March 24, 2009 / 10:53 AM / 9 years ago

Italy convicts crash pilot who paused to pray

<p>An aerial view of the fuselage and wings of the Tunisian plane that crashed in the sea near the Sicilian city of Palermo August 6, 2005. REUTERS/Guardia di Finanza/Handout</p>

PALERMO (Reuters) - A Tunisian pilot who paused to pray instead of taking emergency measures before crash-landing his plane, killing 16 people, has been sentenced to 10 years in jail by an Italian court along with his co-pilot.

The 2005 crash at sea off Sicily left survivors swimming for their lives, some clinging to a piece of the fuselage that remained floating after the ATR turbo-prop aircraft splintered upon impact.

A fuel-gauge malfunction was partly to blame but prosecutors also said the pilot succumbed to panic, praying out loud instead of following emergency procedures and then opting to crash-land the plane instead trying to reach a nearby airport.

Another five employees of Tuninter, a subsidiary of Tunisair, were sentenced to between eight and nine years in jail by the court, in a verdict handed down on Monday.

The seven accused, who were not in court, will not spend time in jail until the appeals process has been exhausted.

Writing by Phil Stewart

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