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Report: Marine Jet Not Authorized

March 14, 1999

ROME (AP) _ The Marine jet that severed a ski lift’s cable and sent skiers plunging to their deaths last year was not authorized to fly near the cable car, newspapers said Saturday, quoting Italian investigators.

Only F-16 fighter jets were authorized to fly in the area of the Alps where the Feb. 3, 1998, accident took place. All 20 people aboard the gondola died.

The fatal flight was made by a Marine EA-6B Prowler, a low-level intelligence aircraft, piloted by Capt. Richard Ashby. He was acquitted last week of involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide by a military court in the United States.

The verdict has outraged Italy, where investigators are still looking into the accident. Premier Massimo D’Alema has called repeatedly for justice and said Italy may want to change its base agreements with NATO.

An Italian prosecutor had hoped to try the Prowler’s crew in Italy, but the United States took over jurisdiction under a NATO treaty. Ashby’s acquittal has spurred Italian investigators to continue their probe.

The daily newspaper La Stampa said Saturday that Italy limited flights in the area of the accident to F-16 aircraft in 1997 because of complaints about the noise of lower-level flights. As a result, the fatal Prowler flight was unauthorized, the newspaper quoted Italian investigators as saying.

The ANSA news agency quoted the prosecutor, Francoantonio Granero, as saying his investigation had uncovered at least six such unauthorized flights in the three months leading up to the accident.

Residents near Aviano, where the plane was based, have renewed their bid to have the government ban all military flights in the surrounding Alpine valleys.

Update hourly