Pilots and controllers indicted for Brazil collision

Business Jet Traveler » August 2007
Wednesday, August 1, 2007 - 5:00am

A Brazilian court has indicted ExcelAire pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino for their alleged role in the mid-air collision of an Embraer Legacy and a Gol Airlines Boeing 737 over the Amazon jungle last September 29. Joe Sharkey, a New York Times writer on assignment for this magazine, was a passenger aboard the business jet.

The judge in the case charged the pilots with "unintentional endangerment of an aircraft through negligence." If convicted, the pair face sentences of one to four years.

In an unexpected move, the judge also approved similar charges for the air traffic controllers on duty at the time. One received a more serious indictment, alleging that he knowingly put the two aircraft in harm's way. An earlier federal police report had said that while the controllers were negligent, it was the responsibility of the Brazilian military to prosecute them.

The airplanes collided on the same airway while traveling in opposite directions after the Legacy's transponders stopped transmitting position information to air traffic control. Brazilian prosecutors allege that the pilots accidentally turned the transponders off and that controllers failed to notice in time to prevent the collision.

The pilots will be ordered to testify in the case in Brazil on August 27, but it remains uncertain whether they'll do so. Although the U.S. and Brazil have an extradition treaty, it doesn't include a provision for this particular charge.

The Legacy had been on a delivery flight to U.S. air charter firm ExcelAire from Embraer's São José dos Campos factory when it collided with the Boeing jet. Most of the Legacy's left winglet and a portion of the tail were sheered from the airplane. The airliner went out of control and crashed in the jungle, killing all 154 people aboard. The Legacy managed to land safely at a Brazilian military base.

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