Five Manslaughter Convictions in Air Crash

Wednesday, February 20, 2008
By George Hatcher

In October 2001, in thick fog, a Copenhagen-bound SAS airliner ploughed into a Cessna business jet as the airliner was taking off resulting in the deaths of 118 people in 2001 in Italy’s worst air disaster. Italy’s top tribunal, The Cassation Court, acquitted two senior airport officials who stood trial for the Milan’s Linate airport crash. The SAS plane slammed into a baggage hangar and burst into flames. All on board both planes died, plus four people in the hangar.

Paolo Pettinaroli, spokesperson of an association of relatives of the victims, said he was “happy with the confirmation of the convictions, but I did not expect that they would acquit those responsible for the airports’ security…It was shameful then, and it is still today.”

Following the disaster, the airfield was found to have safety shortcomings, and lacked a functioning ground radar system. The July 2006 Milan appeals court findings of multiple manslaughter as well as negligent disaster were upheld. Investigations verified that runway signs were confusing; the control tower failed to ask the business plane’s pilot to read back his instructions, ground radar was out of operation and safety procedures were poorly followed.

Details of the accident
In the fog, the private Cessna invaded the runway of SAS flight 686 which committed to take off. The collision at 270.5 km/h crashed the Cessna, instantly killing the four passengers. The MD-87 lost the right engine and debris from the Cessna weakened the left engine. Commander Joakim Gustafsson could not end the takeoff phase so he was forced to carry out a perfect textbook emergency landing. However the MD-87 crashed into the baggage hanger at around 260 km/h, bursting into flames, killing 110 passengers and four workers in the building. The only survivor was Pasquale Padovano, an employee of SEA, Milan’s airport management company. Italians, Swedes, Danes, Finns, Norwegians, a Romanian, a Briton, a South African and an American were killed.

Upheld was:

  • a 6 year prison sentence for former head of air traffic control authority ENAV, Sandro Gualano. He received the longest prison term.
  • a 3 year sentence for Paolo Zacchetti, air traffic controller
  • a four-year, four-month sentence for Fabio Marzocca’s Former ENAV director general
  • a 3 year 3 month sentence for Lorenzo Grecchi, former official with the SEA airports agency,
  • a 3 year 3 month sentence for Antonio Cavanna, former official with the SEA airports agency

Angelo Di Popolo, deputy prosecutor of the Cassation, requested cancellation of the acquittals for the ex-director of Linate airport Vincenzo Fusco (current ENAC director in the airport of Alghero-Fertilia), and the ex-director of the Milan airports, Francesco Federico (now ENAC director of the “Sandro Pertini” airport of Turin).

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