Local News

Camp Lejeune Court-Martial Takes to the Skies

Posted February 8, 1999

— The courthouse at Camp Lejeune was quiet Tuesday morning, but the skies above were noisy.

Three CH-46 Marine helicopters greeted a military jury at dawn to show them firsthand what a Prowler jet can do. The trip was part of the court-martial of Capt. Richard Ashby.

Ashby is charged with involuntary manslaughter for slicing a gondola cable in Italy last year. Ashby is accused of flying too low and too fast, and cutting the cable as a result. The gondola plunged to the ground, killing the 20 people inside.

Ashby joined the jurors, judge and attorneys from both sides for the trip to Cherry Point Marine Air Station.

The half-day trip included giving jurors a chance to sit in the cockpit of an EA-6B Prowler. There was also a demonstration designed to give jurors who lack flight experience some background.

An EA-6B Prowler, like the jet that sliced the gondola cable, flew by at 1,000 feet, the height restriction at the site of last February's accident.

A second pass was scheduled to cruise by at 500 feet; but it was canceled for safety reasons.

Investigators say Ashby was flying at 400 feet at the time of the accident.

Marines say this case will take time.

"It's fair to allot at least three or four weeks for the government's presentation of evidence and the defense's presentation of evidence before we even get to the members deciding anything," says Maj. Scott Jack, spokesperson for Camp Lejeune.

After the trip, Ashby's former commanding officer took the stand and called Ashby a skilled, outstanding pilot. But he also said that all of the pilots under his command knew the altitude restrictions, and knew that there were a lot of obstacles in the Italian Alps.

Ashby faces 200 years in prison if convicted.


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