A preliminary report on the Sept. 29 mid-air collision that's due to be issued tomorrow in Brazil will be sketchy and imprecise, according to outside investigators who have seen it. It will also be cleverly crafted to not directly assign blame to Air Traffic Control in Brazil, which is run by the Air Force -- which in turn is conducting the investigation.
So take the Air Force report for what it's worth. Nothing.
But remember, these are the guys, led by the Brazilian defense minister, the Wonderful Waldir Pires, who have regularly accused me of covering up for the private jet pilots who purportedly did "daredevil" stunts in the skies -- which purportedly caused the mid-air collision at 37,ooo feet that killed 154 over over the Amazon.
OOPS! Tomorrow's preliminary report, you will see, will address none of that. Turns out, you will see, that was just not true. Instead, the report -- having simply ignored the loony loop-d-loops charge, supports Wonderful Walidr's contention that, as far as he could see, everybody but his Air Force and its splendid first-world air traffic control system was to blame.
Independent U.S. and other world investigators have accees to the black boxes, radar data and other hard technolocal information in the crash. They are constrained from talking till the Brazilians get around to issuing final reports (months off, I am told). But many of them believe the Brazilian Air Force is dragging its heels for political reasons. Some ask: How could a purportedly first-world Brazil behave like such an evidently third-world Brazil in an air crash investigation? How are they getting away with this?
Here is what I understand happened in this crash:
1. Neither the Legacy 600 private jet NOR the Gol Airlilnes 737 with which it collided at 37,000 feet over the Amazon between Brasilia and Manaus were following their flight plans. The 737's flight plan called for it to ascend to 39,000 feet just before spot where the collision occurred, while the Legacy's called for a descent to 36,000 feet. But both planes were told to maintain 37,000 feet by air traffic control -- in two different locations that were not in contact with one another. Under all international protocols, ATC instructions take precedence over a filed flight plan. The collision was mostly caused by a major breakdown in communications between ATC centers in Brazil, which are run by the Air Force.
2. A malfunctioning transponder in the Legacy might have -- but this has not yet been proven -- contributed to the fact that air traffic controllers failed to notice that the Legacy and Gol 737 were on a collision course.
3. As I know as well as anyone, since I was on the Legacy, the charge that the two American Legacy pilots were doing aerial stunts or trick maneuvers in the sky is absurd, and will be discounted as such in the preliminary report. The cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder prove that the Legacy was in straight and level flight when it collided with the Gol 737.
4. Cockpit voice recorder tapes -- which the Brazilian Air Force is resisting releasing -- will prove that the Legacy made repeated attempts to reach air traffic control before and after the collision that went unanswered.
5. As international pilots have been telling me for over a month (and even telling newspapers in Brazil), there continue to be gaps and dead zones in Brazilian radar and radio coverage, expecially over the Amazon, despite a recent $1.4 billion project under contract with an American defense contractor to fix the system. The Air Force insists this is not so. The Air Force is incorrect.
6. Pilots readily speak of having to communicate on Brazilian ATC radio through idle chatter by air traffic controllers speaking to each other in Portuguese. The official language of aviation the world over is English. Cockpit voice recorder tapes will show that Brazilian controllers -- many of whom are not fluent in English -- were speaking Portuguese to Brazilian aircraft and, in casual conversations, to each other.
7. The Brazilian Government is in violation of international treaties in detaining and holding as hostages two American pilots, without having charged them or even come up with evidence of a charge.
8. Given the linguistic, organizational and workforce mess in Air Traffic Control in Brazil, it is being argued in the aviation community that American passengers flying to Brazil may be at risk unless the pilots of U.S. airliners flying in Brazil speak Portuguese -- or Brazil cleans up its act in ATC. To the extent that the aviation community publicizes this, it is a direct threat to Brazil's $5 billion a year tourism economy. Already, I am told, travelers are asking travel agents and bookers whether it's safe to fly in Brazil.