Wednesday, February 10, 1999 Published at 03:49 GMT
Death jet pilot 'took risks'
Jurors boarded a helicopter on their way to view a Prowler jet
The former commander of a US Marine pilot whose jet cut the wires of an Italian cable car, killing 20 people, has told his trial the pilot took risks during the flight.
Prosecutors say Captain Richard Ashby, 31, took a video camera on the flight and performed a 360-degree "flaperon" roll shortly before the accident on 3 February 1998.
Capt Ashby's lawyers say the roll was often used to cross mountain ridges.
Removed from command
Lt Col Muegge, who was removed from command after the accident, said Capt Ashby also put the flight at risk by taking a video camera on board the EA-6B Prowler.
He said: "It's not illegal, but it's an air crew co-ordination problem...it didn't seem to be a real smart thing to do."
Capt Ashby's lawyers have said the ski lift was not shown on the maps he was using.
But Lt Col Muegge said it was common knowledge that there were ski areas in the Alps and he said it was understood 1,000 feet (300m) was the lowest safe altitude.
Capt Ashby's jet struck the cable at around 360 feet (110m).
Special air display
Earlier the jury watched an identical US Marine jet being put through its paces.
The eight-man jury - which includes three pilots with experience in jets and helicopters - watched as the Prowler jet roared overhead at the Cherry Point air station in North Carolina.
With its wires cut a gondola plummeted more than 100 metres, killing all 20 people inside.
The accident sparked uproar in Italy and demands for the closure of the US air force base at Aviano.
Capt Ashby is also accused of dereliction of duty and destruction of property, the latter charge relates to a missing on-board video tape.
'Flew too low'
Prosecutors allege the pilot, on his final Prowler mission before transferring to fighter pilot school, was intentionally flying too low and too fast on the day of the accident.
Capt Ashby, who faces up to 200 years in prison if convicted, is on trial at a court-martial in nearby Camp Lejeune.
With a military judge, lawyers and reporters looking on, a Prowler pilot showed the jurors one-by-one the jet's instrument panel, including the location of its radar altimeter and air-speed gauge.
Capt Ashby's lawyers have claimed the jet's altimeter was unreliable. They also say the cable car wires on Mount Cermis, near Cavalese, were not shown on his map.
The Prowler, known as the "sky pig", is equipped with a wall of electronic instrumentation which separates twin cockpits where aviators sit in pairs, side by side.