Page last updated at 17:49 GMT, Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Pilot jailed for Sicily air crash

Wreckage of ATR-72 is towed back to Palermo harbour (7 August 2005)
The plane was flying from the city of Bari to the Tunisian island of Djerba

An Italian court has jailed a Tunisian pilot who paused to pray instead of taking emergency measures before ditching his plane, killing 16 people.

A fuel gauge fault was partly to blame for the crash off Sicily in 2005 but judges convicted Chafik Garbi of manslaughter, jailing him for 10 years.

Six others, including the co-pilot and head of the airline Tuninter, were jailed for between eight and 10 years.

The accused will not spend time in jail until the appeals process is completed.

''This was an unprecedented sentence but we have always maintained that it was an unprecedented incident,'' Niky Persico, a lawyer for one of the victims, told Italy's Ansa news agency.

''Never before in the history of aviation disasters has there been such a chain of events and counter-events.''

Fuel gauge

The twin-engined Tuninter ATR-72 turboprop aeroplane was flying from the Italian city of Bari to the Tunisian island of Djerba on 6 August 2005, when it ran out of fuel and came down in the sea some 13km (eight miles) off the northern coast of Sicily.

Victim of the crash
Out of the total of 34 passengers and five crew on board, 23 survived

Out of the total of 34 passengers and five crew on board, 23 survived. Many had to swim for their lives, while others clung on to floating pieces of the fuselage.

The Italian National Air Safety Board (ANSV) found in 2007 that the plane had run out of fuel because it had failed to take on enough before leaving Bari.

It said this was the result of a faulty fuel gauge, which had been installed the previous day by the maintenance arm of Tunisair, owner of Tuninter.

Ground crew had installed a fuel gauge designed for the ATR-42, which is similar to the ATR-72 but has smaller fuel tanks, the ANSV found. The same conclusions were reached by the manufacturer.

Prosecutors say that after both the plane's engines cut out, the pilot succumbed to panic, praying out loud instead of following emergency procedures and then opting to crash-land in the Mediterranean instead of trying to reach the nearest airport.

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