Tunisian pilots jailed for 2005 Sicily crash

An Italian court handed down 10-year prison sentences Monday on the pilot and co-pilot of a Tunisian airliner which crashed off Sicily in August 2005, killing 16 people, the Sky TG24 news channel said.

Five other people, including the head of the airline Tuninter, received lesser jail sentences, while two were acquitted, ANSA news agency added.

All were tried in their absence, and their lawyers said they would appeal.

Italy banned Tuninter, a subsidiary of national carrier Tunisair, after an investigation showed that the plane that crashed on August 6, 2005 had been fitted with the wrong fuel gauge.

Sixteen people died and 23 survived when the twin-engined ATR-72 regional transport turboprop came down in the sea with empty fuel tanks.

The gauge, designed for the older and smaller ATR-42, led the pilots to believe they had sufficient fuel for their trip from the southern Italian city of Bari to the Tunisian resort island of Djerba, the investigation showed.

The crew of the Tunisian aircraft thought they had 3,000 litres of fuel when they landed in Bari and requested only an additional 240 litres for the flight to Djerba, according to the Italian accident report.

The aircraft's two engines stopped nearly simultaneously and it was forced to come down in the sea around 18 nautical miles (33 kilometres) from Sicily's main city of Palermo.

The gauge had been installed the day before the crash by the maintenance arm of Tunisair, according to the report.
Pilot Chafik Gharby and co-pilot Ali Kebaier were each given 10 years, Tuninter director general Moncef Zouari and technical director Zoueir Chetouane nine years, and two officials responsible for maintenance and a mechanic were given eight years, ANSA said.

The two acquitted were shop-floor technicians.
ANSA quoted the mother of one of the victims, Angela Trentadue, as saying that she was "quite satisfied with the judgement, even though no one can give me my daughter back".