There's an interview with Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino in the Brazilian newsapaper Folha de S. Paulo today -- their first interview with a newspaper since the Sept. 29 crash. It it comes against a background of continued villification in some of the Brazilian media, where outrage is being expressed that the pilots were referred to as "heroes" in their first television interview, Friday, by Matt Lauer on the "Today" show. In Folha yesterday there was a headline, "Treatment of Pilots As 'Heroes'Revolts Families of Victims."
[Shortly after the pilots were released Dec. 8, the initial plan was for them to avoid getting into specifics of the crash and accusations with the news media. But a decision was subsequently made, wisely in my opinion, to 'take the gloves off' and specifically fight the charges to the extent they were able under various legal constraints].
Meanwhile, some Brazilian news-media competitors are deriding Folha today for printing a "positive" interview, which they imply was the price of access, rather than an attempt at seeking the truth.
Thanks to the indefatigable Richard Pedicini for the translation, here are some some excerpts from the Folha interview, conducted in New York by correspondent Eliane Cantanhede:
In their first interview with a newspaper, and also their first with the Brazilian press, the American pilots, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, of the Legacy that collided with the Boeing Gol on September 29, in Brazilian aviation's worst tragedy, said that the jet's radio, "worked well, perfectly well," despite the more than 30 failed attempts at communication between the them and Cindacta-1, the control center in Brasília.
They also said that it is not possible to guarantee that the transponder was nonfunctioning, as the Brazilian authorities are doing. The also relate that the controllers did not show "any urgency" when they managed to contact the Legacy and that they flew at a constant 37,000 feet to Manaus, despite being "against traffic" in that airway, because they followed the orientation of São José dos Campos control. According to them, only air traffic control can change this orientation further on. And it did change it.
Is there a black hole in the skies of Brazil? For Lepore, "It shouldn't be there". And for Paladino: "It's a problem of the system, but it's not indicated anywhere. I though that the Brazilian government should know about it. Some people [in the government] say that it doesn't exist, but every one know that it does."
The American lawyer Robert Torricella, who actively participated in the interview, conducted last Friday in a New York hotel, made constant signs to his clients, especially when they might criticize Brazil, the authorities, or the flight system. And he responded to a number of questions addressed to his clients, calling the original flight plan a "piece of paper."
Torricella justified his worry with the fact of Lepore and Paladino being formally accused by the Federal Police. Anything they say that is over the limit can be used against them. ...
Jan Paladino: "I travelled a lot for American Airlines, New York-Florida, back and forth, and customarily air traffic control put me at an altitude that wasn't regular. It happened with a reasonable frequency, all the time, depending only on the control center's authorization."
Joe Lepore: "We were at 37.000 feet, we had the automatic pilot turned on and we never left that altitude, as the preliminary report showed. We would never to this. [Referring to charges of aerial stunt maneuvering]: I don't even like amusement parks or Ferris wheels."
Jan Paladino: "Soon after we landed at the base [of Cachimbo, in the state of Mato Grosso], there were military around us, but they did not speak English, except for one. The first thing we asked him was if they had received any emergency call from another airplane. 'Please, tell us.' And he: 'No, we did not hear anything.' And we felt an enormous relief on thinking that no other plane was involved in that. As soon as we knew all was well with us, our first worry was to know if anyone had been hurt."
Lepore, 42, born in Italy, son of Italians, moved to the United States at the age of seven, is married and has two children. Paladino, 34, Argentine father and Spanish mother, is also married, without children.
FOLHA - Were you very familiar with the Legacy? How long had you flown it?
JOE LEPORE - I've been a pilot for 20 years, I trained for 20 hours on the simulator, and I've flown plenty on very similar planes. The equipment was very familiar to me.
JAN PALADINO - I've been a pilot for 16 years. and I've flown plenty as commandant on an Embraer 145, an exact copy of the Legacy.
FOLHA - Both of you were sufficiently accustomed with the equipment, with the transponder?
LEPORE - Certainly. I had trained a lot on the simulator, which has the same equipment, and I was perfectly comfortable with the aircraft.
PALADINO - Me too.
FOLHA - Did you adequately study the route and the flight plan?
