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Four middle managers of a Swiss air traffic control company were convicted of negligent homicide in the 2002 midair collision of a passenger plane and cargo jet that killed 71 people -- most of them vacationing Russian schoolchildren.

 Three of eight defendants were handed suspended 12-month prison sentences on Tuesday, while a fourth was fined.

Four other defendants were acquitted.

The agency was responsible for the airspace on July 1, 2002 when a Bashkirian Airlines plane collided with a DHL cargo jet near the town of Überlingen. The two cargo pilots and everyone on the passenger plane, including a large group of Russian schoolchildren on a holiday trip to Spain, were killed.

The eight defendants - middle managers, an air traffic controller and four technicians - were accused of negligent homicide. All had denied any wrongdoing, and four were finally cleared by the court.

Prosecutors had requested suspended prison sentences ranging from six to 15 months.

Handing down its verdict, the court in Bülach near Zurich said that the collision could have been avoided if two controllers had been on duty at the time.

Danish-born Peter Nielsen was the only air traffic controller on duty. Some of the defendants blamed him for not following proper procedures.

But prosecutors said a culture of negligence and lack of risk awareness at the air traffic control company contributed to the accident, and that it was not solely Nielsen's fault.

Skyguide itself has only admitted partial responsibility for the accident, although its head did ask the family's victims for forgiveness. The Swiss government also offered an official state apology to Russia.

The court blamed the three managers at the control centre for tolerating the single controller policy, which was incompatible with air safety rules.

Nielsen, who was stabbed to death in 2004 by a Russian man whose wife and children died in the crash, told investigators before his death that he had worked under stressful conditions on the night of the accident.

A colleague had taken a break and maintenance on the air traffic control system had affected monitoring and communications. The judges said that managers knew full well that the ongoing repairs would make the controller's work more difficult.

The employee who was fined was a project leader overseeing the maintenance work.