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America's Debate > Archive > Assorted Issues Archive > [A] Big Trials and Legal Cases
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English Horn
Browsing through the news this morning I found an article about the trial of pilots which caused the air show disaster a couple of years ago in Ukraine (for those who are not familiar with this tragedy, see here).

QUOTE
Pilot Volodymyr Toponar was sentenced to 14 years in prison, and his co-pilot Yuriy Yegorov was sentenced to eight years. 
 
Toponar was also ordered to pay 7.2 million hryvna ($1.42 million; Ä1.18 million) in compensation to victims. Yegorov must pay 2.5 million hryvna, Interfax reported. 
 
The court also sentenced two commanders of the 14th Aviation Corps, the pilots' unit, to six years in prison, and the unit's head of flight security to four years. They were also ordered to pay compensation. 
 
The crew's main flight trainer was acquitted for lack of evidence, Reuters said.


I applauded Ukrainian authorities for making an example out of these two pilots and giving them tough sentences for causing the worst air show disaster in history. At the same time, while reading this, I couldn't help but think about the other disaster caused by a pilot - a cable car disaster in Italy (for brief description, see here). In this disaster, only two men faced trial; manslaughter charges were dropped for one pilot and another one was acquitted. Eventually one of the pilots served several months in prison - for "obstruction of justice" (destroying the videotape filmed on the day of the accident):

QUOTE
Initially, all four men on the plane were charged, but only the pilot Captain Richard Ashby and his navigator Captain Joseph Schweitzer actually faced trial, charged with 20 counts of involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide. Ashby's trial took place in Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. It was determined that the maps on board did not show the cables and that the EA-6B was flying somewhat faster and considerably lower than allowed by military regulations. The restrictions in effect at the time required a minimum flying height of 2000 feet (600 m); the pilot said he thought they were 1000 feet (300 m). The cable was cut at a height of 360 feet (120 m). The pilot further claimed that the height-measuring equipment on his plane had been malfunctioning, and that he had been unaware of the speed restrictions. In March 1999, the jury acquitted Ashby, outraging the Italian public. The manslaughter charges against Schweitzer were then dropped. 
 
The two men were court-martialed a second time for obstruction of justice, because they had destroyed a videotape recorded from the plane on the day of the accident. They were found guilty in May 1999; the navigator was dismissed from the service and the pilot was dismissed and received a six month prison term. He was released after 4 and a half months for good behavior. (Shortly after his release, Ashby caused a disturbance at a Las Vegas casino and was cited for trespassing.) 
 
In May 1999, the U.S. Congress rejected a bill that would have provided direct monetary aid to the victims' families. The Italian legislature then approved a generous monetary compensation plan for the families in December 1999. NATO treaties obliged the US government to pay 75% of this compensation, which it did.


Question for debate:

It appears that both disasters were caused by pilot's negligence, "hot-dogging", and a desire to "show off". However, in one case two pilots will serve years in prison and will pay millions to the victims; in the other case pilots eventually walked free and noone was punished. Why such a difference in sentences?

Taking the case described above as an example, or using Canadian troops killed in a friendly fire accident (both pilots acquitted as well), is there a a notion in American military that there's a lower "responsibility threshold" in the line of duty?
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aevans176
QUOTE(English Horn @ Jun 27 2005, 08:56 AM)
Taking the case described above as an example, or using Canadian troops killed in a friendly fire accident (both pilots acquitted as well), is there a a notion in American military that there's a lower "responsibility threshold" in the line of duty? 
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The first case is appalling, but as the article does mention, the US offered to pay the victims families compensation. However, it does raise eye brows that nothing more happened to the pilots.

HOWEVER, the mention of the Canadians killed in a friendly fire accident is strangely different.

The Canadians were operating a live fire training operation in the middle of the Afghani Desert, AT NIGHT, in a combat zone, without notifying anyone of their presence.

This poor pilot thought that the troops below were shooting at them, and after repeatedly asking the command and control, fired back in what he thought was self-defense. Major Schmidt was in a precarious postion. Should he allow what he thought was aggression towards himself and his commanding officer???

