It could always be worse… you could be Vitaly Kaloyev
Vitaly Konstantinovich Kaloyev 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 North Ossetia–Alania.
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 2937. 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 response. 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.  After his release Kaloyev returned to Osetia. He was enthusiastically met by a crowd in the airport and very soon appointed to deputy minister. This is in accordance with Caucasus tradition which considers him a hero who has performed an act of vengeance, and not the criminal he is in countries that rely on a monopoly on violence.