Friday, December 29, 2006


Wonderful Waldir & the Amazing Amazonian Tuba Chorus are harrumphing a blame chorale reprise while murderers run amok.


"Blame Game Is On: TAM and Infraero Fault Each Other for Brazil's Airport Chaos

Infraero, the state-run company that manages the Brazilian airports, and Brazil's largest airline, TAM, are engaged in a blame game to decide who is at fault for the country's pre-Christmas airport mess, which left thousands stranded in the airports.

While TAM says that the main culprit for the problem was Infraero's communication system, which went down, Infraero denies any responsibility in the incident and says that whatever occurred happened at TAM's end.

The ANAC (National Civil Aviation Agency), Brazil's airport authority, is investigating what caused last week's collapse. Their agents are auditing TAM and other airlines and are supposed to release their findings by Friday, December 29.

Brazil's Defense Minister, Waldir Pires is not waiting for the conclusion though. After a high-level meeting to address the air crisis, today, he hinted that the government intends to punish TAM for the airports chaos.

Even before ANAC concludes its auditing Pires is already certain that the company overbooked several flights during the Christmas season. "There were serious mistakes. There will be serious penalties," said the minister.

Pires continues at the helm of Defense despite calls from Congress and the media that he be dismissed by president Lula for sheer incompetence. Pires didn't spell what kind of punishment for TAM he has in mind.

Worried that the present chaos in Brazilian airports will keep gringos away for Carnaval, which starts February 17, Brazil's hotel industry is gearing up its marketing machine to stimulate domestic tourism. They have been encouraging Brazilians to take the bus and forget the planes for now.


Alfredo Lopes, the president of ABIH-RJ (Hotels Industry Brazilian Association - Rio de Janeiro) has informed that foreign countries are following what's happening in Brazil and that tourism operators in France, for example, are dissuading tourists from traveling to Brazil for Carnaval.

The vice president of ABIH-RJ, Angelo Vivacqua, says that the air bedlam has already caused the cancellation of 10% of year's end reservations for Rio's hotels. Still according to Vivacqua, the city's hotel sector has already lost about US$ 15 million due to the air crisis.

For three times since November, serious trouble in the airports has made air travel a painful ordeal in Brazil sometimes involving 12 hours or more of delays when not outright cancellation of flights, lack of information and lost luggage.

Lopes hopes that despite a drop of about 5%, hotels occupation rate will still be 80%. Rio's hotels have 27,000 beds available. "We realized the trouble in the airports and started campaigns in Belo Horizonte and São Paulo to encourage national tourism and road transportation. We have contacted travel agents and passed leaflets in shopping malls," he said.

Considering that Rio's hotels have an average daily rate of US$ 120, ponders Lopes, even a drop in occupancy for two days during the Réveillon (New Year's celebrations) may mean a loss of US$ 630,000 to hotel owners.

Nationwide, the situation isn't expected to be better. It's believed that 60% to 70% of tourists travel by plane in Brazil. The Brazilian hotel industry is forecasting losses surpassing US$ 4 million a day. This doesn't include all other business sectors dependent on tourism.

Due to the air crisis, the sale of bus tickets has increased 5% this holiday season. 3,160 extra buses were used to meet Christmas traffic. The same should happen again for New Year's.

The highway patrol has seen a 40% increase in the number of cars on the roads this holiday season. In previous years the boost in traffic when compared to normal days had been between 20% and 30%.

All of this will put an extra load into an already taxed highway system. Travellers should pay attention to potholes, which due to rains, multiply this time of the year. [MY NOTE: ALSO, MIND THOSE MURDERERS ON THE BUS. LET'S HOPE WONDERFUL WALDIR ISN'T INVOLVED IN THAT INVESTIGATION].


Thursday, December 28, 2006


I'm holed up in Arizona in the desert working on a project. My wife, who was here over Christmas, had to fly home today, with a connection through Houston.

On several occasions, I've mentioned the world's-most-irritating airport-terminal announcement, which so far as I know is unique to the Houston George Bush Intergalactic Airport (as some pilots call it). The announcement features that woman whose voice sounds like Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies, warning over and over again that "jokes or inappropriate comments about security may result in your arrest."

The world's-most-irritating airport terminal announcement has now been revised, I am informed by my wife. It now warns instead that "impertinent comments" may result in your arrest.

Cue the "Twilight Zone" music again. "Impertinent" was exactly what the Brazil defense minister, Wonderful Waldir Pires, accused me of being on several occasions. That was because I said the old gentleman was delusional for accusing the two American pilots of the Legacy 600 business jet of performing "stunt maneuvers" and aerial tricks in the sky before the Legacy and the Gol Airlines 737 collided over the Amazon on Sept. 29, with the loss of 154 lives. Having actually been a passenger on the Legacy, calmly working on my laptop until the crash, I felt I had some personal authority in attesting to the fact that the plane was flying in an utterly normal manner, and not doing loop-d-loops, which I would have tended to notice. But Wonderful Waldir had his story, and he stuck to it even after undisputed facts finally caught up with the ridicule.

Meanwhile, Brazilian civil aviation, which he runs as defense minister, was going to hell as air-traffic controllers began a months' long protest that caused continuing air-travel chaos -- by way of warning the authorities not to blame them for a horrendous crash that was clearly the fault of Brazil's atrociously run air traffic control system.

In other constabulary news, this time back in Brazil itself, anyone who still has plans to take a festive year-end holiday in Brazil despite the months' long airport chaos and the routine street crime, including the growing number of incidents of airport shuttles being hijacked and the tourists inside robbed by gun-toting thugs, take note:

According to the New York Times online today, in a story datelined Rio de Janeiro, "Heavily armed drug gangs unleased a wave of attacks on police stations and public roadways here early today, and at least 18 people were killed in the confrontations. ... The attacks coincided with the start of the summer tourist season here ..."

And what are the police doing (besides forming militias to shake down slum dwellers, but that's another story)? No, the police are spending an awful lot of time desperately trying to cook up specious criminal charges against two innocent and courageous American pilots.



"We can expect that by (Sunday) things will get better and passengers will be able to fly with tranquility." -- Brazil's President Luiz Inacio ("Lucky") Lula da Silva, speaking last week about the months' long air-travel chaos that followed the Sept. 29 mid-air collision in Brazil.

"These problems won't occur again." -- Milton Zuanazzi, head of the Brazil civil aviation agency, speaking last week on the same subject.

Both dignitaries seem to be vying with the Defense Minister, Wonderful Waldir Pires, (who ridiculously claimed the crash was caused by American pilots doing trick maneuvers in the Amazon skies and denounced me as "ignorant" and "impertinent" for saying the business jet was flying level and utterly routinely when hit) for the award for the most asinine statements of 2006.

From the A.P.:

"SAO PAULO -- Brazilian travelers incensed about an overbooked flight stormed a runway Wednesday to prevent a commercial jet from taking off, and a tourism industry leader said two months of flight delays have been a "disaster" for tourism. ... The protest delayed the flight for about two hours and was a repeat of incidents when Brazilians invaded runways at several airports plagued by delays just before Christmas. ..."

[MY NOTE: The delays began shortly after the Sept. 29 mid-air collision between a Gol Airlines 737 and an American business jet that left 154 dead. The delays were caused by work-to-rule protests by air traffic controlers warning authorities not to place blame for the accident on where it belongs -- on air traffic control. Instead, the two American pilots of the business jet have been criminally accused in a cobbled-together charge that no pilot I know thinks has the slightest merit.]


Wednesday, December 27, 2006


It has been said here more than once that the Brazilian authorities -- abetted by elements of the news media eager to curry favor with those in charge and to exploit the virulent anti-Americanism that has driven this story -- are attempting mightily to frame the two American pilots for the Sept. 29 mid-air collision that killed 154 over the Amazon.

Evidence continues to mount that the Brazilian military (which runs air traffic control) and the federal police will keep insisting that the American pilots were criminally culpable for mass homicide because of a malfunctioning transponder in the Legacy business jet. Swept under the rug will be the clear, unambiguous screw-ups by air traffic control that every aviation expert in the world recognizes as the cause of the crash.

The news magazine EPOCA recently printed excerpts from the depositions given to federal police by flight controllers


By Eduardo Vieira and Wálter Nunes

… a report on the investigations of the Federal Police shows for the first time the full version of the air traffic controllers who were monitoring the route of the Legacy jet… The official deposition of 13 controllers of São José dos Campos and Brasília, obtained by ÉPOCA, reveals failures that contributed for the Legacy to graze a Gol Boeing, causing its fall and killing 154 people aboard. [MY NOTE: GRAZE? THE TWO PLANES COLLIDED!]`.

