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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 25 February, 2003, 19:55 GMT
Air controller found not guilty
Crash site
Both pilots were killed in the crash
An air traffic controller has been cleared of causing the deaths of two US fighter pilots.

Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Williams had faced charges following the deaths of the pilots during a snowstorm on 26 March, 2001.

Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Hyvonen, 40, and Captain Kirk Jones, 27, were killed when they crashed their F15 jets into Ben MacDui in the Cairngorms.

The pair were both based at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk.

The jury of six senior RAF officers took just over six-and-a-half hours to acquit Flt Lt Williams, 47, of RAF Leuchars, Fife, at a court martial being held in Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute.

Williams was also found not guilty of an alternative charge of professional negligence.

Record case

His wife Sue and sister Barbara buried their heads in their hands when the verdict was delivered.

The case against him lasted 22 days and was the longest and most expensive in RAF history.

It was alleged Williams told the Americans to fly below 6,500ft when they requested the "minimum vectoring altitude" - a US term unfamiliar to the RAF at the time.

My sympathy and thoughts go to the families of the two pilots who lost their lives in this tragic accident - their loss is heartbreaking
Flt Lt Malcolm Williams
Williams had denied the charge.

The US pilots were on a low-flying exercise from RAF Lakenheath when they disappeared.

Mountain rescue teams battled through white-out conditions to find the wreckage near the summit of the Highland mountain, the second highest in the UK.

The bodies of Lt Col Hyvonen and Capt Jones were recovered within days.

The hearing had heard how Flt Lt Williams returned to work on the day of the crash after two weeks of compassionate leave following the death of his father.

Supporters of the air traffic controller rallied around him after the verdict was delivered.

Flt Lt Williams later emerged outside, hand-in-hand with his wife Susan.

Sue Williams and Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Williams
Malcolm Williams was found not guilty
Asked whether he was relieved at the verdict, he nodded and said: "Yes."

His wife added: "Yes, very."

In a statement, he said he was saddened by the "tragic accident" which led to the pilots' deaths.

He said: "Today's verdict is a great relief. The last two years have been extremely stressful for me and my family and we are now looking forward to returning to some sense of normality.

"In particular, I want to thank my wife, family and friends.

'Evidence ignored'

"My sympathy and thoughts go to the families of the two pilots who lost their lives in this tragic accident - their loss is heartbreaking."

Richard Dawson, Guild of Air Traffic Controllers, called for an independent inquiry into the use of evidence in the court martial.

He said: "The guild is concerned that evidence available to the court martial was either ignored or not accurately displayed when presented by the prosecution.

"We therefore call for an inquiry to determine whether this was accidental or deliberate."

RAF spokesman Richard Mulford said there would be a review.

He said: "If there are, at the end of the day, lessons they can learn, they certainly will."


WATCH AND LISTEN
Aileen Clarke reports
"It's been the longest court martial in RAF history"



SEE ALSO:
Crash pilot 'entirely to blame'
20 Feb 03 |  Scotland
Controller 'gave wrong advice'
19 Feb 03 |  Scotland
Pilots told to drop altitude
17 Feb 03 |  Scotland
Jet sightings 'accurate'
14 Feb 03 |  Scotland
Jet crash pilots' last words
03 Feb 03 |  Scotland


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