Marine Jet Gondola Tragedy Settled

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Raleigh, N.C., April 26--The U.S. government will paythe lion's share in a $40 million settlement to the families of victimskilled in Italy more than two years ago when a Marine jet cut a gondolacable sending 20 people to their deaths. Each family will receive nearly $2million with 75 percent to be paid by the U.S. and 25 percent to come fromthe Italian government.

The ratio is set by established NATO accords. As aresult of the settlement, five Belgian families who were suing separatelywill drop their lawsuits and have accepted the settlement.

On February 3, 1998, a Marine Corps radar-jamming jet based in Italy formissions over Bosnia was flying near Cavalese, Italy, when it cut a liftcable at a ski resort. A gondola with 20 passengers then fell nearly 400feet to the mountainside as the damaged jet returned to base.

Investigatorssaid the pilot was flying too low and too fast at the time. In a subsequenttrial, though acquitted of involuntary manslaughter charges, the pilot wassentenced to five months in military prison before being dismissed from theMarine Corps for hiding a personal videotape of portions of the flight. Hisnavigator was dismissed from the corps after admitting to destroying thevideotape. Two other crewmen on the flight were acquitted of chargesstemming from the accident.

Charges that the U.S. military was usingoutdated maps of the area and had stringent orders in place for trainingmissions that were ignored by the pilot have still not been answered.