Monday, November 13, 2006


No, that isn't a typo. I meant to write "ploy" and not "plot."

In a new dispatch from the LoonyLand of Mythical Loop-d-Loops, get a load of this just in from my favorite crazy Brazilian publication (which is not to say it is the only crazy one; they got a country full of them) --

The headline is: "Lawyer Blames U.S. Pilots for Showing Off and Wants to Hear NY Times Reporter"

This latest story says: The American lawyer Manuel von Ribbeck, the senior partner in a law firm that sued the American charter company ExcelAire and its two pilots on behalf of 40 families of victims who died in the horrendous mid-air collision over the Amazon Sept. 29, told Brazilian reporters that "he has enough evidence to prove that the American pilots made risky maneuvers over the Amazon rain forest to show off."

"They were conducting such maneuvers," stated the American lawyer, "because the company ExcelAire was happy with the purchase of the jet and wanted to show off the equipment to journalists and businessmen who were on the flight. Apparently, the Legacy's pilots were making maneuvers, playing over the Amazon in a negligent way, and the government has confirmed this."

It goes on: "Sharkey's piece in the Times recounting his experience in the fateful flight was quite sympathetic to the American pilots' cause and critical of Brazil's authorities and skies management."

First let me reiterate that nothing on this independent blog necessarily reflects the opinions or attitudes of the New York Times, for whom I contribute a weekly freelance column on business travel. This blog has absolutely no connection to the Times.

Now, as to the facts:

1. My piece in the Times was indeed sympathetic to the pilots (and it also expressed the survivors' profound anguish about the dead, once we learned, three hours after we made our emergency landing in the jungle, that a 737 was what hit us). The Legacy pilots' skill and courage saved my butt. But the Times piece said nothing whatsoever about "Brazil's authorities and skies management." A few days later, I made an offhand comment on CNN that Brazilian air traffic control has a shaky reputation among pilots. That's where this whole bandwagon started rolling, and only after that did I begin to realize just what a mess ATC in Brazil actually is.

2. The "journalists" on the flight that was supposedly doing reckless aerial maneuvers to show off the plane's capability consisted of but one, me. I've flown as a passenger in fighter planes and landed on heaving aircraft carrier decks; I've been up with the Blue Angels; I've been on helicopters slicing through palm trees in Vietnam to dodge small-arms fire. Trust me, I know when a plane is doing maneuvers!

As I have consistently said for what seems like ten thousand times since this crash, we in the Legacy were flying straight and narrow, in an utterly normal manner, when the impact occurred. Brazilian Air Force authorities falsely claiming otherwise are simply covering their butts, because they are responsible for air traffic control, and hard evidence will prove that the Legacy was being operated in a normal manner --once the secret investigations are complete months from now.

As to the "businessmen" who purportedly were to be impressed, they consisted of four other passengers. Two were executives of ExcelAire, which had just bought the plane for $25 million, and two were executives of Embraer, which had just sold it for $25 million. I'd say that is the definition of an already done deal. No need to pop some aerial wheelies there to get the customer to sign.

But stand by because Wonderful Waldir Pires, the Defense Minister who has been the most prominent of those making these reckless charges, is about to release his "preliminary report." For all of us who tumbled down the rabbit hole, it ought to be fascinating reading.

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