World aviation authorities will be paying close attention to a preliminary report to be released in Brasilia Thursday by Rufino Antonio de Silva Ferreire, who heads one of the most important government agencies investigating the Sept. 29 mid-air collision between a Brazilian airliner and a private jet, in which 154 on the 737 airliner died.
The preliminary report has been characterized as a "just-the-facts" document that will present official information (some of which is already well established and no longer in dispute) about the contacts between the private jet and 737 pilots with control centers in Brasilia and Manaus, the two cities between which the crash occurred at 37,000 feet over the Amazon.
Brazilian military officials, several of whom have suggested that the collision occurred because the pilots of the new Legacy 600 private jet were doing stunt maneuvers in the skies, have also been put on notice by a federal judge to become more transparent in their so-far secret investigation, and to finish up in 30 days. The Brazilian Air Force runs air traffic control and is responsible for investigating accidents.
The pilots and five passengers on the private jet, including me, have consistently insisted the Legacy was flying in a smooth, normal manner when the collision occurred.
A federal judge yesterday ordered the Air Force within 48 hours to hand over to Federal Police in Mato Grosso, the state over which the collision occurred, all of the information it has on the accident, including information on the two airplanes' black box recordings and other flight and air-control data that the Air Force has insisted must be kept secret until its formal investigation is concluded.
Meanwhile, the Brazilian defense minister, Waldir Pires, responded to growing calls for an immediate release of the two American pilots, who have been detained in a Rio hotel since the crash. A lawyer for the pilots has argued that they are being detained, in violation of international law, without either a charge or a presentation of evidence.
According to Brazzil.com magazine, Mr. Pires pointed out that a judge, and not the Air Force, was responsible for retaining the pilots passports in a recent ruling on a petition for their release. "Someone who knows a democratic society should also know that the government cannot interfere in a judicial order," said Mr. Pires.
My opinion is that sound reason and good international sense are coming together. While I couldn't venture a guess as to when the pilots might be released, it seems to me that authorities in Brazil -- where emotions were understandably heated after the crash -- realize that this unnecessary standoff benefits no one -- not politically, legally or emotionally.
Not to mention the implications for Brazilan leisure and business travel: Is this a country where you can be suddenly siezed and detained, without evidence, because a plane crashed? Brazilian travel-industry officials need to consider this.
A thorough, honest and transparent investigation, if that is what now ensues, will provide the answers we all have been looking for, without holding pilots hostage to emotions. Brazil must look to its world-wide reputation.