… In the case of the fall of the Gol airplane, there are at least four failures that compounded: 1) the Legacy was flying at a wrong altitude, on the wrong way [MY NOTE: THIS IS UNTRUE. THE LEGACY WAS FLYING AT THE ALTITUDE IT HAS BEEN ASSIGNED BY AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL, 37,000 FEET]; 2) the transponder, equipment that would send accurate information to air control about the location of the airplane, and in case of risk of collision, would trigger an alert to the pilots, was turned off or broken [MY NOTE: THE AMERICAN PILOTS HAVE TESTIFIED REPEATEDLY THAT THEY WOULD HAVE NO REASON ON GOD’S EARTH TO TURN OFF THE TRANSPONDER. AND YOU WILL NOTE THAT THERE IS A CONSPICUOUS LACK OF MENTION OF ANYTHING HAPPENING IJN THE COCKPIT OF THE BRAZILIAN 737 BEARING DOWN ON THE LEGACY] ; 3) communication, in an area close to the place of the accident, failed; [MY NOTE: THIS REFERS TO THE RADAR AND RADIO ‘BLIND ZONE’ THAT THE BRAZILIANS SWORE DID NOT EXIST] and 4) the flight controllers hesitated in crucial moments [MY NOTE; ‘HESITATED’ IS HARDLY THE VERB TO DESCRIBE A FLIGHT CONTROLLER WHO FAILED TO NOTICE FOR 50 MINUTES THAT THE LEGACY'S TRANSPONDER WASN’T SIGNALING AND THAT THE RADAR READING PUTTING THE LEGACY AT 36,000 FEET WAS REFLECTING A NOW-SUPERCEDED FLIGHT PLAN, NOT REALITY]

…This fourth cause of the disaster becomes clear from the deposition of the controllers. One of them, Air Force sergeant Jomarcelo Fernandes dos Santos, pledged that the Legacy was flying at 36,000 feet, [MY NOTE: NOT TRUE. THE LEGACY WAS AT 37,000 FEET, A FACT THAT IS NOT IN DISPUTE], the altitude specified in the flight plan, when he turned his shift over to the next controller, Lucivando Alencar. “The aircraft is effectively at 36,000 feet”, he said, according to Alencar. [MY NOTE: EFFECTIVELY???!!] When he started his shift, he allegedly noticed the radars were not accurate. But Santos’ information made him feel calm. The information was wrong. [IN FACT, THE ACTUAL RADAR READING WAS FLUCTUATING ALL OVER THE PLACE BECAUSE OF FAULTY EQUIPMENT, WHICH IS THE REASON THE NITWIT BRAZILIAN AUTHORITIES CLAIMED THE LEGACY HAD TO HAVE BEEN PERFORMING ‘STUNT MANEUVERS.’]. The Legacy was flying at 37,000 feet, same altitude as the Gol Boeing traveling in the opposite direction. [MY NOTE: OOPS]

Here are some points ... indicating failures of the air control:

- On the Legacy take-off, at 3,30PM in São José dos Campos, the American pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino asked for flight authorization. They were taking the Legacy, which had just been bought from Embraer by the air transport firm ExcelAire, to the United States. Their flight plan specified going at 37,000 feet until Brasília, descend to 36,000 and, after a mark known as Teres point, climb to 38,000 feet. The controller João Batista da Silva said that, when asking Brasília center for confirmation, he received as answer that the Legacy should fly “level 370 on bow (direction) of Poços de Caldas, Minas Gerais” [MY NOTE: THIS IS UNTRUE. IT WOULD HAVE BEEN IMPOSSOBLE FOR THE LEGACY TO REACH 37,000 FEET BY THAT POINT SO CLOSE TO TAKEOFF]. The controller would also have referred to the route “São José-Eduardo Gomes”. This information may have induced the Legacy pilots to think that the flight plan was being changed, and that they should travel at 37,000 feet until the region of the Eduardo Gomes airport, in Manaus. [MY NOTE: THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT HE FLIGHT RECORDER SHOWS TO BE THE CASE] In an interview Friday, in the U.S., Lepore and Paladino claimed they were directed, both in São José dos Campos and in mid-air, near Brasília, to fly at the altitude of 37,000 feet. (MY NOTE: CORRECT.])


The direction of Cindacta I, the Brasília control center, was given by controller Felipe dos Santos Reis, age 22. At that time he was acting as assistant controller. Reis started working as controller in June. Until August he was an intern. He was made a regular employee in September, a few days before the accident. {HMMMM, THE CONTROLLER IN CHARGE OF THE LEGACY AT THE CRUCIAL MOMENTS IN BRASILIA, ABOUT MID-POINT BETWEEN SAN JOSE AND MANAUS, WAS AN INTERN UNTIL FOUR DAYS BEFORE THE COLLISION? THIS IS THE SAME CONTROLLER WHO BELIEVED MISTAKENLY THAT THE LEGACY WAS AT 36,000 FEET, AND ALSO FAILED TO REPORT FOR 50 MINUTES THAT THE LEGACY TRANSPONDER WAS NOT SIGNALING].

… The controllers were induced to error by the radar screen. [MY NOTE: THAT'S A LITTLE LIKE SAYING WILLIE SUTTON WAS INDUCED TO ERROR BY THE BANK] When he started monitoring the Legacy, at 3.55 PM, Jomarcelo Fernandes dos Santos saw it was at 37,000 feet. Right after that, he noticed that the transponder wasn’t working. But he said he was not alarmed, “because the primary radar provided (…) all the required information, even though it is a less reliable indication”. It just so happens that the secondary radar, when it can’t collect the accurate altitude of a plane, indicates, after some time, the altitude anticipated in the system. That’s why the information on Santos’ screen started being 36,000 feet. (MY NOTE: HE WAS LOOKING, THEN, AT A FALSE ALTITUDE. ALSO, HE ADMITS THE TRANSPONDER WENT OUT, BUT HE `WAS NOT ALARMED?!’]

Marshal Rubens Maleiner, who took Santos’ deposition, asked the controller what his usual procedure is when an airplane changes altitude without asking for authorization. [MY NOTE: NO RESPONSIBLE PILOTS ROUTINELY CHANGES ALTITUDE WITHOUT CLEARANCE]. The controller said he had never been through such a situation. Maleiner asked how he would act if this happened. Santos said he would understand that as a potential failure in communications. And would attempt to contact the airplane. In the sequence, the obvious question: “In light of this, why didn’t you warn the Legacy over the radio?” Santos answered he isn’t in the habit of remembering the history of positions of each plane. [MY NOTE; CONSIDER THE IMPLICATIONS OF THAT ASSERTION THE NEXT TIME YOU FLY IN BRAZIL!!!]

… Sergeant Lucivando Tibúrcio de Alencar took over the control of the Legacy, replacing Santos, at 4.15 PM. Asked by marshal Maleiner whether he shouldn’t have communicated immediately with the Legacy pilots, since the transponder wasn’t working, Alencar said “he thought radio contact wasn’t necessary, since there was no other plane nearby.” [MY NOTE, OH, I DON’T KNOW…WHAT ABOUT THE GOL 737 WITH 154 ABOARD BEARING DOWN ON A COLLISION COURSE!] A few minutes later, Alencar said he started to become confused due to the lack of data of the secondary radar. He finally tried contacting the Legacy. He said he made five to eight attempts, getting no answer to none of them. [MY NOTE; THIS IMPLIES THE PILOTS IGNORED HIM. IN FACT, HIS RADIO TRANSMISSION WASN'T BEING RECEIVED, AS IS OFTEN THE CASE IN THAT SECTOR OF THE AMAZON] Even so, he said he believed the aircraft to be at 36,000 feet, because this was “the only accurate information he received from Jomarcelo”. [MY NOTE; THIS WOULD BE INFORMATION FROM THE RECENT INTERN WHO WASN'T ALARMED ABOUT THE 50-MINUTE GAP IN TRANSPONDER SIGNALS?]

The controllers were never asked about the position of the Gol airplane. [MY NOTE: THE GOL WAS NOW INCOMMUNICADO IN THE RADAR BLIND-ZONE THE BRAZILIAN MILITARY AUTHORITIES SWORE DID NOT EXIST] Nor whether it appeared on the radar, or whether somebody tried to warn them about the disappearance of the Legacy.



… Another factor that contributed for the crash, according to the controllers, was that the Legacy entered a “zone of shadow”, as are known the regions in which there are failures in the radar and in radio communications. [MY NOTE: RE THE ‘ZONE OF SHADOW,’ AS IT IS SO QUAINTLY CALLED HERE. YOU WILL REMEMBER THAT FOR MONTHS, THE BRAZILIANS DENOUNCED ME AND ANYONE ELSE WHO STATED THAT BRAZIL’S AIR SPACE, ESPECIALLY OVER THE AMAZON, HAS BLIND ZONES WHERE RADAR AND RADIO DON'T WORK].. Some kilometers north of Brasília, between flight-marks known as Teres and Nabol, the jet allegedly disappeared from the radar screen. “It’s an area that is blind, deaf and dumb”, said Lucivando Alencar. [MY NOTE: AND WHO WOULD BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THAT?]

As a consequence of the disaster, Brazil is going through a sort of air chaos. When a disaster of this size occurs, it’s usual to remove the controllers that had any contact with the airplanes involved. They were ten professionals. Other ten controllers, psychologically shaken, asked for medical leave. This was enough for the sector to collapse. In the following weeks, the country found out that Brazilian air control is not receiving the resources required for working properly. There is allegedly a deficit of 300 air traffic professionals, and their qualification takes at least one year.

Noticing that their complains about the working conditions were finally starting to be heard, the controllers started making demands in the open. Previously they could not make them, because most of them are military, and owe strict obedience to their superiors. One month after the accident, on the eve of the November 2 holiday, the controllers refused to monitor more airplanes than what is allowed by the Brazilian safety rules. This caused delays and chaos at the airports. The situation is still not back to normal.

In an audit disclosed last week, the Union Audit Court (TCU) reached the conclusion that there were cuts and curtailment of R$522 million in the last three years. In addition, Infraero allegedly didn’t pass to the Air Force Command approximately $582 million since 2000. The minister of Defense, Waldir Pires, rebutted the TCU report.(that is because he stole the money) “In 2006 there was no curtailment. We didn’t hold a single penny”, claimed Pires. “In 2005 the curtailment was minimal. In 2004 not a penny. And on fiscal year of 2003, it was insignificant.” To solve the crisis, the Senate authorized the release of a R$ 60 million fund for air traffic control in 2007. The money is required, but any definitive solution of the problem will take years. The air companies started to openly pressure for the air control of civil aviation to pass to the hands of civilians. “Air Force will have to give up the rings in order to avoid losing the fingers”, said congressman Fernando Gabeira (PV-RJ) during hearing in Congress.

