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Pilot Takes Stand in Cable Car Case

May 6, 1999

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) _ A Marine pilot charged with obstruction of justice said he regrets helping destroy a videotape of the training flight that caused 20 deaths at an Italian ski resort.

``I wish we would have left the tape there,″ said Capt. Richard Ashby, 32, of Mission Viejo, Calif. ``If we had taken the tape, we should have turned it over to somebody to watch. ...

``I wanted to get out of the aircraft. I was shaking. I wanted out.″

A rebuttal prosecution witness, Bernard Coogan, an aircraft accident expert, testified today that the videotape would have given investigators images to compare with flight recorder data.

Closing arguments were scheduled for this afternoon before the case goes to the seven-man military jury.

The defense rested Wednesday after Ashby testified for more than two hours at his obstruction of justice and conspiracy trial.

Ashby faces 10 years in prison or dismissal from the service if convicted.

During the Feb. 3, 1998, training flight, the right wing of Ashby’s four-man EA-6B Prowler cut a gondola cable at Cavalese, Italy. Twenty people plunged 370 feet to their deaths. A separate jury acquitted Ashby in March of 20 manslaughter charges.

Ashby had testified that he handed the videotape to his navigator, Capt. Joseph Schweitzer, who later threw the tape into a bonfire.

Schweitzer ``wanted it gone. I wanted to look at it. That’s all I’ve ever said,″ Ashby said.

``There was no conversation that went as far as, `This is why I want to do this.′ There was no time,″ Ashby said. ``I took the tape out and put in my G-suit pocket and he handed me another tape and I put it in there.″

Ashby maintains that he did not intend to obstruct justice.

Schweitzer, 31, of Westbury, N.Y., pleaded guilty to the same obstruction charges Ashby faces and was sentenced to dismissal from the service.

Update hourly