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Air show disaster pilots jailed

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Ukraine
Air and Space Accidents
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LVIV, Ukraine -- A military court in Ukraine has sentenced the pilots whose plane smashed into a crowd at a 2002 air show to up to 14 years in prison.

Seventy-seven people were killed when the pilots' Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jet hit the ground and exploded near Lviv, western Ukraine. More than two dozen children were among the victims.

The two pilots whose plane caused the world's worst air show disaster ejected and survived.

A court in the town, about 550 kilometers (330 miles) from the capital, Kiev, on Friday found the two pilots as well as three military officials guilty of failing to fulfil orders, negligence and violating flight rules, according to Reuters.

An investigating commission ruled the pilots had tried to pull off a risky maneuver at too low an altitude.

They also singled out commanders and show organizers for poor preparations and failing to ensure safety during the show on July 27, 2002.

Pilot Volodymyr Toponar was sentenced to 14 years in prison, and his co-pilot Yuriy Yegorov was sentenced to eight years.

Toponar was also ordered to pay 7.2 million hryvna ($1.42 million; €1.18 million) in compensation to victims. Yegorov must pay 2.5 million hryvna, Interfax reported.

The court also sentenced two commanders of the 14th Aviation Corps, the pilots' unit, to six years in prison, and the unit's head of flight security to four years. They were also ordered to pay compensation.

The crew's main flight trainer was acquitted for lack of evidence, Reuters said.

Toponar had earlier denied responsibility for the deaths, according to Interfax. He claimed technical problems and a faulty flight plan were to blame.

Toponar said after the verdict that he would appeal his sentence to Ukraine's supreme court.

The disaster prompted a major shakeup in the ranks of the ex-Soviet state's military and all fighter jet flights to be suspended for nearly two weeks.

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