In the short range, to avoid chaos at the airports, the authorities summoned 60 controllers that were not active. In face of the pressure of the controllers, the Air Force commander, Luiz Carlos Bueno, said that, if necessary, he will order a “confinement to quarters”, to maintain them in service during the year-end holidays. “It’s an attitude that nobody wants to take”, he said. “But, if necessary, it will be done”. The president of TAM, Marco Antonio Bologna, stated he doesn’t expect further delays. As a matter of precaution, though, he said the company will take special measures. “Since a scalded cat is afraid even of cold water, we will reinforce the teams and increase the number of available planes.”



Tuesday, December 26, 2006


No comment needed from me, but check out the readers' comments at the end of this update today from

"Brazil's ANAC (National Agency of Civil Aviation) promises to conduct an audit today to find out why Brazil's largest airline company, TAM, was unable to carry all the passengers it sold tickets to. The probe's goal is to avoid another air traffic collapse on New Year's Eve.

TAM's breakdown made the last Friday, December 22, the second most chaotic day in Brazilian aviation history losing only to the so-called black Tuesday, on December 5, when planes just stopped after radio communications malfunctioned in Brazilian capital Brasília.

It's believed that the most recent problems were caused by overbooking by TAM coupled with the scheduled maintenance of a few airplanes by the airline company. So, the main focus of the ANAC's investigation should be the number of tickets sold not only by TAM, but also by other airline firms.

Delays have diminished in the airports since Sunday, according to ANAC, but the number of cancelled flight has increased in part due to the smaller number of passengers using planes. Despite the improvement, Christmas day saw 139 flights that suffered delays of one hour or more and 237 of them were just cancelled. ...

The latest collapse in Brazil's air traffic is one week old today. ... "

[Following are readers comments posted today on in reference to the latest story on the collapse of air traffic.]:

"Not A Serious Country
written by Stephen, 2006-12-26 07:39:31

Let's see if the next weekend will be any different? Have my doubts though because as soon as any little thing goes wrong panic sets in and everything then goes to Pizza. Take the bus, you have a better chance of getting there unless of course the bus driver is blasted on drugs or booze and the odds of crashing over the side of a mountain is a distinct possiblity. Boa Sorte!

Truly ridiculous...
written by bo, 2006-12-26 09:56:04

When one sees what has been happening over the last 3 months in the airports around brazil, isn't it amazing how Pires and many others were so quick to jump and blame the American pilots for the accident that happened??? Truly disgusting, but a textbook opportunity to see exactly how the "system" works in Brazil. The refusal to accept responsibility, point fingers, and just hope the problem is either forgotten, or goes away. This situation is CLASSIC Brazil!"


Monday, December 25, 2006


In a moment of Christmas charity, the following is posted without comment:

"These problems won't occur again. This cannot occur on the eve of a holiday." -- Milton Zuanazzi, the head of Brazil's civil aviation agency, speaking on Friday.

"We had airlines overbooking. They sold tickets they should not have sold. The air force is helping and we can expect that by [Sunday] things will get better and passengers will be able to fly with tranquility." -- Brazil's president Luiz Inacio ("Lucky") Lula da Silva.


"Airport Chaos in Brazil: Plane Crews and Counter Workers Abandon Posts

Despite the help of the Brazilian Air Force, which is leasing eight of its planes to private airlines, the chaos in Brazil's airports continued unabated for a fourth consecutive day.

If anything the situation only grew more ominous Saturday, December 23. Lines, waiting for hours and lack of information continued while the public has been showing their discontent in a much more graphic way, screaming, attacking airlines' workers and breaking several computers.

Now, the workers themselves are the ones getting revolted. In São Paulo, Rio and Brasília, employees of TAM, Brazil's largest airline, abandoned their check-in counters alleging they had been assaulted by angry passengers. And TAM's crews also are refusing to fly maintaining that they have been forced to work way overtime.

Passengers going to Fortaleza, capital of Ceará, had already boarded a TAM plane in Congonhas, the São Paulo domestic airport, this morning, when they were told that they had to leave the aircraft because the crew were refusing to fly due to excessive work in the last few days. ..."


Saturday, December 23, 2006


My Christmas wish is that Brazil's news media start applying a portion of their skill at emotional prose to the unconscionable prospect that two American pilots are being scapegoated, and may well be criminally indicted on a charge, considered asinine by every pilot I know, that they failed to notice a malfunctioning transponder and therefore are criminally responsible for 154 deaths.

Pilots aren't expected to monitor the transponder, which emits no warning signal if it flips into standby mode, which happens. In this case, on the ground at air traffic control -- where a non-transmitting transponder SHOULD immediately be noticed -- 50 minutes went by before it WAS noticed. And then it was too late, because two airplanes that air-traffic control in two different centers explicitly ordered to fly at 37,000 feet, in what turned out to be a horrendous collision course, had collided over the Amazon with the loss of 154 lives.

Brazilian air traffic controllers, in a clear warning to authorities not to assign blame where it belongs -- to them and to the system they are stuck with running -- have deliberately tied up Brazil's air traffic system for over two months in a work protest. And the situation has now gone from terrible to intolerable as the Christmas holidays open way to the peak summer travel season and air travel in Brazil -- a huge country where airplanes are vital transportation -- virtually collapses.

From today's

"TAM, Brazil's largest airline, announced Friday night, December 22, that it had leased seven planes belonging to the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) to transport its own passengers this weekend. Delays of several hours mostly by TAM's planes have transformed the main Brazilian airports in Rio, São Paulo and Brasília into purgatory anterooms...."

From the Associated Press today:

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) - Flight cancellations and hours-long delays continued to haunt Christmas travelers at airports across Brazil on Saturday despite an emergency intervention by the nation's air force.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Friday called in the Brazilian air force to help transport airline passengers on an emergency basis, but it was not enough to ease the situation.

Overbooked flights and delays of up to 24 hours caused protests and anger among travelers stuck in airports. An upset woman was detained at Rio de Janeiro's international airport after tossing a computer toward airline employees, breaking one worker's arm.

In Sao Paulo, passengers were lining up for check-in along the sidewalks outside the metropolitan airport of Congonhas -- the country's busiest.

Air force planes began transporting stranded passengers late Friday, but due to the low passenger capacity of the eight jets -- two Boeing 707s, two Boeing 737s and four Embraer EMB-145s -- only 760 people were expected to be transported by the end of Saturday. ...

[MY NOTE: The AP story then quotes Milton Zuanazzi, the head of ANAC, the national civil aviation agency: "'These problems won't occur again. They cannot occur on the eve of a holiday," Zuanazzi told the GloboNews TV.'"

It seems to me that the ever-hopeful Mr. Zuanazzi perfectly illustrates the delusional thinking that plagues the supervision of Brazil's air traffic system, which is run by the military. Despite all evidence to the contrary, a harrumphing tuba chorus of military and federal police brass hats admits no problems and blames instead the villainous Americans.

Remember, after the Sept. 29 mid-air collision, Brazilian authorities violently denounced claims (which were subsequently proven correct) that the country's air traffic control system is riddled with blind zones and faulty technology, and run by a demoralized, understaffed military work force, many of whom cannot even speak English, the lingua franca of aviation.

Ignoring obvious reality, this tuba chorus insisted that Brazil's air-control system, being the finest in the world, COULD NOT POSSIBLY have been responsible for the crash. Later, it became obvious to anyone with the common sense of a turnip that Brazil's dilapidated air traffic control system was, in fact, the cause of the crash. Yet the authorities still are hell-bent on scapegoating the two American pilots, whom they detained without legal cause for 70 days.

"This cannot occur on the eve of a holiday," Mr. Zuanazzi insists of the air travel chaos.

Earth to Brasilia: Oh, yes it can. And it is occurring on the eve of a holiday. Can Carnival be far behind?]


Friday, December 22, 2006


Wonderful Waldir Pires, the Brazilian defense minister who has loudly and laughably insisted that the Sept. 29 mid-air disaster was caused by the two American pilots of the Legacy 600 business jet doing stunt maneuvers at 37,000 feet, is looking at a not-so-merry Christmas. The air-traffic chaos in Brazil, caused largely by protests by air controllers warning that they won't accept the blame they deserve for the collision that killed 154 in a commercial 737, has gone from bad to worse. (Wonderful Waldir's defense department runs Brazilian air-traffic control). Now the Air Force has been drafted to carry civilian passengers left stranded in airports.

From the Associated Press today:

"RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) -- President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called in the Brazilian air force Friday to help transport airline passengers on an emergency basis as long delays and overbooked planes snarled commercial flights over the busy holiday weekend.

Brazil halted ticket sales by the nation's biggest airline, Tam Linhas Aereas SA, until the situation was brought under control, aviation officials said Friday.

The Air Force Command, whose flights began after the president's announcement, said in a statement it was fulfilling a request by Silva to "relieve the difficulties currently faced by users of commercial civil aviation" across Latin America's largest country.

The air force made eight jets -- two Boeing 707s, two Boeing 737s and four Embraer EMB-145s -- available for flights between Brasilia, the nation's capital, and Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the country's two largest cities. ...

Brazil's airport woes began after a midair collision between a Gol airlines Boeing 737 and an Embraer Legacy 600 executive jet in late September. The Gol flight crashed in the Amazon jungle, killing 154 people in Brazil's worst air disaster. Authorities are investigating whether controller error had a role in the collision.

Soon after, air traffic controllers began following regulations to the letter in a "work-to-rule" protest to demand better pay and working conditions."



It's one damn thing after another in Brazil.

For two months now, Brazilian air traffic has been a mess, partly because of continuing breakdowns in technology but mostly because of air traffic controllers' widespread work-to-rule protests. The protests, of course, stem from the Sept. 29 mid-air collision between a Brazilian Gol 737 and an American business jet, in which all 154 on the 737 tragically died.

