A Marine general on Friday ordered military trials on manslaughter charges for the pilot and navigator of a fighter jet that cut an Italian ski gondola cable and killed 20 people.
Lt. Gen. Peter Pace, commander of Marine Corps Forces Atlantic, determined that there was sufficient evidence for a general court-martial for Capt. Richard J. Ashby, the pilot of the EA-6B Prowler anti-radar jet, and Capt. Joseph P. Schweitzer, the navigator.But Pace dismissed charges against two electronic countermeasures officers, Capts. Chandler P. Seagraves and William L. Raney II. Both sat in the rear cockpit of the jet, and evidence during a hearing showed they had no control over the plane and very limited visibility.
Schweitzer's attorney, David Beck, said his client was disappointed at the court-martial. He said the defense team plans to travel to Italy to examine evidence and interview witnesses.
"Capt. Schweitzer is innocent and we are going to work around the clock every day to establish evidence," Beck said. He said he expects a trial will be held in late fall or early winter.
The prosecutor's office in Trento, Italy, said it had no comment about the court-martial.
Pace's decision followed the recommendations of a military judge, Lt. Col. Ronald Rodgers, who presided over hearings at Camp Lejeune for the four Marines.
Marine Corps investigators have said the Prowler was flying too low and too fast on the Feb. 3 training run from Aviano Air Base in the Italian Alps.
The plane hit the cable at 370 feet, well below the minimum allowed altitude of 1,000 feet. The four fliers, all on assignment from Cherry Point Marine Air Station in North Carolina, denied flying recklessly.
The incident near Cavalese soured Italian-American relations, prompting calls to close U.S. bases throughout Italy and charges that American fliers routinely "hot-dog" in Italian airspace.