* Plane broke up over Mediterranean 32 years ago, killed 81
* Ruling seen as final verdict, state to pay damages
* Many theories on why plane was attacked
ROME, Jan 28 An Italian court said on Monday the
cause of one of the country's most enduring aviation mysteries,
a plane that broke up over the coast of Sicily 32 years ago
killing 81 people, was most probably a missile hitting the
The case has divided Italians since the plane went down on
June 27, 1980, when Italy was still the scene of both Cold War
tensions and domestic militancy from the left and the right.
The court, in what is seen as the final ruling of many, said
the state must pay damages to the victims' families because the
safety of the passengers had not been guaranteed.
There were "ample and congruent" indications that a missile
was the cause of the disaster, the court said in its decision.
A court in 2004 said the plane went down in a "war-like
scenario". But numerous investigations failed to determine
whether the plane, a DC-9 of the now-defunct domestic airline
Itavia, was destroyed by a bomb or a missile.
It broke up over the southern Mediterranean near the island
of Ustica, whose name has become synonymous with the incident.
Media reports based on radar monitoring data said fighter
aircraft from several NATO nations were in the area at the time
of the crash, possibly following a Libyan MIG that was trying to
evade radar control by flying close to the civilian plane.
Another theory was that the plane had entered a military
exercise area and was hit by a missile launched by a fighter jet
that had mistaken it for an enemy intruder.
Most Italians believe the cause of the crash, which has been
the subject of a film and numerous books, was covered up for
security or military reasons.
During investigations, documents disappeared and air traffic
voice recordings were found to have either been erased or
In 2007, an appeals court upheld an acquittal handed down in
2004 of two former air force generals who had been accused of
giving false information about the disaster.
That ruling had been considered the end of the case but the
investigation was reopened in 2009 after former President
Francesco Cossiga said he was sure the plane had been hit by a
missile. Cossiga died in 2010.
Italian courts publish the reasonings behind their rulings
weeks or months after they are made public. No further details
were available about the latest ruling.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Louise Ireland)