The controllers are protesting, and showing what they can do to the system if pushed, because they fear Brazilian authorities might blame air traffic control for the crash. Air traffic control had the two planes flying at 37,000 feet on a collision course over the Amazon, but so far the only blame that has been cast has been on the two American pilots, who were flying where they were told to fly by controllers who have already been shown to have been inattentive at best.

Now a new monkey wrench has been thrown into Brazil's hobbled air traffic. From good old on Friday:

"To End Chaos Brazil Airport Authority Forbids Sale of Tickets
Written by José Wilson Miranda
Friday, 22 December 2006

In an attempt to control the chaotic situation in the airports, the Brazilian airport authority, the ANAC (National Agency of Civil Aviation) has forbidden TAM, Brazil's largest airline, to sell any ticket before it embarks all passengers already holding a pass. ...

Milton Zuanazzi, ANAC's president, [said] that his agency will be more careful in order to prevent the airline company from continuing to sell tickets in already overloaded routes. ... The cause of trouble in the airports has been identified: six TAM's airplanes are in maintenance and the airline isn't managing to carry its passengers in a timely manner. This in turn has brought chaos to the airports with passengers having to wait as much as 12 hours to get on a plane.

People trying to buy a ticket from TAM this Friday are getting the following message: "no available flights for this date and period or all the flights are sold out." The company's site on the Internet was down for a short period earlier today.

Flight delays once again forced people to spend the night and the early morning in São Paulo and Rio airports. The military police continued for a second day to maintain the security at the Tom Jobim international airport in Rio. They were called Thursday after angry passengers broke a TAM's computer and one of the company's counter. ...

Despite ANAC's prohibition TAM didn't stop selling tickets, however. A reporter from the site G1 called the company to reserve a flight for this Friday from Congonhas to the Tom Jobim airport, the two airports where the situation is the worst.

The TAM employee only asked for the caller's credit card number and alerted him that the flight might have a two-hour delay. ..."

[MY NOTE: Curiously enough, the web site on which this article appeared was at the same time running an ad from TAM: "Special airfares. Call in Now!"]

And from on Thursday:

"On the eve of Christmas, Brazil's main airports have once again become a battleground of discontent, tumult, long lines, hours of delay and, at times, total chaos.

In Rio's Tom Jobim International Airport the military police brought armed agents after people threatened to break the airport's installations. In Brasília a group of disgruntled passengers invaded the runway.

The Brazilian Air Force, which is in charge of air flight control in the country, tells that trouble started due to a heavy rain in the southeast region of the country, where are São Paulo and Rio are located.

The problem got worse, said the Air Force, when TAM, Brazil's largest airline, suffered a failure in its computers preventing passengers from checking in. The company, however, denied having any computer glitch. ...

At the Juscelino Kubitschek's International Airport, in Brasília, flights were being delayed up to four hours this morning. The situation became tense when a group of disgruntled passengers invaded the airport's runway and despite the heavy rain sat down on the air strip until they were forcefully removed by the airport's security. ...

ANAC released a note apologizing for the delays. The agency informed that the problem this time wasn't the fault of flight controllers but the airlines. ..."


Sunday, December 17, 2006


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.


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?


Saturday, December 16, 2006


...You'll be hearing a lot about the transponder on the Legacy 600 as the Brazilian authorities continue scrambling to find any way possible to shift blame to the American pilots and keep it away from the sorry mess that is Brazil's air traffic control system -- and the Brazilian air force, which runs that system and jealously guards its honey-pot of a budget.

It's now generally accepted that the Legacy's transponder was not working properly as the business jet passed through the air sector of Brasilia and into the radar and radio blind zone where the responsibility for the plane shifted to the ATC center near Manaus. It is also not in any serious dispute that Brazilian air traffic control explicitly assigned the Legacy to an altitude of 37,000 feet, on a collision course with a Gol 737 coming in the opposite direction.

The federal police accusation against the pilots, cobbled together in a last-minute attempt to keep them from leaving the country Dec. 8, deftly ignores the weight of evidence that air-traffic control caused this disaster, and instead accuses the pilots, in effect, of failing to notice that their transponder wasn't working, thus causing a threat to Brazilian air traffic security.

In their reckless lunge to criminalize the accident and scapegoat the pilots, the Brazilian authorities have conspicuously failed to address what is now also no longer in dispute: grossly unsafe conditions in Brazil's air traffic control system, aggravated by a demoralized work force, some of whom are inadequately trained, and a large number of whom are not proficient in English, the mandatory language of aviation the world over.

Instead, the Brazilians are seeking to build a case against the pilots based on a transponder, an electronic device in the cockpit that provides a backup signal for air traffic control and triggers an anti-collision alarm to any approaching aircraft. Once air traffic control had the two aircraft on a collision course, bearing down on each other at a closing speed in excess of 1,000 miles an hour, and once the two planes disappeared into a radar blind zone that Brazilian authorities until recently loudly insisted did not exist, the transponder and the anti-collision warning system it is designed to trigger would have been the last possible slim chance the two aircraft had of avoiding impact.

Aircraft avionics are hugely complicated, and there is no way a pilot can be expected to be aware of every electronic device on a plane. "A transponder is not on the scan list" of things a pilot is routinely expected to monitor, one veteran pilot told me.

There is no signal to tell a pilot that a transponder has failed or switched into the standby mode. However, it is fully expected that ATC -- where controllers should know instantly if a transponder has failed in a plane they are monitoring -- immediately notifies an aircraft that its transponder isn't transmitting.

According to Brazilian authorities (not to mention actual reliable sources), the Legacy transponder was not transmitting for 50 minutes before the collision. There was no communication from air traffic control to that effect.

The model of transponder used in the Legacy 600 does, incidentally, have some recent history. On Sept. 12, the Federal Aviation Administration published a so-called "Airworthiness Directive" addressing certain transponders made by Honeywell which, the FAA directive said, are prone to "erroneously going into the standby mode." Among the aircraft equipped with the transponders in question are certain models in the Embraer 135 and 143 lines. Legacy 600 are business jets based on those commercial jet models. Both Embraer and Honeywell have said that the transponder on the Legacy 600 involved in the Sept. 29 accident was not one of those involved in the directive.

Nevertheless, the issue of a possibly faulty transponder was not considered urgent. Embraer requested and received from the FAA a 14-day extension of the time required to bring affected transponders into compliance. "Embraer asserts that the loss of the transponder does not pose so great of a hazard to justify such an urgent compliance time," said the FAA, which had originally asked for compliance by 15 days after the effective date of the directory, Oct. 17.

"We have determined that extending the compliance time to 14 days will not adversely affect safety," the FAA directive said.

On such thin straw the Brazilians are building a criminal case against the two Americans while they continue covering up the real cause of the disaster. As I have said here often, the fix is in.

Meanwhile, in an indication of just how harebrained the Brazilian authorities are, and how much this issue is being shaped to appeal to public sentiment in Brazil, the police official in charge of the criminal investigation, Ramon da Silva Almeida, actually felt the need to denounce the American pilots for their appearance on the "Today" show Friday morning, during which they told interviewer Matt Lauer that they did nothing wrong.

"They are doing what one would expect, defending themselves," the police chief sarcastically informed O Globo of the pilots' statements on American television.

Wonderful Waldir Pires also remains in the act. "The Minister of Defense Waldir Pires denied that the government detained the two pilots," O Globo reported yesterday without a hint of irony.

Uh, oh! Back down the rabbit hole we tumble! Not detained? Hey, where were these guys for 70 days?


Thursday, December 14, 2006


Back in the days before piety replaced curiosity as the driving impulse of the news business, the current situation in Brazil would have made for great reporting: A horrendous mid-air collision with 154 tragically dead and an obvious coverup to scapegoat two American pilots who were detained for two months without charge and escaped the clutches of the crazed Brazilian media during a high-speed chase to the airport, all accompanied by a tuba quintet of harrumphing Brazilian brass hats.

Ah, but those days are gone. Now we have stenography to inform us, accompanied by a whispered admonition, as if in the incensed fog of High Mass, to wait for the Authorities to speak before making a judgment based on one's own reasoning.

Where to begin anew?

Oh, I know. First let's hear from good old Wonderful Waldir Pires, the Brazilian defense minister responsible for the air traffic control system that basically collapsed in Brazil after controllers, afraid that the blame for the accident might shift where it belongs (to them), threw a prolonged workplace tantrum starting in early October.

Wonderful Waldir, you might remember, was the genuis responsible for the crackpot theory that the accident could only have been caused by the American pilots executing wild loop-d-loops in the business jet that collided with the Gol 737 airliner, killing all 154 people on the 737.

From O Estado de S. Paulo, Brazil's largest newspaper:

"Augusto Nardes, minister of the Union Accounts Court, said yesterday that he heard the minister of defense, Waldir Pires, affirming that [it] 'is necessary [to have] much faith, pray a little,' so the crisis in the air sector will be solved [by] the end of year."

Last Friday, the Brazilian police, in a remake of a Keystone Kops short subject, desperately slapped the two pilots with a bizarre charge -- basically, "failing to ensure the safety of Brazilian air space" -- on the day a court had ordered their release.

This came after a six-hour session at federal police headquarters during which the pilots refused to answer questions because they were informed at the onset that they would be formally accused no matter what they said. Once the pilots got their passports back late that afternoon, they were driven to the airport in Sao Paulo where a private jet waited. The drive to the airport was a high-speed chase, with Brazilian media in hot pursuit until they were foiled by a squad of mounted police at the gate where the private jet waited.

The private jet was a surprise to the pursuing media, who had assumed the pilots would leave Brazil on the early evening American Airlines nonstop to New York. In fact, a handful of Brazilian reporters had bought tickets on that flight, figuring they could corner the pilots on the nine hour trip home.

