Praying Pilot Convicted Of Manslaughter In Italy Crash

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ROME — A pilot who began praying instead of enacting emergency measures before a Tunisian charter flight plummeted into the sea and killed 16 people off Sicily in 2005 was convicted of manslaughter, news reports said Tuesday.

The plane's black box showed that the Tunisian pilot, Chefik Gharbi, lost control of the situation, ceded command of the plane to his co-pilot and began praying, the ANSA news agency reported.

Gharbi and his co-pilot, who was also convicted in the case, were among 23 people who survived the crash. Both were sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Prosecutors contended that the pair had failed to put emergency measures in place.

Italian aviation authorities said the ATR-72 went down Aug. 6, 2005 after running out of fuel, because the fuel gauge on the plane was the wrong model and did not show that the fuel tanks were nearly empty.

Palermo Judge Vittorio Anania also blamed human error and convicted Gharbi and co-pilot Ali Kebaier of manslaughter, Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera and other reports said.

The reports said that another five people, including airline executives, were convicted and received lesser sentences, while two people were acquitted.

The ruling was handed down Monday and defense lawyers plan to appeal, the reports said.

Gharbi "is convinced that he did all he could to save as many lives as possible," his defense lawyer, Francesca Coppi, was quoted as saying by Corriere della Sera. "Faced with danger, he evoked his God just like anyone of us would do."

Coppi and other lawyers could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Tuninter charter, flying from the Adriatic port of Bari to the Tunisian resort of Djerba, crashed into choppy waters off Sicily's northern coast. The pilot had hoped to make an emergency landing in Palermo, but ditched in the sea before he could make it to land after the second engine failed.