All acquitted in Austral Fray Bentos crash probe
Argentina’s Federal Oral Court number five Thursday acquitted all those under investigation for the 1997 fall of an Austral Douglas DC-9-32 in the Uruguayan city of Fray Bentos.
Judges Daniel Obligado, Adriana Pallioti and José Martínez Sobrino announced their verdict Thursday but the rationale behind it will be released March 25, it was announced by the court.
The ruling acquitted all 34 defendants, or 33, because one of them had already died before the verdict, thus extinguishing all criminal actions.
The court claimed the participation of the 34 defendants (or 33, because one of them had died during the trial) had not been proven and because the prosecution had failed to be specific on the charges. The case had been filed on allegations of malicious havoc in the Austral Lineas Aereas flight 2553 accident, which killed all 74 people onboard.
The flight was heading from Posadas to Buenos Aires and fell at the Nuevo Berlin ranch, a rural area near the Uruguayan city of Fray Bentos. At the time of the accident, Austral Lineas Aereas was owned by the Spanish consortium Iberia.
The Uruguayan Air Accident Investigative Commission (CIADA) concluded that the crash was a direct consequence of an erroneous decision by the co-pilot which caused the loss of control of the aircraft. This error was induced by the freezing of the pitot tubes (speed sensor) and the non-existence on the plane of the recommended alarm to alert about this situation, as well as the lack of adequate training of the pilots.
According to aviation reports, the instruments were telling the pilots that the aircraft was losing speed, which it was not. Out of fear of stalling, they pushed the throttles to the limit, leading the frame to overstress and collapse.
The flight crew was made up of Jorge Cécere (commander), Horacio Núñez (co-pilot), and flight attendants Susana Trotta, Bibiana Rumachella and Fernando Álvarez.
In 2003 the case had been dismissed, but through a series of appeals, the defendants were eventually arraigned for malicious havoc until the proceedings reached the trial stage. The plaintiffs (relatives of the deceased) had requested the accused be sentenced to 25 years in prison, but the prosecution did not file charges and sought the acquittal of all of them due to the benefit of doubt.
The prosecution had requested, however, penalties for former Aeronautical Certification Director Danilo Wenk, but he died Dec. 15.