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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow and Luke Harding in Berlin
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."