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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Revenge - Premeditated killing of an air traffic controller he held responsible for a plane crash that killed his family
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: February 24, 2004
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: 1956
Victim profile: Peter Nielsen, 36 (air traffic controller)
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Kloten, Switzerland
Status: Sentenced to 8 years in prison on October 26, 2005. Released from prison, because his mental condition was not sufficiently considered in the initial sentence on November 8, 2007

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German Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Investigation

Investigation Report AX001-1-2

Vitaly Konstantinovich Kaloyev (Russian: Виталий Константинович Калоев, born 1956 in Vladikavkaz) is an architect and deputy minister of housing from North Ossetia, Russia, known for his 2004 murder of Peter Nielsen in the Swiss town of Kloten.

Kaloyev's family died aboard Bashkirian Airlines Flight 2937, which collided with another aircraft over Germany in 2002. Nielsen, the only air traffic controller on duty when the collision occurred, was freed from any responsibility in the following inquest and he retired from further air traffic work afterward. Kaloyev held Nielsen responsible, however, and became a popular hero in his home Caucasus republic following the murder.

Kaloyev was released from prison in November 2007 and shortly after was appointed deputy minister of construction of North Ossetia–Alania.

Death of Peter Nielsen and aftermath

Peter Nielsen was stabbed to death in front of his home in Kloten, near Zürich, on 24 February 2004. Police arrested an Ossetian man, Vitaly Kaloyev, within a few days.

Kaloyev, an architect working in Barcelona since 2002, expected to meet his wife, Svetlana Kaloyeva (Светлана Калоева), and two children, 10-year old Konstantin Kaloyev (Константин Калоев) and 4-year-old Diana Kaloyeva (Диана Калоева), who were not a part of the Bashkirian student group. The family of Kaloyev died on Flight 2937.

Yuri Kaloyev, the brother of Vitaly Kaloyev, reported that the man suffered a nervous breakdown following the loss of his entire family, especially since he was one of the first relatives to arrive at the crash site. Vitaly Kaloyev participated in the search for the bodies and located a broken pearl necklace owned by his daughter, Diana. He also found her body, which was intact, trees having broken her fall. Her mother and brother fell 36,000 feet; Svetlana's body landed in a corn field, and Konstantin's body hit asphalt in front of a Überlingen bus shelter.

Returning to his home in North Ossetian city of Vladikavkaz, Kaloyev spent the first year after the accident lingering at the graves of his family and building a shrine to them in his home. At the memorial service for the first anniversary of the tragedy he asked the head of Skyguide about the possibility of meeting the controller who had been responsible for the disaster, but received no response.

Kaloyev then hired a Moscow private investigator to find Nielsen's address outside Zürich, before traveling to the former air traffic controller's home in Kloten (Nielsen had resigned from his job after the accident).

After a short argument on Nielsen's doorstep Kaloyev stabbed him several times, and Nielsen died of his injuries a few minutes later in the presence of his wife and three children. Investigators found Kaloyev in his hotel room at a Kloten Welcome Inn, apparently in shock. He said he had no memory of what he had done and was taken to a mental hospital, where he was evaluated to determine if he was fit to stand trial.

Answering questions from the judge, Kaloyev said the plane crash above Lake Constance had ended his life. He said his children were the youngest on board Flight 2937, so there was no need for him to identify the bodies. Kaloyev said he was crushed by the loss of his family: "I have been living on the cemetery for almost two years, sitting behind their graves," he said.

Kaloyev presented a document received from a law firm in Hamburg dated 11 November 2003. It was an amicable agreement in which Skyguide offered him 60,000 Swiss francs for the death of his wife and 50,000 francs for the death of each of his two children. In return, Skyguide asked Kaloyev to decline any claims to the company. The document infuriated the man: he decided to meet the company director Alan Rossier and Nielsen in person.

"Apparently he did not expect that he would have to answer for the results of his work," Kaloyev said. "He murmured something to me. Then I showed him some pictures of my children and said: 'They were my children. What would you feel if you saw your children in coffins?' I was infuriated about Skyguide's initiative to haggle over my dead children."

Kaloyev said he wanted Nielsen to apologize to him for the death of his family. "He hit me on the hand, when I was holding the envelope with the photographs of my children. I only remember that I had a very disturbing feeling, as if the bodies of my children were turning over in their graves," he said. He added that he did not remember what he did afterwards.

After 710 days on remand, on 26 October 2005, Kaloyev was sentenced to eight years in federal prison. In 2007, he was paroled by the court, but the prosecution appealed the decision. On 23 August 2007, the court accepted the appeal, so that Kaloyev remained in prison. On 8 November 2007, Kaloyev was released from prison, because his mental condition was not sufficiently considered in the initial sentence.