LEPORE - I looked ahead of time at the different possibilities they could give us on the flight plan and, when I arrived [at the departure airport in San Jose dos Campos], I looked at it in detail with Jan and typed the navigation points into our computer system.
FOLHA - So you knew you it would be going against traffic to fly at an odd level between Brasília and Manaus? [MY NOTE: THIS QUESTION INDICATES AN UTTER FAILURE BY THE REPORTER TO UNDERSTAND THE ISSUE, WHICH IS THAT THE WRITTEN FLIGHT PLAN, WHICH HAD THE LEGACY AT 36,000 FEET IN THE BRASILIA SECTOR, WAS LATER SUPERCEDED BY AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL ORDERS TO FLY AT 37,000 FEET ALL THE WAY TO MANAUS.
ROBERT TORRICELLA - The question isn't that. It very common for aircraft to fly at altitudes that are not usual or standard. This depends on control centers.
FOLHA - How was the authorization in São José? What did the controller say?
TORRICELLA - This is under investigation, they can't reproduce the conversation, it's under seal.
FOLHA - So, what was the authorization you received in São José?
LEPORE - They authorized me to fly at 37,000 feet to Manaus.
FOLHA - You concluded that you should go at this altitude the whole time?
Leproe - If they had wanted us to do something different, they would have said so.
FOLHA - According to the Federal Police, one of you said that he did not understand the final instructions.
TORRICELLA - The police haven't made their findings public, so there's no way to tell if this is or isn't in their report.
FOLHA - I saw the transcript and the police chief specifically said this.
TORRICELLA - The Federal Police's information is not correct. That's why we let professional aeronautics investigators do their work.
FOLHA - There is doubt as to whether there was a communications failure between the tower, which may have spoken of a single level to Brasilia, and the pilots, who understood a single altitude to Manaus.
TORRICELLA - There is no doubt that the control in São José gave a "clearance" to Manaus flying at 370 [37,000 feet] . The "clearance" became the flight plan in effect, and the law requires that they follow this. The rules are the same in Brazil, in the USA, and internationally.
FOLHA - When the controller said 370, did you question them, remembering that the plan was different?
Lepore - It happens all the time, that you have a plight plan at one altitude and you are authorized to fly at another. We'd say it happens 99% of the time.
Folha - 99%?!
LEPORE - Yes. A flight plan is no more than a mere proposal.
TORRICELLA - A flight plan is a mere piece of paper.
FOLHA - The preliminary report says that there were almost 30 frustrated attempts at radio contact, seven by the controllers, the rest by you.
PALADINO - I can guarantee that our radios were functioning appropriately, so much so that we received transmissions in Portuguese during the whole flight. We don't understand a word of Portuguese, but we knew that the radio was working well.
When we approached the FIR frontier [leaving the orbit of control of Brasilia for that of Manaus] I began to call control to be sure that we were on the correct frequency. When we did not receive a response, I followed the procedures and checked on the "chart" the appropriate frequencies for that route. This took a few minutes. I established one way communication with the control center, asking to change the frequency. There was no urgency in the controller's voice, who only instructed us to contact the Manaus center from there on on a determined frequency. I asked him to repeat, in the process of trying to establish communication.
FOLHA - If you tried 19 or 20 contacts, without success, why didn't you type code 7600 on the transponder, registering difficulty in communication?
PALADINO - 7600 isn't for difficulty in talking to the control center, it's for equipment failure. That wasn't the case. The radio was perfectly fine. We we have to do, in these cases, is search for another frequency, more appropriate for the route, which is what I did.
FOLHA - There is a hypothesis that you two disconnected the transponder to do pirouettes without showing up on radar.
PALADINO - They were false accusations. We knew that the black box recordings would prove that none of that was true.
FOLHA - On the Federal Police's report, they say that the transponder was disconnected for 50 minutes. Why?
PALADINO - We didn't see any proof that the transponder was inoperative, it might be another problem. During the flight there was no indication in the cabin that it was inoperative.
TORRICELLA - This is a problem with police investigations. They conclude things before the aeronautical investigators, who are professionals, reach their own conclusions.
FOLHA - The transponder signal disappeared from the screen in Brasilia, the aeronautical investigators have confirmed.
PALADINO - Where were the controllers, that they didn't see this?