Crossair executives indicted for homicide by neglect

 - February 26, 2008, 6:11 AM

A Swiss federal prosecutor last month indicted six former managers of defunct regional airline Crossair for homicide by neglect in connection with the crash of an Avro RJ100 on Nov. 24, 2001, during final approach to Zurich Airport. Although the prosecutor’s office did not reveal the names of the managers, the press was quick to announce that Crossair founder Moritz Suter and former CEO Andre Dose, as well as former flight operations chief Thomas Brandt, were among them. The crash killed 24 of the 33 people on the aircraft, including both pilots.

The information comes from a press release by the prosecutor and the published list of upcoming trials. A trial scheduled to start on May 5 indicates proceedings against six executives of Crossair “for having employed a pilot with known shortcomings who caused the crash through faulty conduct.”

The document identifies the six only by initials. In the Crossair case, the list starts with the initials M.S., A.D. and T.B. On the other hand, a court spokesperson said that Andre Auer did not appear on the list of those indicted. Auer served as chief of the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation at the time of the crash and had earlier surfaced as a possible target of prosecution for lack of adequate supervision of the airline. The same spokesperson replied “no comment” to similar questions about Suter and Dose. Neither was available for comment.

On the evening of Nov. 24, 2001, Crossair Flight CRX3597 flew a VOR/DME approach to Runway 28 at Zurich Airport in bad weather after nightfall. From the beginning of the approach, the captain flew below the minimum descent altitude, although he could not see the ground. The BFU, the Swiss air accident investigation bureau, determined that decision to be the primary reason for the accident.

The BFU also revealed that the 57-year-old pilot’s record contained several serious blemishes, including an approach to the alpine airport of Sion during which he lost contact with the tower and noticed at the last moment that he was about to land at another airport in a parallel valley. 

With 19,555 total flight hours, he had logged only 287 hours on the Avro RJ100, his only jet rating. The copilot was a 25-year-old first officer with 490 hours total time and a reputation for a lack of assertiveness.

Based on the BFU report, the prosecutor deemed the pilot unfit to fly as a captain; the charges stem from that assertion.