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Marine Cable Car Trial Continues

April 1, 1999

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) _ Parents of three women who died when a Marine Corps jet severed an Italian ski gondola cable say a missing videotape could have helped them comprehend a confusing tragedy.

``It could have given us all the information we need to understand what happened,″ Margo Anthonissen of Belgium testified Wednesday at the sentencing hearing for Capt. Joseph Schweitzer, 31, of Westbury, N.Y.

Schweitzer was the navigator aboard the jet that cut the cable on Feb. 3, 1998, near Cavalese, Italy, sending 20 people plunging to their deaths. He has pleaded guilty to obstruction and conspiracy charges, admitting that he and the pilot switched a videotape after they made an emergency landing.

Schweitzer said he later tossed the tape into a bonfire. The maximum sentence for the two charges is 10 years in prison, dismissal from the service and forfeiture of pay.

Bert Berger of the Netherlands said there was important information on the tape, despite Schweitzer’s assertion that he stopped filming 10 minutes before the accident over a snow-covered valley in the Alps.

``Now, it’s a puzzle with missing pieces,″ Berger said.

Another parent told the military jury the tape could show ``what was really going on in that cockpit.″

Earlier, Schweitzer’s former commanding officer testified he lost trust after learning Schweitzer lied to him about using the camera during the flight.

Retired Lt. Col. Richard Muegge, who was relieved of command after the accident, said Schweitzer had told him there was a video camera aboard the EA-6B Prowler, but he didn’t use it.

``He made a series of very bad mistakes and errors in judgment,″ Muegge said. ``Something like that hurts the special trust and confidence you need in someone you may go to war with.″

Schweitzer testified Monday that he used the camera three times to tape parts of the flight and once aimed the camera at his face and smiled. He said he and the pilot, Capt. Richard Ashby, 32, of Mission Viejo, Calif., agreed to switch the tape for a blank one so investigators wouldn’t get it.

A jury earlier this month acquitted Ashby of manslaughter charges and the same charges were dismissed against Schweitzer. Ashby still faces obstruction of justice charges for his role with the videotape.

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