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Monday, March 15, 1999 Published at 22:49 GMT

World: Americas

Charges dropped in Italian ski tragedy

Italy reacted furiously when charges were dropped against Ashby

A US marine court martial has dropped all the most serious charges against a second Marine Corps aviator following the deaths of 20 people killed in a cable car disaster in Italy last year.

The tragedy happened on 3 February 1998 when a military jet severed lift cables over an Italian ski resort.

The court in Camp Lejeune, north Carolina, ruled on Monday that Captain Joseph Schweitzer, the jet's navigator, will now not be tried for involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide.

But Captain Schweitzer's attorney said he still faces charges of obstruction of justice amid allegations that he and pilot Captain Richard Ashby hid a videotape taken along on the fatal February 1998 mission, his attorney said.

All charges except obstruction of justice were dropped against Captain Ashby earlier this month, prompting a furious reaction from the Italian Government.

Captain Schweitzer plotted out the low-level training mission that ended when the jet clipped lift cables, killing everyone on board a gondola car that plunged to the ground.

The Italian Prime Minister, Massimo D'Alema, has warned that Italy might attempt to revise a Nato treaty which allowed the two marine captains to be tried in America.

On a trip to Washington earlier this month, he called upon the US Government to punish those responsible for the tragedy.

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