Swiss court orders release Vitaly Kaloyev, air traffic controller murderer

November 8, 2007

Switzerland's highest court ordered to release Vitaly Kaloyev, a Russian architect, imprisoned since 2004 for killing an air traffic controller Peter Nielsen. Kaloyev blamed Nielsen for the death of his wife and children in a plane collision.

The Swiss Federal Tribunal rejected an appeal by Zurich prosecutors against the reduction of Vitaly Kaloyev's sentence to five-and-a-quarter years from eight years. Kaloyev was ordered released because he has served more than two-thirds of his sentence with good behavior.

Two of the court's five judges dissented from the majority opinion, calling the current sentence against the 51-year-old too mild.

Kaloyev was convicted in October 2005 of premeditated homicide in the killing of Danish-born Peter Nielsen, an air traffic controller with Swiss company Skyguide.

Nielsen was the only person on duty when a Bashkirian Airlines plane and a DHL cargo jet collided on July 1, 2002, in airspace he was responsible for over southern Germany. The crash killed 71 people, most of them schoolchildren on a holiday trip to Spain.

The sentence against Kaloyev, whose ordeal brought him widespread sympathy in his native Russia, was reduced by a regional court in July, which upheld his appeal that he acted with diminished responsibility because of the deaths of his wife and two children.

Zurich prosecutors appealed the decision, but their defeat Thursday means there are no more legal obstacles to Kaloyev's release, which had been scheduled to take place on Aug. 24.

Kaloyev has acknowledged that he must have killed Nielsen in February 2004, but said he could not remember the slaying.

Kaloyev's sister Zoya said that relatives would be gathering in Vladikavkaz, the capital of Russia's North Ossetia region, to welcome him back home.

"We ... all prayed yesterday for the end of Vitaly's suffering in prison," she said, according to ITAR-Tass news agency. "We always believed that sooner or later justice would prevail and Vitaly would be freed."

North Ossetia's top official, Taymuraz Mamsurov, welcomed the ruling, saying that everyone in the region "has been closely watching their countryman's fate," and looking forward to his return, ITAR-Tass reported.

In September, four Skyguide employees were found guilty of negligent homicide in a separate proceeding examining the events that led to the crash. Three midlevel managers were given one-year suspended prison sentences, while another employee - a project manager - received a suspended fine of 13,500 Swiss francs (US$11,200; €8,250).

Four other Skyguide officials were acquitted of wrongdoing in the accident.

Thursday's court decision coincided with a visit by Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey to Moscow.


Nothing left to lose: grief-crazed murder suspect haunted by family's air deaths

By Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow and Luke Harding in Berlin

The Guardian

Yuri Kaloyev knew his brother was a broken man even before he disappeared a week ago. Two years after his wife, son and daughter, victims of a head-on plane collision over the Swiss-German border, had been laid to rest amid the sombre rows of a cemetery in their home town of Vladikavkaz, in southern Russia, his family's ghosts still haunted his nights. "You could find my brother, even at 2am, at the cemetery crying on their gravestones," Yuri Kaloyev said. "He suffered. He could not work. He locked himself away."

Yesterday, however, the desolate truth about his brother began to emerge. Descriptions given by the Swiss police of a man they have arrested for the savage stabbing to death on Tuesday of the air traffic controller widely blamed for the plane crash closely fit Mr Kaloyev.

He is 48. He lost his wife Svetlana, 10-year-old son Konstantin and four-year-old daughter Diana in the disaster in July 2002, when the Russian charter aircraft in which they were travelling ploughed into a cargo plane in the night sky above Germany. While the Russian foreign ministry have requested confirmation of the arrested man's identity, the only other man who lost his entire family in the crash, Vladimir Savchuck, has appeared on Russian TV, deploring the killing.

Before arresting their suspect on Wednesday, Swiss police admitted a relative of one of the victims of the crash might have been responsible. Yesterday, however, as fresh details emerged, it appeared that they were dealing with an unprecedented case - of deliberate slow-burning revenge by a grief-crazed relative who had nothing left to lose.

According to investigators, on Tuesday last week Vitali Kaloyev phoned a Swiss travel company and asked the firm to book him a hotel room close to Zurich airport. On Saturday Mr Kaloyev arrived in Zurich, entirely legally, and checked into the Welcome-Inn hotel in the suburb of Kloten.

Mr Kaloyev, however, chose it for another, darker reason: the suburban hotel is a short taxi ride away from where Peter Nielsen, the 36-year-old Danish air traffic controller widely blamed for the catastrophic plane crash, lived with his wife and three children.

According to hotel staff, in the two days before the murder Mr Kaloyev did little to attract attention. "He was very quiet," the hotel's manager, Simona Huonder, said yesterday. "We hardly saw him during the time he stayed with us. He was on his own the whole time, mostly up in his room." She added: "He didn't speak very good English. My colleague who checked him in had to give him information slowly."

