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Air controller killer hailed back in Russia as hero
MOSCOW (Reuters) - A man convicted of killing an air traffic controller linked to a 2002 mid-air collision was given a hero's welcome as "a real human" by a pro-Kremlin group when he returned to Russia from a Swiss jail on Tuesday.
Vitaly Kaloyev, who lost his wife and children in the crash, was set free on Monday evening and immediately flew to Moscow, following last week's ruling by a Swiss court to cut his sentence to five years and three months, of which he had already served two-thirds.
Kaloyev stabbed to death Swiss air traffic controller Peter Nielsen, who was on duty the night of the collision between a cargo plane and a Russian charter transporting mostly Russian children on holiday that killed 71 people.
"I want to express my great thanks to all the citizens of Russia, to the Russian president for the strong support they extended to me," Kaloyev told dozens of journalists on his arrival at Domodedovo Airport outside Moscow.
"While in prison, I did not feel I was away from my motherland."
He was met by relatives who had come from his native South Ossetia in the northern Caucasus but outside hundreds of youths from the pro-Kremlin Nashi movement formed a chain along a motorway leading to Moscow.
"Kaloyev is our man," they chanted in chorus, braving frosty wind and snow. "You are a real human being!" read the posters they held.
Kaloyev had initially been sentenced to eight years in jail for the killing, but the split verdict said last week he could not be held accountable for his action.
One of the judges told the media that Kaloyev did not come to Switzerland intending to kill Nielsen but had lost control of himself when the man refused to offer apologies after Kaloyev had shown him pictures of his children.
A Swiss court this year found four air traffic control managers guilty of manslaughter over the accident, giving three of them 12-month suspended sentences each and fining the fourth. Four other employees were acquitted.
Defendants in the trial mainly blamed Nielsen -- who was alone on duty on the night of the accident -- for poorly handling the events leading up to the crash in Swiss-controlled air space over the German town of Ueberlingen.
When the two planes collided, both the main and the backup telephone were out of order, radar software displaying flight coordinates was in a restricted mode and Nielsen's only colleague was on a coffee break.
(Reporting by Douwe Miedema and Valery Stepchenkov; Writing by Douwe Miedema and Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Stephen Weeks)
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