplay between people, technology and procedures. Skyguide has learnt the lessons from this tragic event, and has done everything to ensure that an accident of this kind cannot happen again."

Mr. Schubert's statement also expresses condolences "to all the bereaved." Skyguide is reported to have provided financial compensation to some of the families.