Gondola Jury Gets Pilot's View

The panel hearing the court martial of Marine Capt. Richard Ashby, the pilot accused in last year's gondola tragedy that killed 20 skiers in the Italian Alps, got a chance to see things from the pilot's perspective Tuesday.

The jury of eight officers was flown to the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, North Carolina, about 30 miles east of Camp Lejeune, to sit in the cockpit of a Prowler jet.

The jurors donned helmets and took turns sitting in the pilot's seat and listening to an aviation officer describe the instruments on the cockpit panel, including the radar altimeter. Jurors could not ask questions.

They were then taken to a nearby flight range to watch an EA-6B Prowler and another jet fly overhead, reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Roberts.

Ashby, 31, of Mission Viejo, Calif., is charged with 20 counts of involuntary manslaughter, one for each of the people who died when his jet clipped a gondola cable, sending it plunging to the ground at Cavalese, Italy one year ago.

He faces a maximum of more than 200 years in prison if convicted of the manslaughter counts, plus charges of destruction of private and military property and dereliction of duty.

During opening arguments Monday at Camp Lejeune, the Marine Corps told jurors that Ashby performed an unauthorized corkscrew roll and was flying too low and too fast before the impact with the gondola cable.

Ashby's attorneys have argued that he didn't know the cable was there because it wasn't on the map he was issued, and that an optical illusion may have made him think he was flying higher than he was.

One of Ashby's lawyers, Capt. Jon Shelburne, said "good pilots occasionally have accidents. Nobody's arguing that mistakes weren't made."

The Prowler's navigator, Capt. Joseph Schweitzer, 31, of Westbury, N.Y., is scheduled to be tried next month in connection with the deaths.

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