Monday, October 30, 2006

BRAZIL: Sick Call


It has now been a month and a day since the mid-air collision 37,000 feet over the Amazon between a 737 airliner and a Legacy 600 business jet. Inexplicably, the Legacy, which six others and I were aboard, landed damaged, but without injury to those aboard, at an obscure jungle base, while 154 people on the 737 plunged to horrible deaths.

From Day One, military authorities in Brazil have been trying to blame the two American pilots on the Legacy for the crash, even going so far as to suggest that they deliberately turned off equipment that allows air traffic control to keep track of planes so they could do "trick maneuvers" in in the skies.

But day by day, week by week, it has become increasingly clear that -- as I have suggested from Day One -- Brazilian air traffic control, which has a bad reputation among pilots plying the endlesss skies over the Amazon rainforest, played a major part in, if not THE major part in, this disaster. Many pilots have come forward to say they are still wary of flying that airspace despite $1.4 billion in spending by Brazil to try to fix the problems, including dead zones where communication is lost from air to ground.

But the Brazilian military -- which is responsible both for operating air-traffic control and for investigating aviation accidents -- has steadfastly maintained that pilot error -- or pilot malfeasance -- was the cause. The two American pilots of the Legacy -- Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino -- remain detained in a hotel in Brazil.

This week, as the secret investigation drags on, a group of Brazilian air traffic controllers based in Brasilia -- where the American pilots said they lost contact with air-traffic control -- were scheduled to testify before Brazilian air force officials and federal police.

Uh-oh, it turns out there's something going around in Brazil.

According to Bloombderg News this afternoon, all 10 of them sent statements to the federal police saying they were too ill to testify.

Yup, they called in sick.

More tomorrow on other matters, from my hideaway in Tucson.

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