April 1999 Issue

Error of Your Ways

You probably won’t spot a mistake on your charts, but then again …

Some 14 months ago, 20 people died when a U.S. Marines Prowler cut a ski gondola cable in a valley near Cavalese, Italy. Captain Richard Ashby, the pilot, and Captain Joseph Schwitzer, the navigator, were facing trial on criminal charges as this issue went to press. Although the easy explanation is that the jet was flying too fast and too low through the valley, the scenario includes another twist.

“Air crews rely on maps given to them by the United States to plan their mission,” says Frank Spinner, a civilian lawyer hired to assist Ashby’s military lawyers. “When you have an uncharted obstruction that goes 500 feet above ground level smack in the middle of an approved low-altitude route,...

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