Being a reserve pilot, with the Marine Corps 41st MAG, I fly a UH-1 (helicopter) for mostly infantry fire support and transport. I am far less experienced than Major Schmidt, as he was active duty for an extended period of time and had logged countless combat hours (Bosnia, the First Gulf war, etc). While I mourn for the loss of the Canadians, and of course for their families, I can understand how something like this would happen.

What you have to understand is that in a combat zone, there is a limited window of opportunity to make decisions to save your life or those of your men. These Canadians were using live ordinance at night in the middle of a combat zone without notifying anyone. Major Schmidt's career is ruined, he has to live with the deaths of these men on his conscience, and has been all over network news for years...

Friendly fire accidents will happen, as unfortunate as it is. If we'd have thrown this man in the "Gulag" as the Russians had for an accident of this nature... it would've been a sincere injustice.
English Horn
QUOTE(aevans176 @ Jun 27 2005, 11:56 AM)
The first case is appalling, but as the article does mention, the US offered to pay the victims families compensation. However, it does raise eye brows that nothing more happened to the pilots. 

HOWEVER, the mention of the Canadians killed in a friendly fire accident is strangely different. 


You are right, I probably should not have included this accident into the comparison. The cable car accident and the air show accident were both taking place in a non-combat zone situation with pilots grossly disregarding basic safety precautions; the Afganistan accident did not.
However, the original question still stands: why did we let the pilots that caused the cable car disaster walk free?
Hugo
It appears that both disasters were caused by pilot's negligence, "hot-dogging", and a desire to "show off". However, in one case two pilots will serve years in prison and will pay millions to the victims; in the other case pilots eventually walked free and noone was punished. Why such a difference in sentences?

Of course, Ashby's defense was he was not showing off. His defense was the altimeter failed, an optical illusion gave him a false impression he was flying higher than he thought and he thought the minimum flight altitude was 1000, not 2000, feet. His crew's testimony backed him up. I think the jury did not find the prosecution met their burden of proof. The jury acquitted him of 20 charges.
Mrs. Pigpen
I donít see much of a comparison between the two cases. The marines didnít know there was a cable, because it wasn't on their maps. The Italian mapping agency put the cable on its 1:500,000 scale maps, but the United States' National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) used the Italian's 1:250,000 scale maps, which didn't show the Cavalese cable. In addition, as Hugo mentioned, their altimeter was faulty, and they were flying over mountainous terrain which made it very difficult to maintain a precise elevation above the ground. They thought the height restrictions were lower.

Wanted to also address this portion:
QUOTE
In May 1999, the U.S. Congress rejected a bill that would have provided direct monetary aid to the victims' families. The Italian legislature then approved a generous monetary compensation plan for the families in December 1999. NATO treaties obliged the US government to pay 75% of this compensation, which it did.
This is worded interestingly. It makes it sound as though Congress rejected a bill to pay the victims, but then the wonderful Italian government provided the victims with a generous compensation package for which we were required to pay 75 percent.

The real, more complete story: NATOís Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) provided the mechanism to process and pay those sorts of claims. Under that treaty, adjudication and payment of claims are the responsibility of the Italian Ministry of Defense, to be determined under Italian tort law. The claims could be settled administratively or through litigation against their ministry of defense in an Italian court. This was covered under the International Agreement Claims Act, which implemented the SOFA, the sole remedy for tort that occurred in the line-of-duty torts. The US Government was then required to pay 75 percent of that settlement. There was never a question of US government paying the victimsí families, as the statement above would imply. The victims families knew that the Italian justice system is SLOW (most of the victims were not Italian), and wanted to be compensated quickly. This request was denied by Congress as it would have violated the NATO agreement. As soon as Italian litigation procedures came through, the victims were compensated accordingly. Any indications to the contrary (of which the internet is replete) are rubbish. All victim's families and/or their legal representatives received the above information at the time, even while the International papers were freshly printing that the US was refusing to pay. wacko.gif
CruisingRam
I was waiting for Mrs P's angle on this- and in both cases, I can't make a decision personally, I don't know the evidence nor have been presented it either.

