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Italy Cable Car Accident Described

February 12, 1999

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) _ After a low-flying Marine jet clipped an Italian ski gondola cable, the yellow car swayed back and forth as it plunged into the alpine valley, killing 20 people, a witness testified today.

Barbara Demattio testified at the court-martial of the jet’s pilot, Capt. Richard Ashby, that she was baby-sitting for a friend near Cavalese, Italy, on Feb. 3, 1998, when she saw and heard the jet roar overhead.

The jet rattled the house, caused the TV antennae to sway and woke up the baby, she said. When she looked out the window, the plane was so close she could only see part of its belly. The plane flipped over and flew near the gondola wires, but Demattio didn’t see it strike a cable, she testified.

But she saw the yellow gondola come off the cable. ``It started to wave back and forth, falling to the ground,″ Demattio said.

Ashby, 31, of Mission Viejo, Calif., is charged with 20 counts of involuntary manslaughter, destruction of property and dereliction of duty. His jet hit the cable between 360 and 370 feet at 621 mph. If convicted of all charges, Ashby faces a maximum sentence of more than 200 years in prison.

The government contends Ashby flew the four-man radar-jamming jet far below the 1,000-foot altitude minimum and faster than the 517 mph mission speed during a low-level training flight.

Defense attorneys say Ashby is being scapegoated by the Marine Corps to conceal errors by higher-ups, including a government-issued map that didn’t show the ski lift and a malfunctioning altitude gauge.

On Thursday, defense attorneys claimed there were flaws in a computer simulation of the jet’s route before it cut the cable.

After prosecutors showed eight military jurors the simulation, a lawyer for Ashby criticized the data on which it was based.

``You’ve heard the term, garbage in, garbage out?″ asked defense lawyer Maj. Bill Webber.

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