(There was some extra anxiety on the pilots' end, incidentally. Private jets can't take off after 6 p.m. in Sao Paulo, and as the police inquiry stretched into late afternoon there was some question about whether they'd get out to beat the deadline).

Then a gathering of about 200 relatives and friends to welcome the returning pilots back home at MacArthur Airport in Long Island last Saturday was portrayed in the Brazilian media as a "celebration party" that insulted the honor of Brazil and the memory of the 154 who died. The Brazilian media implied that the pilots -- detained for 70 days without charge or evidence of charge while the police frantically cobbled together their bizarre accusation during that final day's sesssion -- should have skulked home in disgrace, rather than into the welcome embrace of wives, children, parents, other relatives, friends.

You can't make this stuff up.

Meanwhile, certain elements of the media, abroad and even here, now have their steno pads out once more.

Never mind that every invesigation so far has shown a clear breakdown in air-traffic control on the ground leading to the crash. Never mind that it is not in dispute that air traffic control ordered the business jet to maintain 37,000 feet on a direct collision course with a 737 that was out of touch in a notorious radar and radio blind zone over the Amazon that authorities refused to concede even existed. And never mind that during the 70 days the pilots were detained, with all of the preliminary investigations long completed, no evidence was produced against them.

Memories are so short, with so much to keep track of! Every day, in so much of the media, the world is new, without context! No, today's story is that a malfunction of the transponder on the Legacy 600 business jet was the main cause of the crash.

Now, I guarantee you that the transponder on that airplane will be shown to have malfunctioned -- and that this will become known as one of the factors that FAILED TO PREVENT a horrible collision. But that mid-air collision had already been firmly set in motion by egregious human and systems errors in Brazil's air-traffic control system, which is now widely acknowledged as riddled with major faults.

How could such a thing happen? Well, pilots have been telling me for two months that they are amazed it doesn't happen more often. Not just in Brazil, but all over.

And how could a transponder fail without notice? Easy, given the blind faith engineers have placed in avionics technology, which many pilots claim is inadvertently creating a safety hazard in the air.

However, for the coverup to continue in Brazil, as it will, it must be accepted that 1. Air-traffic control was not the main culprit and 2. The American pilots, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, were grossly negligent or criminally responsible for turning off the transponder or failing to notice that it was not operarting correctly.

Why would any pilot in his right mind do that?

Oh, I forgot, to do "loop-d-loops" over the vast Amazon skies! Yes, we are back to the loop-d-loops, folks. From yesterday's O Estado de S. Paulo:

"Up to now there is not a plausible explanation about what led the equipment to stop working. ... That reinforces the suspicions that rose soon after the tragedy that the device would have been turned off by the American pilots, although inadvertently, for [the purpose of] not [following] procedures or to 'test' the jet, making maneuvers."

Yes, the Brazilians will probably throw a couple of hapless air-traffic controllers over the side as a token gesture. But it's pretty clear that as of now, the coverup continues and the systemic problems affecting Brazil's air-traffic control system are being swept under the rug. And, as I have suspected from day one when we made an emergency landing at a jungle air base, the fix is in.

Coming soon: Which Brazilian federal police official was once locked in the trunk of his car by four hookers?


Saturday, December 09, 2006


Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino arrived home in a private jet that landed around noon today at MacArthur Airport on Long Island. The two pilots left Brazil yesterday on a flight that stopped over for the night in Miami before continuing today to New York.

About 200 relatives and friends greeted them when the plane -- a Legacy 600 business jet, the same model as the plane involved in a mid-air collision in Brazil Sept. 29 -- taxied in after landing. They included Mr. Lepore's wife, Ellen, and children Michael, 8, and Nichole, 3, and Mr. Paladino's wife, Melissa. The guests also included the pilots' parents, as well as Excelaire Chief Executive Officer Bob Sherry and other executives, and U.S. Rep. Peter King, who had worked to pressure Brazilian authorities for their release. Also there were four of the five passengers who had been on the Legacy during the crash: David Rimmer and Ralph Michielli of Excelaire, Henry Yandle, of Embraer, and me.


Friday, December 08, 2006


The two American pilots held since a mid-air collision on Sept. 29 have left Brazil and are en route home. They're expected to arrive in Long Island late tonight.

Before having their passports returned, they were accused of unintentional wrongdoing by police at an all-morning session at police headquarters in Sao Paulo. The pilots -- who were questioned repeatedly by the miltary and by Federal Police two months ago, but not since -- invoked their right not to answer questions in Sao Paulo after learning at the beginning of the session that they would be formally accused no matter what they said.

There was a period of initial confusion about the accusation, which is called an indiciar and is more akin to an arraignment charge than a formal indictment. The pilots left Brazil thinking they had been actually charged with involuntary manslaughter. The actual accusation is, in the words of one legal expert I spoke with, "bizarre and evidently cobbled together." Police and prosecutors openly argued today over what the penalty might be on conviction before deciding to base it on the penalty for involuntary manslaughter, and to toss some some years onto it.

No evidence was presented to support the accusation. The press release refers vaguely to "elements of proof existing in the police inquiry." This is presumably a reference to interrogations of the pilots (and Legacy passengers) in the days after the crash. To date, however, no evidence implicating the pilots has been publicly produced by the police or military authorities.

There has been speculation that a temporarily malfunctioning transponder, a small electronic communications device in the cockpit, might have contributed to a chain of mishaps and errors at air-traffic control centers on the ground that caused the crash, though there has been no evidence produced yet that the plane's transponder malfunctioned. One police official told reporters today that the accusation is based on the idea that the pilots could have been negligent in failing to ensure that the transponder was working properly.

Here is the official press release, translated from Portuguese, describing the accusation and penalties:
"Press Release

This morning, the pilots of the Legacy aircraft were at the Superintendency of the Federal Police in São Paulo and were interrogated. They exercised the right to remain silent, constitutionally protected, even after having been told that this was a moment in which they could exercise their defense and give their versions and explanations about the facts. Federal Police assigned to the Coordination of Operational Aviation accompanied the act.

The exercise of the right to remain silent does not alter the decision determining the return of their passports, as this is a resolution strictly by the courts, emitted by the Federal Regional Tribunal of Brasilia, and complied with by the Federal Police.

The pilots of the Legacy airship were charged under Article 261, Section 3, combined with Articles 263 and 258, all in the criminal code, which define the crime of "exposing a ship or airship to danger" in the involuntary mode, aggravated by the result of "death".

The penalty defined for the charge is the same applied to involuntary manslaughter, increased by a third, under the terms of Article 258 of the Criminal Code.

The decision to charge them was taken based on elements of proof existing in the police inquiry, which point to the lack of the caution that is necessary, expected, and can be demanded of pilots during the realization of a flight.

The investigations have still not been completed, and other conducts may be identified as causes of the accident.

The police inquiry will be sent to the Federal Court of Sinop/MT, on the 13th of December, with a request for additional time to continue the investigations.

Sector of Social Communication/Superintendency of the Federal Police in São Paulo
Tel (11) 3616-5011/5013"

(By "other conducts," it was made clear in an oral presentation, the police meant conduct by other parties.)

Robert Torricella, a United States-based lawyer for ExcelAire Service, the business-jet charter company in Long Island that employes the pilots and owns the Legacy 600 jet involved in the collision that killed 154 on a Gol 737 airliner, called today's proceedings in Sao Paulo "absurd."

Immediately after their passports were returned, the pilots, Joe Lepore, 42, and Jan Paladino, 34, were whisked to the airport where they boarded a waiting private jet for the long flight home to Long Island. This thwarted a handful of Brazilian reporters who had booked tickets on the nightly American Airlines nonstop to New York from Sao Paulo, figuring they would corner the Americans during the nine-hour flight.

They are have been told they must return to Brazil, if ordered, to answer questions in any future judicial proceeding. The Brazilian investigations into the crash, being conducted by the Air Force (which runs air traffic control) and by the Federal Police, are expected to take 10 months to a year before completion.

Preliminary investigations, based on evidence such as cockpit voice controllers and air-traffic-control center data, have indicated that the crash was caused by a series of human and technical systems errors in air-traffic control that put a commercial Gol 737 airliner, and the Legacy 600 business jet being flown by the two pilots with five passengers on board, on a head-on course. The airplanes collided 37,000 feet over the Amazon. All 154 on the 737 died while the damaged business jet made an emergency landing at a jungle air strip.

In addition, air traffic controllers have testified -- and appeared on Brazilian television to state -- that they mistakenly misread the Legacy's altitude before the crash and were unable to communicate with either the Legacy or the 737 as the two planes flew on a collision course in a so-called blind zone over the Amazon where radar and radio communications are known to be unreliable.



...are a hoax.

Every day, I get an e-mail or two from someone who has just been forwarded an e-mail with two photos that are described as showing terrified passengers on the Gol 737 as the plane, its rear section blasted open to the sky, plunges to its death.

The e-mail with the photos has been circulating for about six weeks. I've even had them forwarded to me by pilots.

They're not real.

As the brilliant rumor-debunking Web site points out, the images purporting to be the Gol 737 in its final moments are actually screen shots from the pilot episode of the television series "Lost." Indeed, points out, "actress Evangeline Lilly, who portrays the character Kate Austen in that show, is clearly identifiable in the left-hand side of the first photograph."

The breathless text ("INCREDIBLE. AMAZING") accompanying the e-mail that is driving the hoax claims the photos were found on the memory stick of a digital camera recovered from the wreckage of the plane in the Amazon jungle. A fictional owner of the camera and his survivors are even described. He was traced, the text says improbably, through the "serial number of the camera."

