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Marine Denies Accusations

A Marine pilot facing manslaughter charges for an accident in which his jet sliced a ski lift cable, killing twenty people at an Italian resort, denies that he was purposely flying too low.

"They're trying to portray me as a cowboy and that's hogwash," Capt. Richard Ashby told the Los Angeles Times.

"They were starting to call me Rambo, and saying that we were trying to fly under the wire. They said we were even betting beers," Ashby, of Orange County, said of his critics.

The accident inflamed Italian-U.S. relations, and some Italians called for the removal of U.S. military bases in the country.

Ashby and three other Marines are each charged with 20 counts of involuntary manslaughter and 20 counts of negligent homicide in the Feb. 3 crash.

Their EA-6B Prowler, an electronic intelligence-gathering plane, was on a training flight when it cut the cable of a gondola packed with skiers, sending the car crashing to the ground.

Military officials accused the men of breaking altitude and speed rules. But Ashby told the Times he had been cleared to fly at the altitude and speed he was at, and said maps did not show a ski resort was in the area.

A hearing is scheduled Tuesday at Camp LeJeune, N.C., to determine whether the two crewmen who sat in the jet's back seat Capts. Chandler Seagraves and William Raney should be court-martialed. A hearing for Ashby and Capt. Joseph Schweitzer, the plane's navigator, is scheduled in June.

Ashby said he expects to be cleared.

"I have a lot of faith and I have it in my heart and I have it in my head," he said.