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Report Finds Air Traffic Controller Errors

February 6, 2006

LONDON (AP) _ An air traffic controller guiding two U.S. Air Force pilots who crashed into a Scottish mountaintop made serious mistakes but was not directly to blame for their deaths, a British military investigation concluded Monday.

Lt. Col. Kenneth Hyvonen, 40, of Michigan, and Capt. Kirk Jones, 27, of Arizona, were killed when they crashed into Ben Macdhui, the highest peak in the Cairngorm range, in March 2001.

A U.S. Air Force inquiry ruled that the crash followed a breakdown in communication with an air traffic controller, but a report released Monday by Britain’s Royal Air Force said he had not directly caused the accident.

In 2003, a jury of six senior officers cleared RAF Leuchars air base controller Flight Lt. Malcolm Williams of causing the deaths.

Williams was found to have directed Hyvonen to descend to 4,000 feet over the Cairngorms, even though the minimum safe altitude was 6,500 feet. The wreckage of the jets and pilots’ bodies were later found near the peak of the 4,300-foot Ben Macdhui. The report found that his response to the request to descend ``was unsafe and incorrect.″

The report concluded that ``the controller’s actions were not the cause of the accident, though they made it very likely to occur.″

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