Discerning readers picked up several clues that the photos were a hoax. One, the interior shots show that the aircraft is level, as seen by the sky and clouds visible through the blasted-away back section of the fuselage. Yet it's known that the real Gol flipped over and went into a horrifying death spiral at impact at 37,000 feet. Two, even if you don't recognize the actress (I don't; I've never seen "Lost"), the faces don't appear to be Brazilian, and nearly all of the passengers on the Gol flight were Brazilian. Three, the colors and design of the interior of the aircraft shown are not those of the Brazilian airline Gol.

Here's the link to Snopes's debunking, which has the e-mail text and the photos:

The hoax, says, was perpetrated by a Brazilian blogger who has since copped to it, "claiming he was attempting to demonstrate that people only skim the first paragraph or so of articles and don't really absorb or think critically about what they're reading."


The American pilots, Joe Leopre and Jan Paladino, are being interrogated today by police in Sao Paulo amid reports that they might be charged later today with involuntary manslaughter before they are released, as anticipated, after the questioning.

The pilots are in police headquarters in Sao Paulo this morning for a day-long interrogation that precedes their anticipated release, which is expected sometime between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. The pilots have been detained in Brazil since the Sept. 29 mid-air collision over the Amazon in which 154 people on a Gol 737 airliner died.

Keep in mind that it is no longer in dispute that the Sept. 29 crash was caused by a series of air-traffic control human errors and technical breakdowns that added up to a catastrophe. The pilots could be charged in some form before (and if) they are allowed to leave the country later today.

Here is an explanation of why:

Reacting to the ongoing air-traffic control protests, which have caused a major internal crisis with delayed and cancelled flights and crowds sleeping overnight in airports, the government -- and especially the military and the federal police -- are desperate to buy time for cover and to let things cool down as the investigations into the crash drag on for as much as a year. This is the argument being made by some authorities in Brazil: The pilots could be charged with something before they're let go, just to deflect blame from the controllers and the military till things settle down. (This, of course, would be a travesty of justice).

By the way, Brazil has several forms of "indictment," one of which isn't a formal criminal charge but basically a notice that you are a subject in a criminal investigation. The lesser form of indictment doesn't conform to the U.S. sense of the word as a charge that you must stand trial as an accused criminal. If that is what in fact comes up, watch how readily some elements of the U.S. news media will screw up the linguistic nuance.

The background:

Once it became clear that Brazil's poorly staffed, badly maintained air traffic control system (which is run by the military) was at fault, underpaid, sullen controllers staged a protracted work protest that has caused chronic delays in Brazil's air traffic for six weeks. That came to a head on Tuesday, when a federal court finally ordered that the pilots be released in 72 hours. Aware that blame was shifting their way, controllers threw a new tantrum and shut down three of the country's major airports.

It's now approaching prime summertime/Christmas holiday travel season in Brazil, and the controllers are making a point about blame: Send it our way and we'll really shut the system down. Thus the American pilots -- who have been charged with nothing and presented with no evidence that they are guilty of anything -- cannot be seen leaving Brazil as the innocent men they in fact are.

That's why the police authorities -- mindful of the anti-American hysteria that has driven much of this case -- might well announce some kind of charge, possibly a low-grade "indiciar" indictment, that is legally taken to mean: There are indications this person may be involved in what could be a crime, and this person must answer further questions in a future legal proceeding.

The pilots, if they are released tonight, will be legally bound to return to Brazil if summoned for further judicial proceedings.

But it could get worse. Some police and military authorities are trying to get a court order today that would prevent the pilots from leaving. But that's a long shot.

Most of the bets are that the pilots get out tonight. Just in time for the evening news in Brazil, expect to see two brave and innocent Americans, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, perp-walked in Sao Paulo for the benefit of a media mob.

As someone in Brazil who has followed this closely told me this morning: "Once you understand that it this point it's not about Jan and Joe or the airplane accident, but about enhancing the police chief's career through publicity, and avoiding the appearance of Brazil knuckling under to U.S. pressure, what's going on becomes much less confusing."

And don't forget, Venezuela's newly reelected President Hugo Chavez, who rides anti-Americanism like a surfboard, is in Brazil on a state visit. Hugo announced in Brazil yesterday that Brazil's president is planning a trip to Havana soon to visit Fidel Castro while Fidel is "recovering." A fellow with a fine-tuned publicity monitor like Lucky Lula wouldn't want to be standing hat-in-hand at poor old Fidel's death bed having just knuckled under to the Americans, now, would he? How mortifying (to use that word deliberately) would THAT be?

Meanwhile, the air-traffic-control tantrum continues, after protests that shut down airports Tuesday night and hobbled the system for two days afterward. If you are flying in Brazil, keep in mind that you could be subject to serious delays and/or cancellations. The same with flights to and from Brazil.

And remember this, too: Brazil is one of the most crime-ridden of the countries that have a solid tourism business. Street crime is rampant and getting worse. Three times this year, for example, armed bandits have attacked shuttle buses that take foreign tourists from the airport in Rio to their hotels, robbing all aboard.

But the masked bandits are not anti-tourist, just opportunistic. Last night, for example, robbers in Rio blocked a car whose passengers were Brazil's Chief Justice, Ellen Gracie Northfleet, and the Supreme Court vice president, Gilmar Mendes.

"The Justices were dagged out of the car by the armed men and were kept under the barrel of guns, while policemen in charge of their security, driving in two other cars, watched the whole scene without reacting," Francesco Neves writes this morning on, the online news magazine.

The masked gunmen stole the car the justices were in and all of the justices' valuables. The security detail accompanying the justices explained later that they didn't react because they were afraid the gunmen would harm the officials.


Thursday, December 07, 2006


A touching visit in Brazil.

(For context, please see earlier post: "STATE DEPT. TO PILOTS: DROP DEAD!" for some speculation on why the State Department has been conspicuously afraid to intervene in the case of the American pilots).

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who easily won reelection last Sunday, is on a state visit to Brazil this week "for discussions on energy and infrastructure cooperation between the two countries," reports tonight. [MY NOTE: Read that that as, Venezuela will cut a deal to sell Brazil more oil and gas at a good price, in return for closer ties.]

[Also, I presume Chavez arrived by private jet, avoiding Brazilian airports hobbled by the air traffic controllers' protests.]

After meeting with Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva, "Chavez told reporters that the Brazilian President is planning a trip to Cuba to visit Fidel Castro, who is recuperating from an undisclosed disease." [MY NOTE: Do note the compliant tone of the word "recuperating," when everybody knows Fidel is on his death bed.]

Chavez said, "Lula expressed his wish to visit Fidel. We are worried. I got a note from Fidel two or three days ago and the information I have from Cuba is that the recovery is still slow."

The recovery is slow because the alternative is imminent. Lula, get the private jet out and hurry.

Fidel is, well let's just say he does not have a lot of time, being such a busy man and all.



From today. [Annotations by me]:

[NOTE: Please do keep in mind that the authorities routinely manipulate various elements of the compliant Brazilian news media to send up trial balloons to see if they can sway public opinion, especially when political tensions are high.]

Headline: "Prosecutor and Police Try Last-Minute Maneuvers to Keep Pilots in Brazil."

By Roberto Espinoza

"Brazil's Public Attorney Office and Federal Police are doing their best to prevent that American pilots Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, implicated in the collision with the Boeing 737 on Sept. 29, leave the country tomorrow as ordered by a Brazilian higher court of justice." (MY NOTE: Note the subtle shift here to using the word "implicated," in conformity with authories' mood. The pilots have not been charged with anything, and no evidence has been presented to charge them with anything.)

"Failing that, they will at least try to leave a strong impression on those following the news of the release and on the pilots themselves." (MY NOTE: Air traffic remains a mess in Brazil as controllers, fearful that releasing the pilots will impute blame to the controllers (where it squarely belongs), threaten to bring the system to a halt over the year-end holidays, when summer tourist season also begins in Brazil).

(My NOTE, continued): The air-traffic situation in Brazil has now become a full-blown political crisis for the government, which has allowed itself to be backed into a corner by controllers and their military bosses, whose greatest fear is losing their control of the ATC system and its honey-pot of a budget.)

The American pilots are allowed by a regional federal court order to pick up their passports after 6 p.m. Friday. The Federal Police have scheduled one more interrogation session with the pilots -- for Friday. Anyone thinking what I am: Hail Mary pass?

Meanwhile, as I said, Brazil's air-travel system remains in chaos, with long lines and people sleeping in terminals all night. Air traffic control computers broke down in Brasilia Tuesday as controllers intensified their protests. Two major airports were shut down and operations at a third, Sao Paulo, were severely curtailed.

In keeping with a current style in journalism, the Associated Press today obediently takes out its steno pad and merely reports what a Brazilian press agency has been assured by the authorities. "Federal police discounted the possibility of sabotage, saying the problem appeared to be technical and that they would only investigate if asked by Brazil's military, which runs the system ..."

It ain't often I'm speechless but, uh ...


Wednesday, December 06, 2006


You read it here a month ago that this would happen. Yesterday, as soon as it became known that a federal court ordered the release of the American pilots' passports by Friday, air traffic control in Brazil, already hobbed since the Sept. 29 disaster by a work-to-rule protest by controllers ... well, it crashed.

Last night, operations at two major airports, Brasilia and Belo Horizonte, were shut down, and operations at Sao Paulo were sharply curtailed, because controllers reported that "equipment failure" prevented them from maintaining contact with aircraft.

"A communications system in Brasilia inexplicably broke down, reducing the number of radio frequencies and making it hard for controllers to reach pilots flying commercial jets in some of Brazil's busiest air-traffic corridors," reports, quoting the Agencia Brazil news agency.

Passengers are rising up. At the airport in Brasilia, stranded passengers put on red clown noses and blew whistles in protest, according to press reports. (And no, I don't know how or where they obtained a supply of clown noses and whistles on short notice. That sort of thing usually takes some planning).

