Sixteen of the 39 people on board the Tuninter ATR-72 twin-turboprop airliner died when it went down off Sicily on Aug. 6, 2005.BRUSSELS (AP) — The world’s largest pilots’ group urged Tunisian authorities Monday to reinstate the captain of an airliner that ditched in the sea in 2005, because of his “outstanding airmanship” during the accident.

Sixteen of the 39 people on board the Tuninter ATR-72 twin-turboprop airliner died when it went down off Sicily on Aug. 6, 2005. The fuselage broke apart in the choppy waters and a number of passengers drowned.

Investigators found that Capt. Chafik Gharbi was unaware the airliner had run out of fuel during the flight from Italy to Tunisia. The fuel gauge installed on the plane was the wrong model and showed the fuel tanks to be nearly full, rather than empty, they said.

Still, in March an Italian court sentenced Gharbi and his co-pilot Ali Lassoued each to 10 years in prison. The court found that they attempted to restart the engines after the double flameout, rather than focusing on gliding to the nearest airport.

Both pilots have since returned to Tunisia and are appealing the sentence.

The International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations has denounced the court ruling, saying the pilots reacted to the engine failure in “textbook fashion and completed a successful ditching at sea.”

Tuninter has reinstated Lassoued since then. But Gharbi remains suspended from flight duty, the pilots’ organization said.

“None of it makes any sense at all, both the sentencing and the refusal to reinstate Gharbi,” Gideon Ewers, spokesman for the London-based pilots group said in a telephone interview.

“It’s all crazy because, frankly, the pilots did an outstanding job,” Ewers said.

From USAToday

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