Europe

Belgian skydiver 'murdered love rival' during jump

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Media captionEls Clottemans appeared nervous as her trial got under way

A Belgian court has begun trying a woman accused of murdering her love rival by sabotaging her parachute on a sky dive four years ago.

Els Clottemans is accused of murdering Els Van Doren who fell 1,000m (3,200 ft) to her death while jumping with her and the man they both loved.

Ms Van Doren held hands in formation with her lover seconds before finding her parachute cords had been cut.

Ms Clottemans, 26, denies the charges laid against her.

The elementary school teacher showed no sign of emotion as prosecutor Patrick Boyen read the 68-page indictment in the courtroom in the Flemish town of Tongeren (French: Tongres).

She only spoke to confirm basic details such as her date of birth and profession while her lawyers issued a statement expressing their firm belief that their client had not killed a woman she regarded as a friend.

Helmet camera

Els Van Doren, then 38, died on 18 November 2006, crashing into a garden in the village of Opglabbeek after both of her parachutes failed to open.

Image caption Els Van Doren was 38 at the time of her death

Her horrific death fall was captured by her own helmet video camera, which only stopped recording at the moment of impact.

She had jumped over the Zwartberg area at 4,000m (13,000 ft) along with Marcel Somers and a second man. All three were experienced parachutists.

The three took each other's hands for a formation free fall they had rehearsed on the ground earlier along with Ms Clottemans, Belgium's Le Soir newspaper reports.

But Ms Clottemans missed them, having jumped a fraction too late.

The alleged murderer was reportedly able to watch as her three fellow jumpers separated at 1,000m to open their parachutes, with Ms Van Doren trying in vain to activate hers.

"Els tried to do everything to try to save herself," Luc Deijgers, who piloted the Cessna plane, told Belgian TV.

"She tried to open the reserve parachute but it wouldn't open. That never happens."

After establishing that the victim's cords had been cut, police arrested Ms Clottemans in January 2007.

Night together

Image caption A parachute bag being used as evidence was displayed in court

Investigators piecing together the events leading up to the death believe Ms Clottemans wrote an anonymous letter and made anonymous phone calls to Ms Van Doren.

Laying out details of the love triangle, Mr Boyen said for the prosecution that Mr Somers had entertained Ms Van Doren, a married mother of two, most Saturdays while often seeing Ms Clottemans on Fridays.

According to Mr Somers, quoted in the UK's Independent newspaper, he had been trying to "shake off" Ms Clottemans.

A week before the fatal jump, the two women spent the night in his flat, Ms Van Doren sharing his bed while Ms Clottemans slept on a mattress or sofa.

Ms Clottemans would have had the opportunity of sabotaging the other woman's parachutes, which were in the flat at the time, investigators say.

Experts said it would have taken just 30 seconds to do so with scissors.

More than 200 witnesses are expected to be called to the trial, due to last four weeks.

A verdict is expected on 20 October.

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