Vitaly Konstantinovich Kaloyev (Russian: Виталий Константинович Калоев, born 15 January 1956) is a Russian convicted murderer, former architect and current deputy minister of construction of North Ossetia-Alania. His family died aboard Bashkirian Airlines Flight 2937, which collided with DHL Flight 611 over Überlingen, Germany on 1 July 2002.
Kaloyev held Peter Nielsen, the sole air traffic controller handling traffic the night of the collision, responsible, and in 2004 he traveled to the Swiss town of Kloten and killed Nielsen, who had since retired from air traffic work.
In 2016, Kaloyev was awarded the highest regional medal by the local Ossetian government, the medal "To the Glory of Ossetia". The medal is awarded for the highest achievements, improving the living conditions of the inhabitants of the region, for educating the younger generation and maintaining law and order.
Vitaly Kaloyev lost his wife Svetlana Kaloyeva (Russian: Светлана Калоева) and two children, 10-year-old Konstantin (Russian: Константин) and 4-year-old Diana (Russian: Диана) in the Überlingen mid-air collision two years earlier.
Yuri Kaloyev, the brother of Vitaly Kaloyev, reported that the man suffered a nervous breakdown following the loss of his family. 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 as the trees had broken her fall. Svetlana's body landed in a corn field, and Konstantin's body hit asphalt in front of an Überlingen bus shelter.
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 travelling to the former air traffic controller's home in Kloten.
On the afternoon of 24 February 2004, he set off for Nielsen's house. A neighbor spotted Kaloyev and asked what he wanted. He waved a piece of paper with Nielsen's name on it. The neighbor pointed to Nielsen's front door, but instead of knocking, Kaloyev sat down in the garden.
Nielsen, who had lived in Switzerland since 1995, spotted the intruder, went outside and asked what he wanted. His children accompanied him into the garden as well, but his wife tried to call them back; she was still inside when she heard a "kind of scream". Nielsen was stabbed several times and died of his injuries a few minutes later in the presence of his wife and three children.
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 in the cemetery for almost two years, sitting behind their graves".
Kaloyev presented a document received from a law firm in Hamburg dated 11 November 2003. It was an 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 him; 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 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.
Kaloyev offered no explanation of why he brought the murder weapon with him on a peaceful errand and initially denied the killing entirely.
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.
Returning to his home in North Ossetian city of Vladikavkaz, Kaloyev was met with enthusiastic crowds who cheered him as a hero. Members of the youth movement Nashi were standing with the accompanying acclamation: "You are the real man."
"Kaloyev is a hero. Those guilty of causing air crashes often remain unpunished. Such a radical punishment is the only way to make them carry responsibility for their crimes," said Vitaly Yusko, a member of a Russian organisation dedicated to helping the relatives of air crash victims. Many Russians shared that sentiment, and believed that he committed "a heroic deed avenging for the death of his family." The positive reaction and appointment in Russia were met with a negative reception in Switzerland.
I don't really take offense at people who call me a murderer. People who say that would betray their own children, their own motherland… I protected the honor of my children and the memory of my children.
He's nobody to me. He's nobody to me. He was an idiot and that's why he paid for it with his life. If he'd been smarter, it wouldn't have been like this. If he'd invited me into the house, the conversation would have happened in softer tones and the tragedy might not have happened.— Vitaly Kaloyev
The Swiss government asked Kaloyev to repay the costs of his incarceration, about US$157,000. Kaloyev has refused to do so. When Kaloyev travelled to Germany to attend the 10th-anniversary memorial, he was detained by German authorities, saying that he was on a Swiss watch list. Russian consular authorities protested the man's detainment. The Germans released Kaloyev after Russian diplomats agreed to accompany him.
In his native North Ossetia, Kaloyev was appointed Deputy Minister of Construction of the Republic. He held this post until 15 January 2016, when he retired.
In 2016, on his sixtieth birthday, Kaloyev was awarded the highest state reward by the local government, the medal "To the Glory of Ossetia". The medal is awarded for the highest achievements, improving the living conditions of the inhabitants of the region, for educating the younger generation and maintaining law and order.
Kaloyev's story has been referenced in various entertainment properties.
German futurepop band Edge of Dawn alludes to Kaloyev's story and mentions his name in the song "The Flight (Lux)", which appears on their 2005 EP The Flight, and later their full-length 2007 album Enjoy the Fall.
Singer-songwriter Michael Wadlow relates Kaloyev's story in his song "Paper Chains".
In an U.S. off-Broadway play entitled "My Eyes Went Dark", which opened June 7, 2017 and closed July 2, playwright and director Matthew Wilkinson tells Kaloyev's story, which featured, among other characters, Declan Conlon as Kaloyev and Thusitha Jayasundera as his wife. It played at 59E59 Theaters in New York City.