"There has never been a collapse like this," the chief of the aviation authority, Milton Zuanazzi, is quoted as saying on the Web site of Folha de S. Paulo, Brazil's biggest newspaper.

Reuters quotes Franco Ferreira, a retired Air Force colonel and aviation expert, as saying" "There is no doubt this was intentional."

It was posited here last month that the air-traffic controllers might intensify their protests and threaten to shut down Brazil's air traffic system if, as has now happened, blame shifts from the American pilots and toward the actual cause of the Sept. 29 crash: Air traffic control.

The Usual Suspects, among them Wonderful Waldir Pires, have rushed in spinning like so many Sugar Plums from "The Nutcracker." Not to worry! they are hollering. This is just a mere technicality! Be patient!

This is insanity. I hope I can soon retire from covering the Brazil rabbit hole beat, and I shall, once the pilots are out and home. Hopefully, that happens Friday night.

But while I plan my retirement from Brazil (with hope and faith), let me quote a few comments on this sad and sorry mess by the respected Brazilian journalist Alberto Dines, writing in the current issue of the Brazilian press journal Observatorio da Imprensa:

"With each passing day, new evidence: the government, through the Defense Minister, deceived the Brazilian nation for two months. The worst Brazilian air tragedy is linked to a political scandal of great proportions -- all of this with the complicity of a large part of the media, which, once again, published groundless charges expressed by cunning and/or irresponsibile authorities.

Defense Minister Pires, Mr. Dines said, "politicized this tragedy from the very beginning. And now he is paying for that."



To me it was thrilling to see the Brazilian federal court invoke the term "habeas corpus" in its decision yesterday ordering that the passports of the two Americans, held without charge since the horrific Sept. 29 mid-air collision with a 737 over the Amazon, be returned by Friday.

I am not unmindful of the irony for Americans. I would hope that the U.S. State Department, which has been so indifferent to the plight of the pilots, might at least pay attention to those words from the Brazilian court: Habeas corpus. They define the most fundamental principle of law in a democratic society, a common-law principle affirmed by the Magna Carta. For a state to justifiably detain someone, a body of evidence must be presented for inspection within a reasonable period of time.

The word "Guantanamo" has come up very frequently in the intense reaction to this incident. Guantanamo and all it symbolizes about illegal actions by the American government in detaining suspects, even American citizens, without regard to habeas corpus.

I should add that I have nothing but contempt for the fairly sizeable number of people I have heard from in the last two months, including some Americans, who have smugly said that the American pilots, innocent or not, got what they deserved as "payback" for Guantanamo. As I replied to some of them, this is the vile logic of death squads in Iraq and Darfur, to say that innocent people anywhere should be sacrificed as payback for injustice.

It isn't absolutely certain yet that the Federal Police or the Air Force won't try to put up obstacles to releasing the pilots on Friday, though it appears unlikely at this point. Still, Brazilian air traffic controllers have been staging protests since October over the very idea that blame might come their way, as it certainly will come, especially once the pilots are cleared. Yesterday, major airports, including Sao Paulo and Brasilia, were virtually shut down by air traffic control problems.

Nevertheless, a Brazilian court has literally laid down the law with two Latin words that need to reverberate in every free society everywhere: Habeas corpus.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006


A federal court in Brazil ordered that the passports of the two American pilots be returned to them in 72 hours. The pilots, Joe Lepore, 42 and Jan Paladino, 43, both of Long Island, are expected home on Saturday.

The three-member court ruled unanimously in Brasilia that the passports be released. The investigations into the Sept. 29 mid-air collision that killed 154 continue, though now with a very sharp focus on air-traffic control human errors and systemic failures. The pilots must return to Brazil if ordered for further quesioning or judicial proceedings, the court said.

The American pilots have been held in Brazil for 67 days, without being charged and without any evidence of charges. They are at the JW Marriott hotel in Rio de Janeiro, largely confined to their suite.

So it looks like this ordeal is finally being resolved. More tomorrow, of course. But let's end this with a perfectly Brazilian comment following the main news story on the English-language

(As has been reported here numerous times, Brazilian air traffic controllers, upset at the possibility of being blamed for the crash and at what they call unsafe working conditions, began a work-to-rule protest in October that has caused chronic delays and flight cancellations at airports throughout the country.)

A reader who uses the name GRingo says at the end of the story on tonight about the pilots' imminent release:

"I think it's good news that the pilots will finally be allowed to leave. However, finding a flight out may prove difficult given that airports are now closing! SP, BH and Brasilia. It´s going to get uglier before it gets any better. My money is on a full blown ATC meltdown before the year´s end. And Pires is still grumbling away that there are no problems. Me poupem!"

Wonderful Waldir Pires, come on out here and take a bow.



Monday, December 04, 2006


No, not THAT fix! Surely you don't expect the harrumphing third-world martinets marching around in Brazil to actually FIX their broken air-traffic control system! Don't be silly! This would require the uncomfortable prospect of the Brazilian authorities actually accepting responsibility, not to mention the perhaps equally unsettling prospect of spending money that could more tidily fit in other pockets.

No, I mean the fix that I suspected was in starting shortly after those of us who survived in the Legacy 600 business jet made an emergency landing at a jungle air base on Sept. 29, after the mid-air collision with a 737, in which all 154 people on the 737 died.

Now that the pesky facts have accumulated and it's clear this crash was caused by a series of air-traffic control mistakes of catastrophic proportions, the Federal Police in Amazonian Wonderland appear to be considering laying primary blame on ... yes, you guessed it: the American pilots -- even though they were flying at 37,000 feet under air-traffic control instructions, which by all international aviation protocols take precedence over a previously filed flight plan. Why am I flashing on "The Treasure of Sierra Madre" and imagining a bandito spitting out: "We don't need no protocols! I don't have to show you any stinkin' protocols!"

[LATER NOTE: DO please keep in mind, as someone who knows Brazil well just warned me after I first posted this about an hour ago, that the following may be excessively alarmist, and that Brazilian media are very easily manipuilated. (Surprise!) So the following Folha account -- conspicuously lacking in definitive sourcing for what purports to be a news story -- might well reflect some wily massaging by lawyers for the air traffic controllers who have been spinning like a top trying to deflect blame from their anguished, grieving boys and girls.]

The following is being reported today in Folha de S. Paulo, Brazil's largest newspaper. The slightly wobbly translation is via The rude annotations, marked MY NOTE, are by me:

Folha de São Paulo – December 4th

Headline: Federal police must blame pilots, radars and controllers

Sub headline: Inquiry must conclude that a sum of factors caused the collision between Gol Boeing and Legacy

According to the police, flight plan should have been followed and Legacy wrong altitude realized by the operators; "blind area" would be other cause.

The Federal Police inquiry about the collision between Gol plane and the little jet, on September 29, lead to blame several involved in the accident, including flight controllers and Legacy crew, besides stressing the existing failures in the Aeronautics radar systems.

The marshal responsible for the case, Renato Sayão, considers that there was not a simply failure neither a unique guilty, but a series of "causal vectors" that led to the collision between both planes. [MY NOTE: To those of us on the up side of the rabbit hole, "causal vectors" translates as something like the the military term "cluster-f---."]

The Legacy pilots should have followed the flight plan or insisted in contacting the control center of Brasília, when overflying the city, to change altitude.

After leaving São José dos Campos, Legacy followed at 37 thousand feet until colliding with Boeing in Mato Grosso, disrespecting the flight plan that foresaw a descent at 36 thousand feet after Brasília and ascent to 38 thousand feet little before the collision. The jet pilots allege that they received authorization to fly at 37 thousand until Manaus. [MY NOTE: This is more than a case of the pilots "alleging" something. It's clearly on the record that the controller in Sao Jose told them to maintain 37,000 feet all the way to Manaus, and that controllers in Brasila failed to contradict that order despite repeated attempts by the Legacy pilots to get confirmation. Back to Folha:]

According to depositions seized by the Federal Police, one of the flight controllers did not realize that the system automatically corrected automatically the virtual flight plan of Legacy when it passed by Brasília, showing foreseen altitudes and not the real.

The Legacy transponder, a tragic coincidence, was inoperative at that moment and the data about its altitude was taken from the system. [MY NOTE: Notice the passive voice here: "the data ... was taken from the system." A more honest read would be: "The inexperienced flight controller monitoring the Legacy, without the required supervision, was misreading the data from a monitor that shows only the flight plan, and totally overlooked the reality monitor, which showed the Legacy at 37,000 for at least seven minutes before the computer system went, as is its wont, heywire. Folha again:]

One of the controllers that was on duty in Brasília on the day of the accident, affirmed that he did not request Legacy to change its altitude because he thought the little jet was at 36 thousand feet, as foreseen in the flight plan, and "because there was not other traffic [plane] in the proximities". Gol Boeing, however, flew in opposite direction. [MY NOTE: Oh, that would then mean that there was, in fact, "other traffic in the proximities." And I would define "proximities" as a course that caused the two planes to achieve the ultimate "proximity:" a mid-air collision. But back to Folha's account:]

A third factor is that the Aeronautics radars system present failures in the region between Mato Grosso and Manaus, where there are "blind areas."

In short, according to the Federal Police, the accident would not have occurred if:

1 - Legacy crew had respected the flight plan or insisted in contacting Brasília's Center;
2 - The flight controllers had detected that Legacy flew at a different altitude than the foreseen in the flight plan. Thus, without even managing to get in touch with the little jet, could have warned Gol Boeing so that it could have diverted of the route;
3 - If there were not "blind areas" between radars, the flight controllers could have detected that the little jet was not flying at the foreseen altitude.

[MY NOTE: Yes, the Keystone Kops appear to be arguing, air traffic control screwed up royally, and yes, there are indeedy "blind areas." [For nearly two months, the Brazilian authorities have been squealing that even to suggest the existence of a radar blind zone was to insult the honor of Brazil. But lookit who gets the number-one position in the blame list, at least as Folha has been told:]

The pilots, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, who have now been held hostage in Brazil for 66 days.