I don't know if the american justice system is protecting the innocent, or the Ukrainian goverment is just looking for someone to punish.

Pilots were party animals that were pretty out of control prior to the Tailhook incident- but, in that case as well, nobody of substance involved really paid- the military in the US has a history of letting officers off and punishing enlisted men, so I tend to think that in the Italian incident the pilots got away with murder, and the Ukranian pilots were probably punished too harshly- it seems to be the way of both cultures- but both are part of my BELIEFS- I suspend both if I were on the jury, and would love to see all the evidence for myself.
English Horn
QUOTE(Mrs. Pigpen @ Jun 28 2005, 09:37 AM)
I donít see much of a comparison between the two cases. The marines didnít know there was a cable, because it wasn't on their maps. The Italian mapping agency put the cable on its 1:500,000 scale maps, but the United States' National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) used the Italian's 1:250,000 scale maps, which didn't show the Cavalese cable. In addition, as Hugo mentioned, their altimeter was faulty, and they were flying over mountainous terrain which made it very difficult to maintain a precise elevation above the ground. They thought the height restrictions were lower.


Don't you think that "they thought" is not exactly an argument that should fly in court especially when lives of 20 people are involved? Either they were not trained properly in regard to height restrictions, in which case their flight trainer should have been punished, or they "forgot" the crucial safety precaution.
If the altimeter was faulty, shouldn't a technician who prepares planes for flight bear some kind of responsibility?

Edited to add: Being a thick-skinned &*$%# is not a crime, but certainly "the pilot has to live with the deaths of these people on his conscience for the rest of his life" does not apply here - unless Captain Ashby went to Vegas to drown his sorrows... mad.gif
Mrs. Pigpen
QUOTE(English Horn @ Jun 28 2005, 08:16 AM)
QUOTE(Mrs. Pigpen @ Jun 28 2005, 09:37 AM)
I donít see much of a comparison between the two cases. The marines didnít know there was a cable, because it wasn't on their maps. The Italian mapping agency put the cable on its 1:500,000 scale maps, but the United States' National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) used the Italian's 1:250,000 scale maps, which didn't show the Cavalese cable. In addition, as Hugo mentioned, their altimeter was faulty, and they were flying over mountainous terrain which made it very difficult to maintain a precise elevation above the ground. They thought the height restrictions were lower.


Don't you think that "they thought" is not exactly an argument that should fly in court especially when lives of 20 people are involved? Either they were not trained properly in regard to height restrictions, in which case their flight trainer should have been punished, or they "forgot" the crucial safety precaution.
If the altimeter was faulty, shouldn't a technician who prepares planes for flight bear some kind of responsibility?
You're certainly right (about the altitude). Actually, no low-level missions should have been permitted in that area to begin with...which is where the correct maps would have come in handy. The altitude restriction had been changed from 1000' to 2000', and other pilots testified to the fact that they had flown low levels near that area prior to the incident, believing it to be 1000' as well. This event took place before we went to Aviano, so I don't know what the restrictions were then, but I do know that altitude restrictions over the Dolomites were at around 10,000' while we were there. No one was permitted to do those sorts of low-level missions through there.

It really is hard to eyeball without a functioning radar altimeter in that sort of mountainous terrain. Planes crash into actual mountains and towers that way, so it isn't surprising that a cable wasn't seen. Per the fault of the technician, I don't know if the radar altimeter was functioning beforehand or not, but not every military plane even has this feature. According to Mr P, F15s and F22s don't.

QUOTE
Edited to add: Being a thick-skinned &*$%# is not a crime, but certainly "the pilot has to live with the deaths of these people on his conscience for the rest of his life" does not apply here - unless Captain Ashby went to Vegas to drown his sorrows...† mad.gif
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To be fair, we don't know anything about the Las Vegas incident. Ashby was on suicide watch after the accident.
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