Tuninter Crash Pilots Get 10-Year Jail Sentence

 - March 24, 2009, 9:07 AM

A court in Palermo, Sicily, has sentenced Capt. Shafik Al Gharbi and copilot Ali Kebaier Lassoued to 10 years in prison for failing to take adequate emergency measures before crash landing their Tuninter ATR 72 turboprop into the sea, leading to the death of 16 people on Aug. 6, 2005. Five other employees of the Tunisian domestic airline and charter company received sentences of between eight and nine years in jail.

The court said Al Gharbi and Lassoued prayed instead of trying to land the airplane while on Tuninter Flight 1153 from Bari, Italy, to Djerba, Tunisia. The ATR 72 ran out of fuel midflight following the mistaken installation of an ATR 42 fuel gauge. Although the crew did not detect the increasing fuel exhaustion, the court found the pilot had panicked and lost time in praying out loud instead of following emergency procedures.

The aircraft’s right engine failed at 23,000 feet and the left engine at 7,000 feet, after which the turboprop glided for 16 minutes before crashing 23 nm northeast of Palermo.

The Italian government banned Tuninter from flying into Italian airspace on Sept. 7, 2005, despite the fact that it had operated 95,000 previous flights without incident. The airline rebranded itself as Sevenair and launched scheduled flights into Italy in 2007.