At breakfast Mr Kaloyev ate alone, later flicking through brochures offering city tours. "He seemed like any other tourist," Ms Hounder said. On Tuesday afternoon, however, Mr Kaloyev left his hotel room - No 316 - and set off for Peter Nielsen's house, a half-hour's walk away. A female neighbour of Mr Nielsen spotted him. She then asked him what he wanted. He waved a piece of paper with Nielsen's name on it. The neighbour pointed to the air traffic controller's front door, but instead of knocking on it, Mr Kaloyev sat down in the front garden, near a bench.

Mr Nielsen, who had lived in Switzerland since 1995, had just returned home from a trip to Geneva. His wife had picked him up from the airport. He spotted the intruder, went outside, and asked him what he wanted. Swiss detectives say that the couple's three children went into the garden as well; the controller's wife then called them back, and was inside herself when she heard a "kind of scream".

She rushed out to discover her husband lying in a pool of blood. The victim and the killer who spoke "broken German" had had a brief conversation; what they said, however, is unknown.

Mr Nielsen's wife watched her husband's assailant run off; by the time the police arrived at 6.17pm it was too late. The controller, who suffered multiple injuries, had bled to death.

Clues for detectives were numerous. They had several good descriptions - of a burly, unshaven, dark-haired man in his late 40s or early 50s who appeared to come from eastern Europe or Russia. They had a murder weapon - a 22cm jackknife with a 14cm blade that had been thrown away near the scene. And they had a name: the chief suspect was a man who, police said, had "behaved strangely" during the first anniversary of the crash last summer in the German town of Überlingen. The man had allegedly threatened officials from Skyguide - the firm for which Mr Nielsen worked - and described him as "scum".

So far, however, the suspect has denied involvement in the killing. Yesterday Mr Kaloyev's brother said that in the months before the murder Vitali had slowly fallen apart, despite support from his sisters, and the traditional, strong family ties of Caucasus society. "His condition was terrible. Imagine what you feel when you lose both your beloved children and wife," he said. "He disappeared a week ago without telling anyone. And that is all I know."

It is a tragic end to Mr Kaloyev's seemingly endless grief at the loss of his family. A native of Vladikavkaz, near the border with Chechnya, he got a two-year contract to work as a builder and architect on a project in Barcelona. Just as his contract ended, in June 2002, he decided to prolong his stay in Spain, and asked his family to fly out and join him for a month's holiday. He was waiting for them at Barcelona airport when he learned of the crash.

Mr Kaloyev was one of the first relatives to arrive at the scene, and discovered the body of his daughter, still intact, almost two miles from where the accident happened. "Diana dreamed of coming with her mother and brother to see me," he wrote on a website commemorating the crash's 71 victims, most of whom were Russian schoolchildren.


Mr Nielsen was the only person on duty when the disaster took place. He had wrongly instructed the Bashkirian airlines plane to descend, even though its onboard warning equipment told it to climb. The pilot followed the controller's instructions and ploughed into a DHL cargo plane that was descending in accordance with its own collision-avoiding equipment. Mr Nielsen expressed remorse at what had happened, but in a statement issued after the tragedy pointed out that he was not the only person responsible.

The apparent revenge killing, meanwhile, has shocked all those involved in the still-unresolved fight to gain justice for the crash victims. Yulia Fedotova, a lawyer representing the families, who lost her own daughter Sofia, 15, in the crash said she was "shocked" by the controller's murder. She added: "We still do not have any official confirmation that the murderer was Kaloyev. Mr Kaloyev's personal trauma, however, was clear to those around him."

Margarita, wife to his brother Yuri, told the Izvestiya newspaper: "Vitali suffered everything alone. And after two years, he was in such a state that I would not be surprised if he would behave irrationally. Anyone can put himself in his place: in a minute to lose all your family."

Mr Kaloyev's days in Vladikavkaz after the funeral appear to have slipped by, marked by little more than visits to the cemetery. According to Izvestiya, at the memorial service last year he took the head of Skyguide, Alan Rossier, aside afterwards and asked him "uncomfortable questions about who was to be blamed". Mr Kaloyev agreed to come to the Skyguide office the following day, the newspaper reported. According to the paper's sources, "Kaloyev asked several times: do you think the air controller is to blame? He also asked to meet him."

Yet his brother disputes the accounts. Yuri Kaloyev, who travelled with him to Switzerland and Germany to collect his family's bodies from the scene of the crash, reserves his own fury for the air traffic control company Skyguide.

"All this talk and speculation in the newspapers about his abnormal behaviour last year at the ceremony in Switzerland is rubbish. He was fine. What is abnormal is the behaviour of Skyguide who did not sack such an air controller and director as Alan Rossier."

The intensity of Mr Kaloyev's grief remains clear in the internet eulogy he wrote for his son.

Of Konstantin, who learned to speak at 18 months, read fairytales aged three, loved dinosaurs and at aged five played computer games, he wrote: "He would have become a good, well-educated person, useful to society, were it not for this tragedy, which I cannot get over. I have no strength."



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