From O Globo:

"The investigations of the Federal Police point to a series of failures and omissions of the flight controllers [in] Brasilia and Sao Jose dos Campos which, if corrected in time, could have avoided the collision between the Legacy jet and the Gol 737-800."

Here is my summary of what is now being openly conceded in Brazil:

The most serious failure by air traffic control was not noticing that the Legacy passed through the Brasilia sector at 37,000 feet, though this was clearly visible on a monitor that steadily showed the Legacy's actual altitude for at least seven minutes before the private jet disappeared into a well-known blind zone on what would be a direct collision course with the 737.

Though it accurately gave the Legacy's altitude for at least seven minutes, that monitor, a component of Brazil's outdated and unreliable air-traffic system, later began wildly oscillating and gave the altitude as being anywhere from 33,000 feet to 37,500 feet. Air controllers say the monitors often oscillate and provide unreliable readings. Thus, they put more trust in separate screens that give an aircraft's altitude according to its pre-filed flight plan that can be, and in the case of the Legacy was, overridden by instructions from air traffic control.

The radar screen oscillations, I now assume, account for the asinine charges repeatedly made by Defense Minister Wonderful Waldir Pires and others that the Legacy was engaged in "stunt maneuvers" at the time of impact. No, you nitwits, your radars and computers in that area DON'T WORK and everyone in the system has known this for years! Why not fix them so nobody else gets killed in another horrible plane crash? Oh, I forgot, that would require accepting responsibility.

A second monitor, this one operated by software programmed only to reflect a filed flight plan (which in the Legacy's case had already been overruled by air traffic control at its departure point), faithfully but incorrectly presented the Legacy's altitude as 36,000 feet.

The military controller assigned to both the Legacy and the 737 had one year's experience and wasn't being supervised, as is required. His supervisor was filling in elsewhere. Meanwhile, air traffic control in both Brasilia and Manaus had lost track of the 737 with 154 aboard bound southeast from Manaus when it, too, entered the vast blind zone over the Amazon. (This would be the well-known blind zone that Wonderful Waldir and other authorities insisted does not exist).

As the Legacy approached the edge of the blind zone, bound northwest at 37,000 feet, the controllers knew its transponder wasn't working. Unable to reach the Legacy because of notoriously faulty air-traffic control communications in the area, they nevertheless made no effort to reach the 737 by radio and change its course and/or altitude.

In the U.S. military and elsewhere, there is a precise term for this sort of serial breakdown and lack of control: "Cluster f---."

The American pilots, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, remain detained in Brazil without charges or evidence of charges. It is now Day 66.


Sunday, December 03, 2006


The weekly Brazilian magazine Epoca has a long interview with two air traffic controlers, both of whom requested anonymity, who were in the Brasila air traffic control center when the Legacy 600 business jet being monitored there collided with a Gol Airlines 737 over the Amazon Sept. 29. Several other Brazilian publications and the Globo television network also talked to controllers, all of whom told the same story: Brazil's notoriously faulty air traffic control system, with dead zones and chronic communications problems, caused this disaster.

(Some publications in Brazil were thick with condemnations of me starting two months ago when I began quoting international pilots who said that Brazilian air space, especially over the Amazon, is notoriously risky to navigate because of bad communications with air traffic control, noise and idle Portuguese chatter on radios, and blind radar spots.)

Epoca says the controllers "talk about failures in the equipment that, according to them, would have been decisive in the largest disaster of Brazilian aviation history."

The magazine quotes "Controller B," who was on duty when the Brasilia center lost track of the 737 bound southeast from Manaus at 37,000 feet in "the blind zone," while simultaneously believing an incorrect monitor reading that showed the Legacy bound northwest to Manaus at 36,000 feet -- 1,000 feet below its actual altitude (the altitutude it had been instructed by air traffic control to fly at from departure to destination).

Only after the damaged Legacy made an emergency landing at a jungle air base 30 minutes after the accident, reporting it had collided with something unknown, did the controllers put 2 and 2 together.

"One of the controllers in the Rio de Janeiro region started to cry [on the radio]," Controller B said. "Then the whole center [in Brasilia] was crying. A psychologist should have arrived by then, but nobody showed."

Controller A said, "There were people crying and asking to leave."

{MY NOTE: I would tell poor, grief-stricken Controllers A and B: Actually, you should have continued doing your jobs, with an airliner down and 154 dead in the jungle, rather than wailing in tears and waiting for a psychologist to comfort you.

{Furthermore, I would tell the whole bunch, Controllers A through Z: You and your anguished colleagues damn well should have stood up TWO MONTHS AGO and told the truth -- back when the cover-up and the scapegoating of the American pilots began. What's more, the lot of you, and especially your sad-sack superiors, up to and including Wonderful Waldir Pires, the Defense Minister, ought to have already done the minimum that decency demands and issued an apology to the families of the dead. But, oh, I forgot. That would require accepting responsibility.}

But I digress. Let's hear more via Epoca from Controller A, who was actually monitoring both flights at his station: "The Legacy flight was normal. We only thought about an accident ... when Legacy landed in Serra do Cachimbo [site of the Cachimbo Air Base] and got in contact saying that it made an emergency landing because it hit something. .. Do you know why we did not do anything [earlier, just before and after the Gol disappeared]? Because we visualized Legacy at 360 [36,000 feet] and not at 370."

The transponder on the Legacy, he said, was evidently not working at the time. [A transponder helps air traffic control identify a plane, but a transponder failure in and of itself would not cause air traffic control to put two planes on a mid-air collision course. It would only help ensure the inevitable once air traffic control had made enough fatal mistakes on the ground.]

Controller B said the Brasilia center tried unsuccessfully to contact the Legacy to warn it that its transponder wasn't working "because the aircraft was [about] to enter an area that the radar did not cover."

Controller B continued. "I even remember that one of the controllers asked, 'What is the Legacy level?' And another said, '360.'"

You might remember that Wonderful Waldir and his cronies have thundered over and over that there are no "blind spots" in Brazil's magnificent air control system. What an insult to the honor of modern, progressive Brazil, to speak of these "blind spots!" The Air Force, indeed, said it flew an airplane all around the area of the mid-air collision between Brasilia and Manaus and found no "blind spots," a commander bellowed.

Both controllers interviewed by Epoca begged to disagree (as have many of their colleagues and every airline pilot I have spoken to about flying over the Amazon). And both said the Brasila center lost radio contact as the Legacy passed through its sector in what would turn out to be a collision course with the 737.

Said Controller B, "On that day, the [radio] frequency of that area [the impact point] was without transmission and without reception." Controller B continued that under normal circumstances, "Communication is not clear. This is very dangerous."

In fact, the same day as the crash, added Controller A, two commercial TAM Airlines flights in the sector reported problems communicating with the air traffic control center. After finally getting through, "the first thing they said: 'Brasila, I tried for a half hour to talk to you on all frequencies and did not get in contact.'"

Such transmissions are routinely recoded, Controller A said, adding: "But nobody is going to release this information. They can even have erased it."

Said Controller B: "The blind zone exists. It is a very large area, greater than several states [of Brazil]. ... It is a big rectangle in the middle of the country."

This, he said, is a situation air traffic controllers face: "[He] who sees does not control and [he] who controls does not see."

Brasil, by the way, is about the size of the continental U.S.

Incidentally, in the translations I've seen, Brazilian journalists focus on the emotional aspect of the air controllers' story ("We were stricken!") and don't ask the tough questions, including, why did you remain silent all this time and, Brasila had initial radio contact with the Legacy when it entered its sector at 37,000 feet under orders from San Jose, its departing sector, with orders to maintain 370 all the way to Manaus. Knowing that its equipment was not trustworthy, why didn't Brasilia routinely verify the altitude with the Legacy pilots before it sent them into the blind zone?

Meanwhile, the newspaper O Globo and its television network partner reported that an unnamed controller from the Brasilia center (there is no way to tell if it might be one of the two controllers quoted in Epoca) said that Brazil's air traffic system remains manifestly unsafe. "The bomb is on again," he said. "It is going to explode. It already happened and it is going to happen again."

So there are in fact blind zones? "The area is blind, deaf and dumb," the controller said.

That controller, too, seems to be peering at the looking glass there in the Amazonian wonderland and seeing nothing more than his own aggrieved reflection. "I don't want anyone to go through this experience," he said, presumably referring not to the experience of dying in a horrible crash, or even the experience of being held hostage and falsely accused, but rather the experience of being an air traffic controller in the system that actually caused the crash.

Asked how he's been doing, the controller replies, "Very bad. I only think about what hurts me. ... It's just this injustice in life. You ask yourself why it was me who was chosen to be there at that moment; why it wasn't someone else? ... The emotional side is injured."

Perhaps the emotional side would feel better if it had not abetted the coverup for so long. Excuse me while I call Amnesty International to report the injustices suffered by this man wailing in the control center and waiting for psychological comfort while 154 others lay dead in the jungle.

Meanwhile, the coverup continues in Brazil, with air traffic controllers who ARE willing to speak having to do so like members of the witness protection program in the old mob days in the U.S.

The authorities scramble to cover their butts. The air traffic controllers continue work-to-rule protests to underscore both their concerns about unsafe working conditions and their fears that blame will be directed to them, and not to the broken system they try against the odds to keep working.

The two pilots, both from Long Island, remain under virtual house-arrest in a hotel in Rio. The U.S. State Department, as noted in yesterday's post, doesn't seem remotely interested in raising any commotion about the case.

And Joe Lepore, 42, and Jan Paladino, 34, have now been held hostage in Brazil for 65 days.